The U.S. of A. is a country of diversity and variety from sea to shining sea. A trek across the 4 million miles of highways will take you through the Great Plains and beaches, big open skies and dense redwood forests, snow-covered mountains and flower-filled valleys and big cities with bright lights to charming towns where everyone knows each other. The people, culture, cuisines and specialties are just as wide-ranging and eclectic as the environments that surround them, each area offering up their own version of the American dream.
A journey on the open road will have you dining on barbecue ribs in Texas one night and jiving to jazz in Detroit the next. You’ll go from skiing the Rockies in Colorado to sunbathing on Miami Beach. Take a piece of this incredible journey home with you by shopping your way through the states. These are the nine best things to buy on your American adventure:
Maple Syrup |
Early settlers in the U.S. Northeast first learned about sugar maples from Native Americans. Legend says it was initially discovered when a tribal chief threw a tomahawk at a tree, resulting in sap then running out. Another says that Native Americans literally stumbled on the sticky stuff when running from a broken maple branch. No matter the origin, from the 17th century and onward farmers in Vermont and Massachusetts began collecting the sweetener from trees by hanging buckets under drilled holes.
True maple syrup is hard to come by outside of the Northeast, so take the opportunity while in this region to stock up on the sweet syrup. Vermont, which produces 5 percent of the world’s maple syrup, even has its own grading system of quality. If you plan on drizzling it over your pancakes, go with the Grade A Light Amber. The Grade B is best for baking and the Grade A Medium Amber should be used to add a mild maple flavor to cocktails.
Football Jersey |
Americans take their football very seriously. Unlike the rest of the world, when we say football we mean the tackle kind and not soccer. It’s the most popular sport in the United States and you’ll be hard-pressed to find fans that are more passionate and singularly dedicated to their teams.
There are 32 teams in the National Football League, each with its own unique mascot, colors and jerseys. If you’ll be in Green Bay, Wis., or Chicago on the day of a big game, be sure to sport the appropriate hues. These two towns notoriously have the most intense fans in the nation. There it’s not a sport, but a way of life.
Navajo Textiles |
The Navajo tribe comes from the Southwestern U.S., primarily in Arizona and New Mexico. These Native Americans lived here long before European settlers moved in, and today their history and traditions have continued to be passed down over many generations. One such way the Navajo heritage is preserved is in the art of their carefully and colorfully woven blankets and rugs.
The textiles are considered some of the best in the world, the rugs and blankets being sought after as trade items for more than 150 years. A typical tapestry will utilize strong and bold geometric patterns. Written records show the Navajo people have excelled in weaving for at least the last 300 years. Traditional methods of weaving involve using upright looms with no moving parts. It takes the average weaver anywhere from two months to years to complete a single rug, depending on its complexity.
For a souvenir that has a little more bite, bourbon is definitely the American specialty of choice. This U.S. whiskey is a barrel-aged distilled spirit made primarily from corn. It’s been distilled since the 18th century, but Bourbon County in Kentucky and Bourbon Street in New Orleans continue to dispute which one the name of the drink is derived from.
Most American bourbon brands are produced in Kentucky, where 4.9 million barrels of the liquor are aging. That means there are more barrels of bourbon than there are people in the state. In 1964 the United States Congress even recognized it as a “distinctive product of the United States” and in 2007 the U.S. Senate passed a resolution declaring September “National Bourbon Heritage Month.”
ShutterstockCowboy Hat |
The cowboy hat may be the most identifiable wardrobe piece known worldwide for its American roots. The high-crowned and wide-brimmed hat is associated with gun slingers, ranchers and country singers of the Southwestern U.S. While it’s worn around the world today, it’s forever synonymous with North American cowboy culture.
This accessory of the Wild West was originally made to protect its wearers from the dusty elements of the harsh desert. Stylized today with buckles, colors and feathers, they’re more of a symbol of the lifestyle they represent. For the most authentic of its kind, purchase one of the legendary Stetson style “The Boss of the Plains.” It’s the hat that made icons out of the cowboys and American heritage.
Faribault Wool Scarf |
It’s no secret that it’s a little more than chilly in Minnesota during the notoriously harsh winters. Utilizing the work ethic that’s stereotypical of the Midwest and a dedication to craftsmanship, the Faribault Woolen Mill has been churning out comfort and quality in the form of warm scarves since 1865. The fashionable items have changed a lot since being used by pioneers heading west, but the quality has been preserved.
BBQ Sauce |
Nobody does barbecue sauce better than the South. It’s a staple for soul foods, the secret ingredient to the best ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. You’ll find the flavor varies by region, South Carolina offering up a yellow mustard while the sauces in eastern North Carolina have a peppery vinegar base. Take a taste of down home Southern cooking back with you by buying up a bottle or two, sampling the different recipes from smoky to tangy or sweet.
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