- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: February 2012

Favorite Pictures of 2011

Every day, we post a photo of Cape May, and our readers let us know which photos are their favorites with the help of a little heart icon. (We also poll our readers every January, just to be sure you still feel the same way.) After a bit of tallying, we are proud to present your favorite Cape May photographs from 2011.

We’ve had so many requests that we have created a Cape May calendar using these images which is available through RedBubble for $25, plus shipping. You can choose your starting month! Buy the calendar

Winter Beach Houses – January 8

cape may pictures for sale

Storm Break – February 25

cape may pictures for sale

Almost Gone – March 27

cape may pictures for sale

Post Storm Daybreak – April 17

cape may pictures for sale

Beach Boxes Out, Summer’s Nearly Here – May 11

cape may pictures for sale

Simply Cape May – June 30

cape may pictures for sale

Purple Haze – July 21

cape may pictures for sale

Under Rainbow Light – August 14

cape may pictures for sale

To the Sun… – September 13

cape may pictures for sale

6:42 p.m. – October 8

cape may pictures for sale

Sunset at the Cove – November 14

cape may pictures for sale

2011’s Last Sunset – December 31

cape may pictures for sale

The Halls Presidents Walked

The Halls Presidents Walked / Text by Karen Fox

On the spring-like day of the New Hampshire primary in January, rocking on the veranda of historic Congress Hall and contemplating the sea, I mused: I would like to put the time machine in reverse and experience an era long ago, just before and after the Civil War, when presidents walked these halls.

It has been Cape May legend that Abraham Lincoln and his wife spent time here. There is no factual documentation that they enjoyed summer here as other presidents did, some visiting more than once.

Five United States presidents enjoyed cool Cape May and the hospitality at Congress Hall: Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison. Their pilgrimages from the sweltering hot summers in Washington, D.C., started more than 150 years ago when Cape May was the nation’s foremost seaside resort. Congress Hall was a favorite rendezvous for prestigious leaders from the north and south – when slavery was still a force, and 70 years before women were allowed to vote. Then the young country’s worries were grounded in economic fears of a nation expanding westward, and trepidation that the conflict over states’ rights and slavery would erupt into a north-south war, spilling blood on home soil.

This election year the issues circle the globe: the shrinking dollar, soaring oil prices, planet warming, stubborn wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; inflation creeps in, recession reaches out. But a century and a half after presidents enjoyed this veranda, a woman and an African-American are serious contenders for the presidency for the first time in history.

Left to right: Franklin Pierce (courtesy of Congress Hall Archives), James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, Chester Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison (courtesy of President Benjamin Harrison Home).

Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, was the nation’s first chief executive to visit Cape May. The year was 1855. It was the premiere season for a new look at Congress Hall. Water (sic) Burrows Miller bought the hotel in 1851 from his father for $42,000, and spent thousands more adding two wings. More dramatically, he installed the tall plantation-style columns that give the building the antebellum appeal that still strikes awe today. Advertisements bragged of world-class amenities: bath houses on Congress Beach, band music played from a pavilion on the lawn, the best dining hall in the nation.

President Franklin Pierce

A Congress Hall guest wrote: “What else can it be so grand? At night, when the hall is cleared of tables and chairs, and hundreds of gas jets are brilliantly burning and flickering, and the gay and the elite are flushed with the giddy dance, then you behold a hall scene, beautiful and fair.”

Water Burrows Miller was into promotion, and President Pierce accepted his invitation for a holiday break. White House notes confirm the trip, “They vacationed at Congress Hall over the 4th of July holiday, returning to Washington on July 7th.”

President Pierce (1853-1857), tall, trim and gregarious, was often called “Handsome Frank.” He wore fancy ascots and sported a curl of hair on his forehead. Those close to him worried about his drinking. A Democrat from New Hampshire, he was shocked by his nomination in 1852, and won in a landslide.

