Travel Pennsylvania – Trail of Food, Olive Oil and Spices in Butler County

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Double Wide Grill in Butler County, Pennsylvania

Double Wide Grill in Butler County, Pennsylvania

Travel Pennsylvania – Trail of Food, Olive Oil and Spices in Butler County

By Habeeb Salloum and Muna Salloum

Near a week was spent in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, a city filled with activity, alongside the rushed living of modern urban centers, but with a focus on sustainability – an activity lacking in the world’s largest cities. Pittsburgh is a vibrant, commercial, academic and research-oriented city, with a population of some 310,000. In the last few decades Pittsburgh’s citizens have brought their city back to life after it had decayed for years.

After indulging in this hectic life for a while, I felt the urge to move out for a few days to go back to the quaint rural life of old Pennsylvania. My interest turned to food after I had had my fill of international restaurants and hotel dining. Although generally good stuff, the desire to try some real ‘home-cooking’ drew me outside the main center to see what the quaint and more natural rustic regions of the state had still to offer.

The closest region was Butler County. It was to that destination that a group of us headed – because of its vicinity and its drive to bring nature back as the primary focus of healthy and happy living. As I was enthusiastically advised by the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau, the ‘3Ds’ of the area – diversity of landscape, diversity of weather and the diversity of attractions – are a must-see for anyone wanting to feel the rhythm of real Pennsylvania.

Double Wide Grill in Butler County, Pennsylvania

Double Wide Grill in Butler County, Pennsylvania

Taking to heart the words of the Bureau’s reps, the next day a group of us were on our way to tour the region. After a half hour’s drive, we stopped at the Double Wide Grill, in Mars, Cranberry Township in Butler County, a popular way-side stop for travelers. Advertised as a hot-spot for vegetarians and vegans, as we entered the restaurant, one of our group members remarked: “It’s vegetarian? Funny, I smell bacon!” Soon we were attacking plates of breakfast foods of all kinds including meats and dairy products. It seems that from the angle of our entrance to the restaurant, we had missed the sign, “Bar-B-Que”. The food arrived at our table in huge quantities, enough to make a famished trucker’s heart jump with joy.

Enchanted Olive in Butler County, Pennsylvania

Enchanted Olive in Butler County, Pennsylvania

Sated we made our way to the Enchanted Olive – home of over 50 blends of the highest quality extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from all over the world. Walking through the doors, before us was a whole array of stainless steel containers filled with these oils and vinegars in bewildering types and varieties such as the robust olive oil Oro Bailen Reserva Familiar Picual and Alfoos Mango White Balsamic Condimento, a vinegar that pairs well with the Enchanted Olive’s Persian Lime and Harissa Olive Oils. All members of our group sampled many of the oils and vinegars while a few purchased the ones they liked the best which were bottled and sealed fresh.

Kudos should be given to this establishment for carrying on the tradition of olives and their by-product. Olive oil has been an essential part of the Mediterranean diet since at least the 4th millennium BC when the inhabitants of present-day Syria brought the tree to Greece. From there it moved on to Italy where it spread during the Roman Empire.

Harmony Museum in Butler County, Pennsylvania

Harmony Museum in Butler County, Pennsylvania

Leaving this unique shopping experience we headed through a lush green rolling landscape towards Harmony, the former headquarters of the Harmony Society, a Germanic religious sect of the early 19th century. Its leader had instituted celibacy as a doctrine of his group in 1807 which led to its eventual extinction. From its historic past there remains today a cemetery with unmarked graves save for that of its leader George Rapp, and a museum that reminds travelers of this strange sect who believed the return of Christ was imminent and thus its members did not anticipate a lengthy Earthly future.

Harmony Bakery in Butler County, Pennsylvania

Harmony Bakery in Butler County, Pennsylvania

Our objective was to visit Harmony’s Stohr Haus Bakery, once a store house for Harmonites, but now offering fresh brewed coffees and an assortment of German-style baked goods. Alas, it was Sunday and the bakery was closed!

