Hiking and Eating at Texas Hollow State Forest

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Texas Hollow and Berta’s Tacos

Story and photos by Janet McCue

Nestled between Connecticut Hill and the Finger Lakes National Forest is the 900+ acre Texas Hollow State Forest. Odd that both Texas and Connecticut would make appearances on this section of a Finger Lakes map. Boj, my cartographically-oriented husband, briefed me on the topographic nomenclature issues involving Connecticut Hill, the Preemption Line, Massachusetts land claims, and sales to the state of Connecticut…but said that the origin of Texas Hollow is shrouded in mystery (although theories abound!). We do know that Texas Hollow, six miles northeast of Watkins Glen and 15 miles west of Ithaca, appears on an 1853 Tompkins County map (Hector was still in Tompkins County in 1853; today the town is in Schuyler County). We also know Texas Hollow State Forest is a great place to hike, watch birds, and if you have a rod and reel, fish. Signage is minimal but you’ll find the Forest about a mile down Texas Hollow Road.

photo 1The varied habitat of Texas Hollow–fern-lined forest trails, swampy lowlands, sphagnum bogs, large ponds and small pools–is a perfect environment for a variety of birds. The Cayuga Trails Club maintains the trail in this section of the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) and their new boardwalk makes it easy to avoid the swampy approach to the trail. A lone great blue heron on the pond took flight on our arrival but the solitary fisherman in his kayak seemed unperturbed. In the woods, we spotted foamflowers and starflowers, magenta polygalas and the elegant lady slipper orchid whose showy existence ironically depends on its symbiotic relationship with a soil fungus.

Although we were heading out when most birds are taking their mid-morning snooze, we had packed the binoculars just in case. Other than watching territorial disputes among the brightly feathered red-winged blackbirds over the shallow wetlands, we saw few songbirds and heard no woodpeckers. As we relaxed on a downed log by one of the many pools on the blue loop trail, my husband spotted a large snapping turtle trolling for crayfish not 10 ft in front of us. The turtle must have made an appearance for us in celebration of World Turtle Day (May 23rd). As the snapper drifted away, a wood duck decked in its finery appeared out of nowhere–presumably navigating through some of the secret passageways that connected the pools. We wondered whether a snapping turtle could lunch on a wood duck but didn’t wait find out.

Instead we headed over to Berta’s Cafe in Burdett, just 3.6 miles away, for our own feast. Opened two years ago by Roberta Mann, a retired West Coast wound and burn specialist, the cafe focuses on breakfast and lunch. We ordered at the counter, found a table on the porch, and enjoyed our freshly-squeezed lemonade and iced tea, home-brewed with a whisper of cinnamon. Food always tastes better after a hike but I could not imagine a better breakfast taco. Mine included a perfectly cooked egg, a mound of homemade guacamole, and a round of local sausage served on a handmade tortilla shell. Boj’s black bean tacos, sprinkled with red and green peppers and garnished with dollops of guacamole were just as flavorful and even more colorful than mine.

I’ve stopped at Berta’s Cafe several times over the past two years and assumed that the owner had had a lifelong dream of opening a restaurant, following her retirement and move from the West Coast. Instead Berta told us that she fell in love with the area first, the architecture second, and that the idea of opening a cafe came next. She enjoyed cooking almost as much as being a physician so when the property became available, she jumped at the chance to own a café. Judging from the smiles on Berta’s face as she checked on her customers, she has found her new calling. As fellow diners lingered over their pots of tea and nibbled their homemade cinnamon rolls, it seemed the perfect stop for both neighbors and tourists on this sunny Memorial Day weekend. Berta’s is open Wednesday-Sunday, 7:00am-2:00pm (with a winter hiatus). I intend to come back and try Berta’s homemade raspberry scones when the raspberries, which she sources from Church St. Produce in Burdett, are ripe. Right now, it’s asparagus season, but soon the strawberries will come and then the raspberries…and then the scones.

Next hike: a raspberry scone after a hike on the Gorge Trail off of Mark Smith Road–not too far from Texas Hollow or from Berta’s!

Janet McCue is an avid hiker who enjoys both the beauty and the bounty of the Finger Lakes. Her website follows her six-day culinary trek through the Finger Lakes, a journey that Edible Finger Lakes covered in its July/August 2014 issue (“Hike to Eat”).

For more of Janet’s work, click here.

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