If I had to make a list of the most charming towns in Upstate New York Clayton would make the list. In fact, I think I would place it pretty high on that list, but having spent summers there fishing off the village docks, and drifting around goose bay in a row boat, I might be a tad biased.
I have always loved the thousand island region, 1000 island dressing grew on me as I got older. I think it is one of those complex flavor combinations that are hard for kids to enjoy. It might be my indifference to the salad dressing when I was younger, but even with all my time spent hanging out at the Village docks I had no idea that the origins of the pink-ish salad dressing is somewhat of a mystery, and a source contention between Clayton, and the neighboring town of Alexandria Bay.
1000 Island Dressing, the Clayton version
Residents of Clayton lay claim to Thousand Island Dressing, saying a local fishing charter’s wife named Sophia LaLonde created the salad dressing for shore dinners. She is said to have concocted the tangy dressing to be served at fishing parties for her husband George LaLonde Jr., who guided sportsmen looking to fish for black bass, northern pike and muskie along the St. Lawrence River, and served it at the Herald Hotel (now known as the Thousand Islands Inn), in the early 1900s.
The inn, although now owned by a different family continues to offer Sophia LaLonde’s salad dressing at its award-winning restaurant – as its “official” house dressing along with fresh perch and walleye. The Inn has been featured in Gourmet Magazine and Travel Channel’s Taste of America.
The Clayton version of the tale claims that LaLonde’s husband George was guiding a prominent New York City actress named May Irwin and her husband. May Irwin, was a vaudevillian performer who vacationed in the Thousand Islands near Clayton at an island called Club Island. Folklore has it the actress was so impressed with the salad dressing she asked George LaLonde for the recipe.
According to this version, it was Irwin who named it Thousand Island Dressing and then gave the recipe to fellow NYC resident George Boldt on recommendations to serve it at the Waldorf-Astoria.
1000 Island Dressing, the Alexandria Bay version
But citizens of Alexandria Bay say Thousand Island Dressing was created by a chef of George Boldt’s while boating in the area on his yacht around the same time.
The story is that while cruising on his steam yacht, the chef was lacking ingredients for a salad dressing and created the Thousand Island dressing with what ingredients he did have on hand, and George Boldt so liked it he asked the chef to make it again, and served it in his hotels including the Waldorf-Astoria. Today bottles of the dressing are sold at Boldt Castle’s gift shop on Heart Island.
No matter which town you are more likely to agree with, there is no denying that this tangy dressing is perfect for iceberg wedge salads, and Reuben sandwiches. If you like Big Macs, a big reason maybe because of that tasty “secret” spread that is plopped onto both buns of the world’s most popular fast food hamburger. 1000 Island dressing isn’t like any other salad dressing, but it is remarkably easy to make, and as a bonus, the homemade version tastes about a thousand times better than the stuff you can pick up at the grocery store.
Even though the area from which this salad dressing hails is the “1000 Islands”, the dressing is almost always referred to as “1000 Island”, and today it is the only salad dressing named for any region in the United States.
Sauerkraut has a long history in the Finger Lakes, the charming little village of Phelps, NY was at one time of the largest producers of sauerkraut in the world. This recipe is always a hit, even with people who think they don’t like sauerkraut.
Nothing says fall in Upstate New York like a grape pie. This annual treat is anticipated by many, and for some home cooks like myself worth the time-consuming effort, it takes to put one together.