Refreshing Reads for a Sultry Summer

Each of these summer-themed titles, all published in 2014, offer many reasons to seek out the history, vistas, curiosities, romance and culinary offerings of the Finger Lakes. By coincidence, two of the books chronicle the renovation of significant and historic Finger Lakes properties, Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua and the Sherwood Inn in Skaneateles. It is intriguing to note that their transformations began at the same time.

Saving A Masterpiece: The Untold Story of Sonnenberg Gardens
by Wesley A. Gifford, text by Karon Morgan

This is a story of vision and perseverance. Today, Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua, the Victorian-era estate of Frederick Ferris Thompson and Mary Clark Thompson, attracts thousands of visitors.

In the mid-20th century, the renowned gardens with their statuary and architectural structures, were neglected. The estate was part of the Veterans Administration Hospital grounds; the mansion was a residence for nurses employed at the VA Hospital. Sonnenberg’s successful comeback journey resulted from the transfer of the federally-owned property to a local nonprofit organization in 1973, facilitated by Wesley Gifford, a lawyer and local public official.

This memoir, written Gifford with the support of Karon Morgan, was prepared for publication after
Gifford’s death in 2013. The book recounts the many challenges faced by those who sought to restore the property, and how their difficulties were overcome.

The revival of the Rose Garden at Sonnenberg, for example, occurred when the world-famous Jackson and Perkins rose-cultivating company decided to leave nearby Newark in 1971. Gifford arranged to dig up 4,280 of the “finest J&P roses” and store them over the winter at a local nursery. Such fascinating stories testify to the resourceful determination of Gifford, the driving force behind the mission to restore Sonnenberg. The book’s many illustrations include rare photographs from the Thompsons’ residency, which guided the restoration.

Publisher: Lighting Press, Ontario County Historical Society
Website: ochs.org
Edition: Soft cover
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The Sherwood Inn: the Cornerstone of Skaneateles Since 1807
by Bill Eberhardt and Denise Owen Harrigan

Situated in the village of Skaneateles on the north shore of Skaneateles Lake, the Sherwood Inn, a former tavern and hotel, served travelers and diners for generations. Bill Eberhardt, the inn’s longtime owner, wrote this book with food writer Denise Owen Harrigan, about the challenges of resurrecting the property. The history of the 1807 inn is balanced with the story of Eberhardt’s restoration, which began following his purchase in 1974.

By the 1970s, the inn was in poor shape, shuttered and threatened with development. Eberhardt made many upgrades to the former stagecoach inn. A few black and white images from his arrival at the Sherwood with his young family in tow are included, but most of the book is filled with lush full-color photographs detailing the landmark building and Skaneateles scenery.

Space devoted to the Sherwood Inn’s menu offers some classic recipes accompanied by Eberhardt’s personal observations. Pinky Lipe’s Key Lime Pie will resonate with some Sherwood patrons: “Pinky was a baker, an artist, and a designer,” remembered as much for her pies as for the “cherished holiday shadow boxes” writes the inn keeper-author. Others recipes, like the appetizer Rose Ryan’s Swiss Chard Tart, reflect local sourcing of fresh ingredients from Rose Ryan’s organic farm in nearby Niles.

Publisher: Beaufort Books
Website: beaufortbooks.com
Edition: Hardback
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The Complete Guide to Village Life in America
by Nancy T. Hayden

Caroline Cowles Richards wrote a diary about growing up in 19th-century Canandaigua that has captivated generations of readers since it was published in 1913 as Village Life in America.

In 20th-century Canandaigua, Nancy Hayden read the diary with her mother; the pair speculated about the people and places mentioned in its pages. Hayden’s book, The Complete Guide to Village Life in America, brings to life the world of Caroline Cowles Richards, who was 10 years old when she started her diary.

Richards’ engaging narrative is timeless and has broad appeal. It is enhanced in this guide with illustrations of individuals, homes, schools, businesses and gravestones.The author, a retired teacher, has created a rich resource drawing on the Ontario County Historical Society’s archives. Like the diary, the guide is organized chronologically from 1852 to 1872, which includes the Civil War years. Images are presented in the order in which they are mentioned in each chapter. A surname index is included.

This full-color, spiral-bound guide includes a CD with a digital version of the diary. A street map provides an opportunity to find locations or visit cemeteries where Richards’ friends and family are buried. The section “Families at a Glance” presents details of prominent local families mentioned in the diary.

Publisher: Available through the Ontario County Historical Society
Website: ochs.org
Edition: Spiral bound
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What A Kiss Can Do 
by Kathy Johncox

Here is a light-hearted, yet thoughtful, summer read. The Finger Lakes Region inspired the fictional setting where the protagonist, 30-something Rita Jensen, works as a journalist. When Rita, on assignment, reluctantly attends a social gathering at Christmastime, two men vie for her attention. Fergie, her longtime colleague and a gifted photographer, catches Rita under the mistletoe and therein lays the start of “what a kiss can do.” Romance escalates quickly.

