Thursday, July 26, 2012

Passing thru Southern Illinois

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

-More salameats, More BBQ and Peach farms too

What sure seems like a longtime ago I took one of my 1st "foodventure" trips. It took us to the area where IL, IN and KY are near. The only reason I ever bought a camera was so I could snap some photos to always have and share my finds with others interested. Well I was back down in Southern Illinois for the first time since then this past weekend. We were in St. Louis but en route down we took I-57 as opposed to I-55. this so that we could stop in at a couple places my politician buddy who gets all around the state wanted me to see down there, where its another world from up here. One state, two totally different places with alot of boring in between.

Cruisin' Southern Illinois

But not before heading back into Herrin and over to Louie's once again for one of their famous if your from down there salameat sandwiches. Herrin Illinois has an interesting past. There was a massacre named after the town that took place there in 1922 and during prohibition it was the site of some bloody battles between bootleggers and the KKK who were trying to help enforce it. Today its pretty quiet and aside from a few restaurants and Louie's along with a small hospitable theres not much else going on. I read they're trying to go back to their Italian roots by attracting Italian owned businesses to open up shop and create some kind of "Little Italy" town. They already throw one of the areas largest festivals called HerrinFesta Italiana.

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A Trip back Louie's P&R Deli

Louie's is well known for their salameats which there isn't much on out here on the WWW. There's a recipe HERE and then there's another HERE with a little history about them that says "Italian restaurants in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky began to serve salameats in the 1980's" but that's not accurate as Louie's has been making them alot longer than that. I wish they weren't so busy when we stopped in but to date the best piece of info about these Southern IL specialties is that the salameat is what they refer to the casing used to stuff them. They're alot different in texture than your normal Italian sausage and these are much more popular at cookouts around here than brats or hot dogs. Is it a play on salamini to mean dry sausage with raw meat inside? Still not sure.

One of a few articles proudly on display

There are some great pics of the old Louie's with huge bins of pastas along the walls that shows this old mining town really was flooded with Italian immigrants and first generation born Americans. A few of the old articles give insight to the salameat including the one pictured above from the the Southern Illinoisan about making Zampat aka stuffed pigs foot. Its an old time Italian holiday tradition. "The foot is stuffed with sausage prepared with Grappa brandy, Marsala wine, Parmesan cheese and lots of spices. That sausage is also used to stuff salameat casings which are popular" In Louie's heyday during the 50's they made 100's of these for families which ordered them for their Christmas feasts. The article which is old in itself says that the number was down to about 10 when it was printed.

Salameat Sandwich from Louie's P&R Deli

The best way to explain a salameat is an Italian sausage with the casing of landjager. They're damn good too if that helps. These arent made with hogs or sheep casing but I'm not sure exactly what they are as far as ingredients go. Not many outside the family do. Not many outside the region have ever heard of these. On we rode taking in the sights and sounds on this fine Friday afternoon. Unlike Central Illinois, Southern Illinois is somewhat hilly with lots of lakes and some very scenic views and lots of wildlife as I saw as we rode thru Big Giant State Park which is a beauty. To go with all that you have some interesting little towns you go thru with different vibes in each.

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Top: View at Alto's Pass -- Bottom: Driving thru an old hippie town & Union County Jail

Alto Pass Illinois

I had hoped to stop in and eat at the Root Beer Saloon in Alto Pass but they were just getting ready to leave. This is maybe the most interesting restaurant I've ever been in. There's not an empty space on the walls which are filled with animals of all sorts and other old school memorabilia. The menu has things like Cioppino and crab cakes or fresh sliced country ham. Its very unique as are the owners. The husband hates the Cardinals and was passionate about them. Hilarious. As were were riding away the old timer was getting ready to take off himself but not before riding up to the car window and asking "What do you give to those Redbird fans when you see them?" Proceeding to flick us off as he rode off.

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Helps keeps the mystique of the place high...Permission given to Cubs fans

Totally a stop for that Guy on Food Network. We didn't get to have food but they poured us some root beer from the tap and we talked baseball and Chicago. He went down there from Chicagoland after college a few decades back and hasn't left. Our final destination was a couple of centennial farms down and around Alto Pass known for their peaches and apples. First up was a place that my buddy had actually never stopped in at always opting to go to the other place instead. I'm glad I made him stop here first.