Con Yeager Spice Company in Evans City, Pennsylvania

Con Yeager Spice Company in Evans City, Pennsylvania

Moving on, we reached the Con Yeager Spice Company retail shop in Evan City – a company specializing in spice distribution and seasoning manufacturing serving both commercial and retail customers. The firm makes a variety of up to 1,200 spice blends from spices imported from all over the world for meat curing, and also manufactures various types of sausages. Rodney Schafer, owner of the company, said that they ship their products all over the U.S.A. and soon hope to add Canada to their area of distribution.

Con Yeager Spice Company - Owner Rodney Schafer

Con Yeager Spice Company – Owner Rodney Schafer

Dearer to his heart is his sale to hunters in the area of his mixture of spices the curing of deer meat. After sampling a number of his products, we left overwhelmed with the taste of spices impressed that this area of rural Pennsylvania could offer such a world of this product.

Following this venture into the world of aromas we stopped awhile at the Rustic Acres Winery where its Chief Vintner and owner Gary Matson offered us samples of the winery’s locally-made wines. It was more of a country experience appreciated by some and rejected by others from our group.

Freedom Farms in Butler, Pennsylvania - The King Family

Freedom Farms in Butler, Pennsylvania – The King Family

From the winery we made our way to Freedom Farms for the final meal of the day. This really was what I expected from rural Pennsylvania – farm food, wholesome and hearty. These farms are owned by the King Family, so-well admired in the county that they now have their own reality show called “The Farm Kings” that is aired on cable across the U.S. In addition to farming, the King family owns and operates the Freedom Farms Local Market (including a homemade bakery section), Freedom Farms Sandwich Shop and Freedom Farms Donut Shop.

Nine strapping young men and their lovely sister, they are led by their outstanding mother, Lisa. According to her children, she has struggled hard to keep the family together and has so far succeeded. After her divorce, Lisa worked to keep the family as one unit by instilling in them the value of working the land and maintaining the closeness of family life. As her eldest son, Joe, explained, “My mother taught us the work ethic and we will teach our children the same”.

Sitting down in a covered pavilion on their farm with 150 customers, we enjoyed a tasty meal consisting of Lisa’s culinary handiwork: a cool rhubarb drink, liver pate, roasted chicken with lemon, balsamic grilled asparagus, garlic potatoes, and two cobblers – one made with peaches and another with blueberries. Relishing the fresh farm food, I thought of Lisa and her children trying to bring what is best in America to visitors who travel this way. It was a fulfilling finale to a capping of a trip at this farm of hard work and fine hearty food.

IF YOU GO:

Enchanted Olive
120 North Perry Highway (Route 19), Harmony, PA 16037
Tel: 724-473-0017

Con Yeager Spice Company
215 E. Main Street, Evans City, PA 16033
Tel: 1-800-222-2460

Rustic Acres Winery
234 Crisswell Road, Butler, PA 16002
Tel: 724-283-6236

Freedom Farms
795 Pittsburgh Road, Route 8, Butler, PA 16002
Tel: 724-586-5551

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BIO:

Habeeb Salloum

Habeeb Salloum is a Canadian author who grew up in Saskatchewan, joined the RCAF during the Second World War, and then worked for the Canadian Department of National Revenue for 36 years. For the last 30 years he has been a full-time freelance writer and author specializing in food, history and travel. Besides 7 books and 20 chapters in books, he has had hundreds of articles about culture, food, travel, history and homesteading in western Canada appear in such publications as the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the Western Producer, Contemporary Review, Forever Young, Vegetarian Journal and Saveur.

Habeeb was awarded the 2013 Saskatchewan Tourism Travel Media Award by the Saskatchewan Tourism on April 10, 2014 for his literary work on travel, tourism and the culinary arts of that province.

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One Response to Travel Pennsylvania – Trail of Food, Olive Oil and Spices in Butler County

  1. Great post! My family settled in Butler County when the came to the U.S. in the mid-1700s. I’ve always wanted to go there and see. it. Thanks for sharing!

    Lance 07/12/2014 at 2:56 pm

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