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Food Traditions in Herkimer County
drawing of three sisters garden

Preserving Herkimer County’s Flavorful Heritage.

Herkimer County is not only known for its beautiful, flowing landscape and historical significance but also for the culinary traditions of the different peoples that have made the Mohawk Valley their home. The county’s rich food traditions reflect the diverse cultural heritage of the region, incorporating elements from the Mohawk, European settlers, and more recent immigrants. Today the food we eat is shaped by the cultures that came together here over the centuries.

The Mohawk and other Haudenosaunee peoples created the original foodways that shaped the region’s diet for centuries to come. The basis of their diet was fish and game gathered from the land and corn, beans, and squash, known as the “Three Sisters” grown on their abundant farmlands in the Mohawk Valley. The first European settlers learned from the Mohawks how to thrive in the harsh climate of the region. They introduced to their cuisine everything from growing corn, beans and squash to the practice of smoking and drying fish and meat, to preserve them for long periods.

The first Europeans who permanently settled in Herkimer County were the Palatine Germans in the 18th century, followed by Yankees from New England after the Revolutionary War and then Irish and Italian immigrants with the growth of the valley’s industries in the 19th century. With each wave of immigrants new food types came into the region and many who came to work in the area’s factories ended up becoming farmers.  Each group found Herkimer’s rich soil and pure water produced quality foods to market to the growing population of the Northeastern United States.

Some of the foods that European immigrants brought to the Mohawk Valley include:

  • Apples, to be eaten fresh, dried for winter use or made into cider
  • Beef, as not only a meat product but also as the basis of our dairy industry and also as oxen, our first beasts of burden
  • Garlic, Herkimer is home to several varieties of garlic brought over by Italian and German immigrants
  • Potatoes, an important staple crop in Europe, a blight in Ireland in the 1840s drove many Irish immigrants to build new lives throughout America, including Herkimer County

Today, Herkimer County continues to attract people from across the world. Each group brings new food types into our communities and also learn about our foodways. What links all of us together is the importance of our farmland and farm families that produce the food that go into dishes as diverse as Chicken Riggies and Nepalese Momos (dumplings). Our farms today produce high quality milk and healthful vegetables to support these cuisines. Farmers are an enterprising group who are developing new methods of growing and new crops including water buffalo milk for traditional Italian Mozzarella cheese and hops as the key ingredient in locally brewed beer.

Supporting our farms continues this tradition of agricultural excellence here in our home communities.

chicken riggies