His wife, Jane Means Appleton, accompanied him to Cape May. It’s likely he wanted to get her out of Washington and ease her chronic depression. The First Lady hated politics. She was the daughter of a college president and considered politics beneath her, especially after living as a Congressman’s wife in dirty Washington boarding houses.

First Lady Pierce

The worst was yet to come. She reluctantly left New England on a train to Washington in March, 1853, with her husband and only surviving child, 11-year-old Benny. (Two other sons were lost in infancy.) The Pierce car suddenly jumped the tracks and rolled down a snow bank. The president-elect ran to rescue Benny. His only child lay dead in the snow.

Mrs. Pierce was stricken. She ordered the state rooms draped in black. She wore mourning clothes and stayed in seclusion for two years. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (later president of the Confederacy) and his wife Varina eventually persuaded the First Lady to join them at dinners and teas. They encouraged her to vacation at Congress Hall where she and the president strolled the three-story shaded colonnade with its 55 new white pillars.

It was the era of the romantic antebellum influence in Washington and Cape May. Prominent politicians and wealthy entrepreneurs spent vast amounts of money on houses, carriages, clothing and parties. Some southern planters transported their handsome horses and fancy carriages by steamer to show off along the beach promenade.

An artist rendering of Congress Hall and bathhouse in 1858. Courtesy Emil R. Salvini

James Buchanan, the 15th and only bachelor president (1857-1861), followed Pierce to the White House, and Cape May. Pierce was the youngest president; Buchanan was one of the oldest at 61. He wore his hair in a peak and black silk suits a bit too large for his six foot frame with high collars that seemed to make his pale skin “white as flour.”

Buchanan was from Pennsylvania, and like Pierce, a northern Democrat. Both opposed slavery on moral grounds, but thought it was legal, grounded in the constitution. Buchanan was a career politician with considerable diplomatic experience and an epicurean passion. He entered the White House understanding that the nation was splitting apart over human bondage and that war was inevitable. His goal was to stop it.

Harriet Lane acted as First Lady for her bachelor uncle President James Buchanan

Buchanan had no intention of spending summers in the White House because of the “bad vapors.” He commuted from Soldiers’ Home, located on a breezy hill in the capitol city. In 1858, the second year of his presidency, he escaped Washington briefly for a summer visit at Congress Hall.

Despite the Civil War looming, Buchanan’s niece Harriet, who had run of the White House, enjoyed keeping up with the southern belles who ruled Washington society. Harriet presided at presidential social events under new gas chandeliers amid furniture she had gilded and covered in satin, tapestry, silk, lace brocades and damask. It was after a sparkling White House dinner December 20th, 1860, that Buchanan received a telegram announcing South Carolina had seceded from the American Union.

The antebellum days ended abruptly – in Washington and Cape May. Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, assumed the White House in 1861. Though Cape May depended on the south for its livelihood, the city supported the president, realizing that its geographic isolation could pose tragic consequences if faced with an enemy army. The economy turned inside out. Amelia Hand noted in her diary that wool rose from 25 cents to $1.50 a pound, cotton seven cents to $1, and tea 40 cents to $1.50. Cape May businesses were accustomed to $50,000 a year in southern revenues. The proceeds dropped to $10,000 a season. A vacationer wrote, “Streets are barren, weeds have taken over lawns, picket fences crumble in the blazing sun.”

After the war an aging former President Buchanan returned for some seaside rejuvenation. A letter to his niece Harriet Lane Johnston:

August, 14th, 1867, Cape Island, New Jersey

My dear Niece:

I do not know exactly when I shall leave this place, but I think early next week. I have been much pleased with my visit here, and have, I think, been strengthened, but much more by the sea air than the bathing. I am not quite certain that the latter agrees with me. We have had a great crowd all the time; but the weather has been charming and the company agreeable.

Mr. Bullitt of Philadelphia gave me a dinner the other day, which I only mention from the awkward situation in which I was placed by not being able to drink a drop of wine.

I am very well, thank God!

Yours affectionately,

James Buchanan

President Buchanan died a year later, June 1st, 1868, at age 77.

