Who doesn’t love a good road trip? The scenery rolling by as you cover the miles, the surprising discoveries around every corner, and, of course, the food.
This is especially true if you’re traveling the National Road. This year, the segment that runs from Cumberland, Maryland, through southwestern Pennsylvania, to Wheeling, West Virginia is celebrating its 200th birthday. Over 600 miles long in total, the National Road crosses six states and was the first federally funded highway built in the U.S. There are few pieces of infrastructure that have shaped the course of American history more than this stretch. From the French and Indian War, which set the wheels in motion for the American Revolution, to the young nation’s expansion westward, through the auto-touring era, the National Road was a stage for the country’s progress. And all of those who played a part on that stage had to eat!
To celebrate this bicentennial, the National Road Heritage Corridor (NRHC) is publishing a cookbook – Grub to Gourmet: the History of Food on The National Road – featuring the favored fare and lusted-for libations enjoyed by travelers during four of the route’s most iconic eras. The NRHC, which preserves and promotes the Road’s role in the development of the United States, is showcasing recipes from the time of the Whisky Rebellion in the late 1700s, the Road’s heyday in the 1800s, the early 20th century auto-touring era, and today. The recipes are being curated by Chef Joe Carei, who has been preparing meals for the NRHC for the last 12 years.
From the 18th century comes a recipe for Cherokee Huckleberry Bread and one for a “Shrub” – a vinegared syrup mixed with spirits and water, which was often served alongside another favorite pioneer cocktail, the Flip (a frothy combination of alcohol, eggs and sugar). The Road’s oldest continually operating restaurant, The Century Inn in Scenery Hill, opened in 1794 and is represented in the cookbook.
As construction of the road continued through the 1800s, local taverns became important centers of community life and oases to weary travelers. From those establishments come a number of recipes, including Century Inn Peanut Soup, Abel Colley Tavern Stew, a Traditional Fish House Punch, and an eggnog-like dessert drink called a Posset. The Stone House in Farmington opened its doors in 1822, and its recipe for chicken and biscuits is a standout.
In the 20th Century, the family car became ubiquitous and recreational touring was quite the rage. The man most responsible for the growth of auto travel, Henry Ford, was no stranger to the lure of the National Road — he drove the route with his favorite driving companions. The foursome, which included Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs, was nicknamed “The Vagabonds” during their jaunty summer trips between 1915 and 1924.
Known as a rather peculiar eater, Ford had a penchant for soybeans. The mogul’s soybean cookie recipe is included in the cookbook, as is his wife’s deviled crab recipe. Mix up a few of the era’s classic and colorfully named cocktails – such as Bee’s Knees, Corpse Reviver and Widow’s Kiss — and picture Ford and company high on the veranda of the historic Summit Inn, where they once relaxed and looked out over Hopwood and Uniontown below.
Today, the National Road boasts a growing number of dining stops along with a raft of exciting wineries, craft breweries and distilleries.
Route 40 roughly follows the path of the National Road, but to get a feel for the experiences of pioneers seeking a new life in their covered wagons, or early automobile tourists out for a joyride, its best to follow the original route, marked by white mileposts. Views of the historic landscape can’t be beat and it’s not hard to imagine George Washington himself walking through the adjacent fields.
The Laurel Highlands Visitor’s Bureau offers a four-day self-guided culinary itinerary – “A Taste of the National Road” — that takes you on a foodie tour of the route, where the meals are served with “a side of stunning surroundings and fascinating history.”
Exploring that history is a great way to build up your appetite. While the Revolutionary War may have officially started in Massachusetts in 1775, the groundwork was laid in southwestern Pennsylvania. Fort Necessity — where a battle launched the French and Indian War — is a National Park found on Route 40. The site of the Whiskey Rebellion, one of the first challenges to George Washington’s fledgling nation, is another intriguing stop.
And be sure to make the occasional detour into the adjacent communities. Tour Kentuck Knob in Chalk Hill, the “other” Frank Lloyd house in southwestern PA; peer into Toll House #1 in Addison; check out the mansion and grounds at Mt. St. Macrina, built for coal baron J.V. Thompson’s wife; or stroll through the leafy and historic campus of Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, PA.
If all these delights have you itching to plan a trip, mark your calendar for “A Taste of the National Road,” taking place on November 3, 2018. The banquet, held in downtown Uniontown’s Fayette Bank Building, will highlight some of the cookbook’s finest recipes alongside live music and a silent auction. Proceeds benefit NRHC’s community and educational programming; click here for tickets.
Carei will be on-hand to make sure guests are well-fed. The chef, who ran a successful restaurant business in Uniontown for 25 years, now concentrates on cooking and catering for nonprofit ventures. At a recent “Sunday Supper” for the NRHC, Carei was at the wood-fired cauldron, preparing tavern turkey and braised beef for attendees just as a pioneer would have done.