Flamm Orchards in Cobden, IL

Flamm Orchards started back in 1888 when Leonhard Flamm, a German immigrant, purchased the original 117 acres of the Flamm Farm. Early crops included rhubarb, asparagus, cherries and then later they shifted the focus over to peaches and apples. In the early days the fruit packing plant was simply a tent in the orchard. Times and technology have changed as they now have some heavy duty modernized equipment on display where the fruit is prepped for sale.

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Some sights from the farm incl. the equipment used to separate fruits and box them

The peaches were in full bloom this past weekend. At Flamm they had a few different kinds of them including Loring peaches and Flaming Fury Peck peaches. They had freshly picked ones still waiting to change color once ripe as well as soft spots ready to eat. $13 for a 1/2 bundle my buddy got two only to ask me after the fact if I would make something with them. Flamm has a fruits and cream stand as seen in the collage above. The menu changes with whats in season so depending when your there it could be anything from strawberry shortcake to apple pie and apple dumpling on the menu. With peaches in season they had fresh sliced those available as well as a classic in cobbler and a handful of ice cream selections too.

Flamm Orchards Peach Cobbler from their Roadside Stand

This was really good, not quite as nice as the version I had from a gas station in Mississippi but with the ice cream and extreme heat and all it was exactly what we were hoping they'd have. After Flamm we wandered a few miles over to Rendleman Orchards which is in Alto Pass. "Rendleman Orchards began in 1873 when John and Isabelle Rendleman bought and established the original 88 acre family farm raising chickens, cows and corn for livestock. In this past century, the small family farm has grown and developed into our present day modern agricultural enterprise while maintaining its identity as a family farm." From their Website.

Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass, IL

Both of these places are great examples of the old time family farms that used to flood America. As each generation passed the farm has grown. It wasn't until around 1910 that they started to grow fruits. This due to the fact one of the original owners daughter in laws family was well known for their fruit growing ability around the area so they started up a branch of that too. Nowadays they grow peaches as well as nectarines and apples too but their main crop is their peaches. Peach trees line the roads down in this area, they're everywhere. Both Orchard stops are a must do in my book. You cant just go to one and get out of there with a little bit of everything like you should.

Too Plump, Too Sweet, Too Juicy, Too Good

I thought the peach selection on the day we visited was better at Flamm and loved the fact they had a Fruit & Cream stand. I got some good looking homemade peach jam from them too. But Rendleman might of had the better options as far as what they make with their peaches and other things you need. They had the family cookbooks ready for sale and they package their own mix to make peach cobbler and crisp. If its the weekends they offer fresh smoothies and they make some of the best cider I have ever had. They offer different flavors but don't not try the peach. Get one of the smaller cold ones for the road and stock up on the Growlers which at $7 with no deposit on the bottle are worth it. If anyone is looking for something to do the first weekend in August it's the 75th Annual Peach Fest down in Cobden.

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The Southern IL Peach Trail

As is seen in this old post HERE, Southern Illinois is a hidden gem on the American BBQ trail. It has a big BBQ culture and after stopping in at 17th Street for what continue to be some of if not the best baby backs Ive had, I made my buddy pull over and into the lot of Dixie BBQ which we drove by while riding around. Even though I just had a full slab of some fantastic hard to beat that BBQ I had to stop in and try Dixie so I could know what its deal was.

Jonesboro, IL

The people weren't the most welcoming I'll start off with that. They were kind of snobbish after I asked what the difference in a couple things were as if I'm supposed to know. Down here they eat sliced pork sandwiches and call them BBQ's. Just like a few other spots down there they slice cold smoked butt here into sandwich meat which is reheated when served. I got a small for around $3 and after staring at sit next to the lady while she chatted with a local for five minutes I got it and it was just ok. A little dry and the sauce wasn't anything worth buying a bottle of. I was thinking if they only had some sort of au jus for the thinly sliced smoked pork meat, it might of made these great. Nonetheless I was glad I stopped in and cant wait to get back to Southern Illinois for more exploration soon. See ya next time y'alls.

BBQ Sandwich from Dixie BBQ

Louie's P and R Deli
120 E. Walnut Street
Herrin, IL 62948
(618) 942-3394

Root Beer Saloon
4 Main Street
Alto Pass, IL 62905
(618) 893-1634

Flamm Orchards
8760 Old Highway 51 N
Cobden, IL 62920
(618) 893-4241

Rendleman Orchards
9680 State Route 127 N
Alto Pass, IL 62905
(618) 893-2771

Dixie Barbecue
205 West Broad Street
Jonesboro, IL 62952
(618) 833-6437

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