The Civil War had ended in April, 1865. Only two months later, in June, the victorious Union General Ulysses Grant traveled to Cape May. He drew huge crowds to the Congress Hall lawn, where he reviewed a colorful military drill performed by the reserves from nearby Camp Upton. The newspapers covered every detail of the visit including Mrs. Grant ordering two bathing outfits: one in red flannel trimmed in blue, the other blue trimmed in red.

General Grant became the 18th president in 1869 at age 46. (1869-1877) He returned to Congress Hall as president in the summer of 1875. Wealthy industrialists and merchants had just established a yacht club and were courting Grant to make his summer home in Cape May.

The New York Times reported the visit in glowing terms:


Arrival of President Grant and Party—Other Noted Guests—The Arrangements For the Regatta – Great Crowds and a Successful Contest Assured.

Cape May, NJ. July 10 – President Grant arrived here this evening in a United States revenue cutter, attended by Gov. Hartranft, George W. Childs, Seth J. Comly, Judge Comly, Adolph E. Borie, and Gene Babcock. Their arrival was announced by the booming of cannon and demonstrations of enthusiasm. The distinguished visitors will witness the grand regatta, which promises to congregate more people than ever previously assembled on the island. Four immense trains arrived to-day, and the night is an auspicious gala one. The journalists of South Jersey were to-day entertained at the Ocean House, and this evening Alexander Whilden, President of Sea Grove, has as guests a deputation of newspaper representatives from Baltimore and Philadelphia. The steam yacht Eutaw makes an excursion to the Breakwater from Congress Hall, landing to-morrow morning and will also accompany the regatta, continuing Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The United States revenue steamer Tallapoosa arrived to-day and will be used by the Regatta Committee and distinguished guests. To-morrow morning the vessel will go to the Five Fathom Light-ship, fifteen miles out to sea, to escort the yacht squadron to the island.

The president and his wife stayed at Congress Hall. Grant was a finicky eater. He insisted his meat be cooked to a crunch, no matter the type or quality. He refused poultry dishes. Grant turned his back on Cape May for his summer place despite the local gentry’s hospitality. He chose instead Long Branch, ostensibly because there was a casino and horse racing. Grant loved fast horses better than anything, including his penchant for whiskey. He was once fined $20 for speeding on his horse. Later on, in honor of the president’s visit, a Congress Hall guest room was decorated with furnishings from his era.

It was a surprise to learn that the 21st president, Chester Arthur (1881-1885), paid a visit to Congress Hall. He has not been part of the Cape May lore. Arthur never expected to become president. A New York Republican, he assumed the office at age 52 in 1881 after President James Garfield died from an assassin’s gunshot wounds. Garfield was ambushed at the Washington train station on his way to meet his wife at their summer cottage in Long Branch.

President Chester Arthur

President Arthur, a widower, traveled extensively and in style. Nicknamed “Elegant Arthur,” he dressed the dandy look in handsome hand-tailored suits, some with jackets trimmed in fur. Cape May greeted him with great fanfare in the summer of 1883. The New York Times reported on July 23rd that “10,000 fashionable visitors are expected for the arrival of President Arthur tomorrow.”

The article goes on to say that he will sail to the Congress Hall Pier aboard the steamship Dispatch. Six sailors in a cutter will row him to the landing. He will review the National Rifles of Washington on the Congress Hall lawn.

The next day The New York Times reported that President Arthur and his daughter, Miss Nellie, were on their way by carriage to Sewell’s Point, but the crowds clamoring to see the president were so large, they

made a halt at the edge of the waves in front of the Congress Hall bathing crowds. The sea was full of bathers and there was a rush of water nymphs to gaze at the President. The carriages were surrounded by the dripping multitude. The President shook everyone’s hand and said he was greatly pleased with Cape May. He wore a dark suit of thin texture and a high narrow brimmed white hat. On leaving Congress Hall Pier that night, the beach was illuminated and there was great cheering.