Things get problematic when Rita becomes pregnant just as Fergie leaves to pursue a career opportunity abroad. Rita’s childhood was scarred by her father’s absence, so she struggles to avoid a similar situation for her unborn child. A friendship with Derek, a charming English lawyer whom she also met at the holiday gathering, sustains her during the pregnancy. However, that relationship offers complications of its own.

The author, a fiction writer and communications professional, has crafted a well-paced first novel. Interesting secondary characters who lend support to the mother-to-be include “Boss,” Rita’s newsroom editor, and her mother, who understands all too well her daughter’s dilemma. The plot takes an unexpected turn when a news story Rita is covering includes a possible UFO sighting in a cornfield. Plausible or not, it makes for a memorable read.

Publisher: Createspace
Website: kathyjohncoxbooks.com
Edition: Soft cover
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Curiosities of the Finger Lakes
by Melanie Zimmer

Webster’s dictionary defines curiosity as “an interest leading to inquiry.” Numerous curiosities of the Finger Lakes Region are revealed in this new title, tempting readers to inquire further. Topics range from Native American folklore to the world’s largest pancake. Some subjects and locations will be familiar, although what is revealed about them is sure to stimulate the reader’s interest.

The book leads off with “Stories of the Haudenosaunee” and “Pre-Columbian Civilizations.” Bluff Point on Keuka Lake, for example, hides the ruins of an unknown civilization. In the chapter on “History” there is an informative summary of Mennonites and Amish groups who have settled in the Finger Lakes.  A “Fruit of the Vine” story explains the unusual labels on Bully Hill wines. Hammondsport’s Glenn Curtiss and Auburn’s Theodore Case appear in the chapter “Inventors and Ideas.” Ghostly occupants of the 1890 House in Cortland are among those revealed in “Spirit World.” It is a collection of intriguing tales, some of which are in bite-sized pieces.

Zimmer is a member of the New York Folklore Society, and has written books on legends and lore of the Finger Lakes and Central New York. She also performs as a storyteller and puppeteer.

Publisher: History Press, historypress.net
Website: thepuppets.com
Edition: Soft cover
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Timeless Bounty: Food and Wine in New York’s Finger Lakes
by Thomas Pellechia

With this book, the reader will take a journey from the geological origins of the region to the latest trends in food and beverage production. Individual chapters explore the history and sustenance of the Native Americans; the early settlement and development of the land; the influence of key winemakers, produce growers and husbandry families; plus an in-depth look at local food groups including milk, cheese and fruits.

Pellechia points to the importance of the recent growth of influential movements and organizations like the Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty and the New York Wine & Culinary Center. The author also chronicles  the locavore movement, which he  described as a “nod to the past, when working the land meant knowing where your food came from, and knowing that it was wholesome, in a time when farming was local.”

The Hammondsport resident specializes in writing on food and wine from the Finger Lakes region, and knowledgeably covers a wealth of material. Numerous full-color photographs, some from a bird’s-eye view, focus on the fertile land, its produce and wines. In an Afterward, “Cooking with Finger Lakes Bounty,” there are several recipes from establishments that are inspired by the region such as Maple-Apple Upside Down Cake, courtesy of Veraisons Restaurant at Glenora Wine Cellars.

Publisher: Burford Books Inc.
Website: burfordbooks.com
Edition: Soft cover
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Images of America: Conesus Lake
by Sharon L. Mistretta

Conesus Lake is the western-most of the 11 Finger Lakes. Twenty-five miles from Rochester, it is sometimes referred to as one of the “Little Fingers.” Four towns border the approximate 18 miles of shoreline: Geneseo, Groveland, Conesus and Livonia.

Livonia resident Sharon Mistretta has painstakingly selected and captioned hundreds of photographs from public and private collections for this pictorial history. An introductory essay provides background on the lake’s history.

Along with the reproduction of old postcards and photographs that reflect life along the shores of Conesus Lake, there is a tranquil scene painted for a lake resident in 1870 by prominent Hudson River School artist John Frederic Kensett. There are ample photographs of recreational activities like boating, fishing, and camping. The tents at the Graywoods Campground are long gone, but live on in this book. The lyrics and music of a love song, “Dear Conesus Lake,” written in 1908 about a couple’s boat ride on the moonlit lake, are included. Images show Long Point amusement park, once a popular summer destination, before its closing in 1990.

Obviously, there can be harsh weather in Upstate New York and one chapter documents natural disasters. On balance, however, the book presents the charm of the lake.

Publisher: Arcadia Publishing
Website: arcadiapublishing.com
Edition: Soft cover


by Laurel C. Wemmett