Stranger in a Strange Land, Days 3 & 4

Of course, when I wasn't cooking for the fantasy writing retreat, I was exploring the countryside looking for local delicacies. Just driving around was a pleasure, though a landscape of dairy farms, wooded ridges and rolling countryside, and a slanting winter light and gray overcast sky that made the store architecture of the houses seem all the more brooding and ancient.

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I discovered, for example, that the Gettysburg area has a hot dog tradition similar to that in the Albany, NY area. What both areas have in common, of course, is lots of people of German heritage. The bulging pork franks fill an agreeably ample bun, and the wieners (as the Germans tend to call them) are smeared with bright yellow mustard, and heaped with tons of raw onions and a generous dousing with chili. The place where the above specimen was acquired was Ernie's Texas Lunch in Gettysburg -- but never imagine for an instant that the chili deployed is Texas chili. This chili is a bland but rich meat sauce in a red oil that probably owes more to paprika than to tomato paste. It's an agreeable dog topping, but has none of the cumin-driven spiciness of actual chili con carne. Suffice to say there was a chili craze early in the 20th century, and many things were labeled chili that were not fundamentally chili. Another excellent hot dog mounted along similar lines was enjoyed by me at Famous Hot Wiener in Hanover.

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By haunting the yelp.com and chowhound.com boards, I learned that there was a decent barbecue a few miles south of Gettysburg just over the Maryland border. Chubby's is located in Emmitsburg, MD, a town of barely post-colonial vintage, with lines of stone and cauked log houses shouldering each other up the curving, hilly lanes. Chubby's is just south of town on Highway 15, which is the main highway from this region into Baltimore, a distance of about 40 miles. Chubby's calls itself Southern Barbecue, and there's a substantial oak pile out front as a come-on to barbecue aficionados. The brisket was Texas-style, with a substantial pink smoke ring; the baby back ribs were in the wet Memphis style; while pulled pork is served with sauerkraut replacing cole slaw, reflecting a playful Teutonic bent to the barbecue.

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The Gettysburg region is close enough to Chesapeake Bay that you can find crab houses of a very old-fashioned sort among the mountain villages south of York. Railroad, PA, hosts Captain Bob's, a formidable crab house where I enjoyed a half dozen crabs recently taken from the bay, and not imported from some far-off country. Unlike the chili, the spice rubbed crabs were spicy as hell.

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