The Wanamaker cottage “Lilenmyn” at Cape May Point. Originally built at Beach and Harvard, it was moved inland and now stands at Cape and Yale as a Marianist Retreat.

Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president (1889-1893), a Republican from Indiana, was the president who put the national spotlight on Cape May most intensely. Philadelphia department store mogul John Wanamaker was developing Sea Grove at Cape May Point and became a major Harrison financial backer. Harrison then appointed Wanamaker Postmaster General.

The Wanamakers occupied a large Italianate-style cottage called Lilenmyn at The Point, and lost no time inviting the Harrisons as house guests their first summer in the White House in 1889. They entertained them in a week-long merry-go-round of dinners and parties. President Harrison loved the fresh seafood, especially the oysters. First Lady Caroline Harrison said if it were up to her husband, he would eat oysters three times a day. The First Lady was smitten with Cape May Point. She was an artist and especially enjoyed the ocean views and gardens.

The Wanamaker “syndicate,” as it was called, decided to build the Harrisons their very own large cottage to ensure the President would return every summer and generate headlines, investors and tourists.

The syndicate got to work right away and constructed a 23-room villa at the cost of $10,000 at Beach and Harvard Avenues. The President told Wanamaker he could not accept such an ostentatious gift, that it would be unethical. So they presented the home to the First Lady in a White House ceremony in June, 1890. The presenter was William McKean, editor of the Philadelphia Ledger, who said the contributors were anonymous subscribers. Indeed, the large cottage became a scandal! Washington headlines screamed “the syndicate” was buying presidential favor for railroad and housing developers.

Controversy or not, the Harrisons went ahead with plans to summer in Cape May Point.

President Benjamin Harrison home in Cape May Point, NJ

The back of the photo reads, “Grandpa Harrison’s at Cape May Point. Occupied in summers while he was president, afterwards sold.” Courtesy of the President Benjamin Harrison Home. 

To ease the way Harrison sent a check to Wanamaker, who responded:

Washington, July 2nd, 1890

Sir: I am in receipt of your letter of this date advising me of your decision regarding the cottage at Cape May Point and enclosing [$10,000] cheque to reimburse the friends who made the outlay there, as a token of friendship for Mrs. Harrison.

Very Respectfully Yours,

John Wanamaker

The original receipt from Hand’s Central Market. Click to enlarge. Courtesy of the President Benjamin Harrison Home.

Mrs. Harrison packed up her large extended family and settled in at her brand new cottage on the beach. She had training in home economics and ran a tight but hospitable household. She personally sent orders for meats and produce to Hand’s Central Market at Washington and Ocean Streets. An original document from August 10th, 1890, shows her purchases.

The Cape May countryside fascinated the First Lady and she frequently requested coachman William Turner, a local, to take her for carriage rides around Shunpike, in Lower Township. On Sunday, August 24th, on the way home from church at the Old Brick Presbyterian in Cold Spring, Mrs. Harrison asked to drive by a vine-covered cottage owned by Dan and Judy Kelly. She was obviously intrigued by the picturesque setting and wished to share it with the president. Mr. Harrison climbed from the carriage, introduced himself, asked for a drink of water from the oaken bucket and after a chat, pressed into Mrs. Kelly’s hand a crisp five dollar bill.

The next year President Harrison made headlines internationally when he chose the first floor of Congress Hall as the Summer White House. The New York Times reported July 4th, 1891:

President Harrison’s Fourth was scarcely a holiday. In the morning he walked up the beach with his grandchildren…Postmaster General Wanamaker reached Cape May Point at 11:30 o’clock on the express from Philadelphia. He called early upon the President and spent the afternoon with him in earnest work upon Post Office matters. After business had been disposed of Mr. Harrison took another long walk with Mrs. Dimmick. The President’s family had some fireworks during the evening and were further entertained by a similar display from atop the Cape May Point Lighthouse.

First Lady Caroline Harrison. Photo courtesy President Benjamin Harrison Home.

Few knew how sick Mrs. Harrison was becoming her last summer at Cape May Point. She died one year later of tuberculosis at age 60.

Benjamin Harrison sold the Cape May cottage back to John Wanamaker for $10,000 in 1896. That same year he married widow Mary Lord Dimmick, his secretary and niece of the late First Lady. Harrison wrote Wanamaker June 30th, 1986:

My dear Mr. Wanamaker;

Your letter enclosing your check for Ten Thousand ($10,000) dollars for the Cape May Point property came yesterday. I am very much obliged to you again for your kindness.

Sincerely Yr Friend,

Benj Harrison

The Wanamaker family used the President’s seaside retreat for several years and eventually turned it over to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It did not survive the ravages of sea erosion. The Wanamaker cottage, originally built at Beach and Harvard avenues, is now the Marianist Retreat and was moved inland. It still stands at Cape and Yale, looking much the way it did when President Harrison rocked on its porch with John Wanamaker.

There has not been a sitting president to walk Congress Hall since 1891, when Benjamin Harrison chose the handsome L-shaped building hotel for his Summer White House.

But if you listen, the venerable old place, with its mellow yellow façade and pristine white pillars that reflect the sea and sunsets, does talk and tells its remarkable stories of yesteryear. 

Ferry Tales

Cape May Wedding Receptions, Cape May Wedding Ceremonies, Unique Cape May Wedding Ideas

Imagine walking down the aisle with a backdrop of the Delaware Bay, a charming wooden boardwalk, 75 of your closest friends and family, and a giant ferry boat.

I’m talking about the Cape May-Lewes ferry terminal in North Cape May, situated at the mouth of the canal entering the Delaware Bay, just minutes outside of Cape May. I’ve been to two weddings at the ferry terminal: one an outside ceremony with a reception in the Sunset Lounge, the other a Lounge ceremony with an off-site reception. One was formal; one was beachy. The location lends itself to whatever you have in mind.

The Sunset Lounge is on the second floor of the terminal and looks out over the Delaware Bay. Just as its name implies, it offers sunset views during your ceremony or reception. For a ceremony, chairs can be set up facing the water, with a central aisle. For a reception, the room configuration is tighter, with little room for dancing if you have a lot of guests, but it does have a built-in bar and a second-floor deck where you can enjoy some fresh air. It can accommodate 75-100 guests. Caterers must be brought in (they’ll provide you with a list of approved vendors), but the Ferry has a liquor license and offers open, hosted, or cash bars. That’s one less thing to worry about!

The Sunset Lounge (top left) has a deck where guests can enjoy some fresh air.

The terminal offers plenty of on-site parking, and it’s hard to miss the due to the multitude of signs! There are a few downsides. There is nothing that blocks the wind for an outside ceremony, so on a breezy day, instruct your maid of honor to do some serious veil holding (I watched one poor bride struggle with hers the entire ceremony). This is an active ferry terminal, so guests will be boarding and exiting ferry boats while you’re saying your vows. Also, the ferry announcements (and horn) will sound even with your big moment taking place. As a guest, I found it humorous, but you might not like “Last chance!” being broadcast when you’re about to say “I do.” So if privacy and quiet are atop your list of site “must haves,” an outside wedding here may not be the best choice for you.

If you’re wondering whether you can have a wedding on the boat itself, the answer is yes. I’ve just never been invited to one of those. cape may wedding ideas

Weddings at the Cape May Ferry Terminal

Cape May Lewes-Ferry Terminal
1200 Lincoln Boulevard, North Cape May
(800) 643-3779

For more vendors & inspiration, visit our Cape May Weddings Directory

Roadtripping with your dog

On the Way to Cape May….gee, that’s kind of catchy. Someone should write a song….oh, sorry…. got distracted there for a moment!

Seriously, on your way to Cape May, or on any other road trip, whether it’s a day trip, a several-day trip, or part of a multi-day vacation, it’s always more fun if you can bring along the 4-legged ones. I know our dogs, Guinness and Jameson, just love road trips. In fact, I think they think that the car should never leave without them in it! You’ll have more fun being with your dog(s) and your dog(s) will certainly love being included in the fun and excitement.

When planning a road trip, of course we want to remember…SAFETY FIRST!

As with any adventure, or really anything we do, a little planning goes a long way. Here are some tips to help keep your dog(s)–and you–safer on any road and, in case you are flying into Atlantic City Airport for your visit to Cape May, some flying safety tips, as well.

Safety Belts and Car Crates

Photo by Mark Jones

Whether you have one or more large dogs, small dogs, or one or more of each, when in the car, they should be in a safety belt or in a safe crate. If crate trained, your dog(s) can ride in a car crate. This should be made of non-collapsible materials so as to not fold up or collapse if jostled. The crate should optimally be fastened down to avoid being thrown about the car in the event of an accident, especially if the crate and dog are small and do not “fill” the space you have allotted for the crate. In the event of an accident or sudden movement of the vehicle, the object of the crate is to protect the dog from being tossed around and injured. It will also keep the dog from disturbing or distracting you while driving, keeping everyone more attentive and safe. Use a crate if your dog is already crate trained. If not already trained, it is still your best option, so crate train your dog in the car crate at home. Use regular crate training methods and when your dog is comfortable in the crate, use it in a parked car, then on a short excursion, then longer. This way your dog will be relaxed and enjoy the adventure more, which means you will too.

If your dog(s) is/are larger or if you just do not prefer to use a crate, use a car safety harness instead. This IS NOT the “people” safety belt which comes with the car! Depending on the type you prefer, some can stay in the car, while others can come out with the dog(s) and be used as a walking harness as well. Again, train your dog(s) in advance. Get your dog used to wearing the harness around the house, then while walking, then in a parked car, a short trip, and voila, you’re on the road safely. If you use the safety harness, your dog will have the option of watching as the world goes by, or the freedom to lie down and relax while you do the driving. Whether you use a crate or a safety harness, this will also protect your dog(s), in the event of an accident or problem, from running away if frightened, thus avoiding a lost or otherwise injured dog(s).


Check to see if rest stops are dog friendly.

It may be advantageous, especially for your first few trips, to be sure your dog(s) travels on an empty stomach. Stop often so both you and your dog(s) can have appropriate and timely potty breaks. Of course, be sure to have the car properly ventilated, no matter what time of the year you are traveling, AND NEVER, NEVER; leave your dog(s) in the car in any heat. If you are uncomfortable in the heat, in the car, it can be deadly to your dog(s).

Whenever traveling with your dog(s), or even without, unless it’s a day trip, be sure to plan on accommodations in advance. Also check to see if any rest stops, restaurants, stop-overs, etc., are dog friendly. Rules vary and are often very specific, so you want to be sure that your planning will insure a terrific experience, not one of unwelcome surprises.

Up in the air

When traveling by air, it’s especially important to check the specific requirements of each individual airline, as well as airport amenities (areas to walk, areas where pets are allowed some freedom, etc.). Call/check well in advance so you are prepared for convenient and SAFE travel for your pet. Crates are usually required in air travel, and airlines have very strict and specific requirements. In additional to crate training your dog(s), be sure to train your dog(s) to adjust to people walking around as well as lifting the crate, and having the crate transported on a cart. Try to accustom your dog to quiet movement and translocation. Airlines will not fly animals if the temperature at a location is to exceed 85 degrees, and you should not only watch your pet boarded on the plane, as well as off loaded, but you should also plan on a direct flight. Some airlines are more pet friendly than others, so…. do your homework.

Travel, have fun, plan ahead, and….SAFETY FIRST!

Paws-atively love those road trips!

Good Read Recommendation of the MonthROAM by Alan Lazar, a wonderful story about enduring love throughout travail and trouble. And, there is accompanying music!

The French Connection to Food

Alsace, France

The title alone has probably scared off a multitude of home cooks. For some reason, merely saying the words French Cuisine elicits disparate reactions. For foodies it brings slobbering adulation and visions of silky sauces, rich exotic meats and decadent desserts. For diners it can be the fear of being mocked by snooty waiters for using the wrong fork with their salads and fumbling through the menu with Jimmy Durante style verbal gymnastics. For the home cook, and many first year culinary students, the thought of cooking French food just brings fear. Sometimes the French act like they invented the entire concept of eating. It seems that in America we worry more about what we shouldn’t eat rather than enjoying what we do eat. The French have a cultural appreciation for food and wine that is absent from many regions of this country. Not every French meal is a seven course 30-dirty-pots destroyer of kitchens. Neither is every Gallic dish laden with snails and organ meats. The latest hip trend here is to eat local and farm to table foods, the French couldn’t imagine eating any other way.

Alsace, France

My favorite French dishes have rustic rural roots rather than Parisian pompousness. In France, regionalism and freshness reigns supreme in the kitchen. One region, whose cuisine has always attracted my attention, is Alsace. Located in the northeast corner of France, Alsace is nestled against the river Rhine next to Germany and Switzerland. At various points throughout its long history, Alsace has belonged to Germany and this is reflected in its gastronomy. Alsace belies the fact the man and politics can alter borders and allegiances but not an Epicureanism that is rooted in the earth, streams, fields, and forest. To be sure there are elements of Germanic cuisine such as sausages, spaetzle sauerkraut and beer, but to call Alsatian food a French/German hybrid does a disservice to all three cuisines. The distinctiveness of this region is demonstrated in its beverage selection. Rich rural farmland produces grapes such as Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Sylvaner producing great white wines in a country associated with robust reds. Orchards and meadows yield a bounty of fruits which are distilled into potently aromatic eaux-de-vie. Then there is beer. Alsace is the largest beer producing and consuming region in France. All of these beverages pair well with the local fare and are also prominent in the food. This pairing is notably showcased in one of the region’s most famous dishes Coq-Au-Riesling.

A variant on the French classic Coq-Au-Vin, the Alsatian staple features the area’s best known wine. Fruity yet not as sweet as its Germanic cousins Alsatian Riesling lightens the flavor and color of the burgundy rich Coq-au-Vin. Finished with cream from local dairies this dish stands out as example of a cuisine adapting to its terrain. No discussion of Alsatian cuisine would be complete without mentioning my favorite culinary animal, the pig.

Alsace, France. Photo by Liam Heffernan

How could I not fall in love with a region the embraces the humble swine as much as the Alsatians? Pork in all its varied incarnations is well represented on the menu and the table. lardons of crispy slab bacon enhance Coq-au-Riesling as well as TarteFlambee. TarteFlambee or Flammekuche is the Alsatian take on pizza. A crisp wood oven fired crust is laden with fresh from the cow Fromage blanc, caramelized onions and strips of fat-streaked bacon. A dish composed from these rich earthen flavors can only be described with one word – Yum. Pork is also prevalent in the sausages and terrines that promiscuously appear in the brasseries and cafes of the towns and villages. The French art of charcuterie is living culinary history in Alsace. Fatty Foie Gras and smoke-tinged hams are produced with techniques that are several centuries old. The region is also famous for its earthenware pottery that often burst with gastronomic delights such a Chou-croute, a mild French version of sauerkraut served with juniper berries and sausage or braised meat, and Backhoeffe a casserole that explodes from its container with a trio of meats, potatoes and leeks. Alsace is a marriage of fertile land tied together with its people, craftsmanship and cuisine.

Explore this rich culinary heritage with the following recipes for TarteFlambee, Alsatian Salad, Coq Au Riesling and Fromage Blanc Tarte. Fill a glass with crisp Riesling or hoppy lager and enjoy a cuisine that is strongly tied to its land people and history. Until Next month, Bon Appétit


When I first started planning this class every student I talked to said this was a must do dish. It is rustic and revolves around atypical Alsatian ingredients: slab bacon, fromage blanc, caramelized onions and crème fraîche. This tart lets you know you are in a fertile culinary landscape. Simple, yet rich, it is a great starter that pairs well with beer or wine.

The Dough

Starter: Mix ¼ cup flour ¼ cup, 100 degree water, 1 tbsp sugar and 1 pkg yeast. Let rest in warm spot 3- minutes. When frothy, add ¼ cup beer and ¼ cup milk, plus 2 tbsp.

In food processor add 2 cups flour and 1 tsp salt. Slowly add yeast mixture to flour. Process until ball forms. Do not over mix. Let rest 30 minutes. Roll out into very thin rectangle.

The Topping

  • 1 onion, julienned and caramelized, cooled
  • 4 oz slab bacon, cut into lardons and cooked until crispy (Lardon is a strip or cube of fat or bacon used in larding meat)
  • 1 cup crème fraîche, seasoned with salt pepper and nutmeg

Add cooled onions to crème fraîche. Spread over crust, sprinkle with sprinkle with lardons and fromage blanc. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.

Alsatian Salad

  • 2 heads Bibb lettuce
  • 4 oz jambon diced (Jambon de Paris is a wet-cured, boneless ham, which is served cold in thin slices)
  • 5 oz garlic sausage, cut into thick half moons, warmed
  • 4 hard cooked eggs
  • 2 tomatoes wedged
  • 2 lbs small waxy potatoes, cooked quartered, kept warm
  • 8 oz gruyere, diced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • Chopped parsley

Arrange torn bibb lettuce leaves on plate. Top with warmed potatoes and sausage then gruyere and ham. Garnish with egg quarters, tomatoes and onion. Drizzle with vinaigrette and parsley.

The Vinaigrette

Mix 2 tsp Dijon mustard with 2 tbsp wine vinegar and 5 tbsp olive oil. Season. Mix well. Serve with neutral white wine like Pinot Blanc.

Coq Au Riesling

This is the Alsatian variant of the French classic Coq Au Vin. Alsace is famous for its Riesling wine so it is natural that the crisp white replaces the hearty red in this version. Finished with a hint of crème fraiche or cream and served with spaetzle, this dish can be at home on a farmers table or local brasserie.

  • 1 stewing hen, cut in 8 pieces
  • 3 onions, julienned
  • 8 oz slab bacon, cut in lardon
  • 1 lb mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Sprigs of thyme
  • 1 bottle Riesling
  • Chicken stock

In Dutch oven, melt butter. Add lardons and cook until crispy. Remove and reserve. Season hen with salt and pepper. Brown 3-5 minutes each side. Remove patting off excess fat. Add onions and mushrooms to pan. Cook until softened. Deglaze with wine, scraping pan to add flavor to the sauce. Add fowl back in. Add thyme. Cover bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Add bacon back in. cook 15 more minutes. Remove chicken to platter. Garnish with bacon, onions and mushrooms. To the pan, reduce liquid. Add crème fraiche and parsley. Pour over chicken. Serve with spaetzle.

Alsatian Spaetzle

  • 7 eggs
  • 1 kilo Semolina
  • salt

Mix. Let rest. Cut with knife into boiling water.

Tarte Fromage Blanc

The Crust

  • 1⅓ cups flour
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • Pinch salt

In bowl blend all ingredients except water. Work dough until it resemble bread crumb. Slowly add water until dough forms. Let rest one hour. Roll out thin and line deep tart pan. Prick crust with fork. Refrigerate 10 minutes. Bake 10 minutes. Cool. Fill with cheese mix.

  • 1 lb fromage blanc
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ⅔ cup superfine sugar vanilla scented
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • 3½ tbsp. cornstarch

In bowl mix cheese cream sugar egg yolks and lemon until smooth whip whites until stiff fold into cheese mix pour into crust bake at 400 for 40 minutes cool and serve with stewed rhubarb.

Stewed Rhubarb

  • 2 lbs diced rhubharb
  • 1½ cups sugar

Cook covered on low heat 1½ hours.

Persnickety Note: the French peel their rhubarb and asparagus. If you are expecting red rhubarb don’t peel it.