Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Thousand Islands Shore Dinners

by Susan G Mathis

I love taking unique local traditions and weaving them into my stories, and the traditional Thousand Islands shore dinner is no exception. As you read Devyn’s Dilemma, you’ll catch a taste of shore dinners. Today, companies still carry on the tradition, inviting us to experience a long-time river tradition. But what is a shore dinner?

Traditionally, it’s a big fishing party. Several skiffs rallied at one island, dispersed to fish until noon, partook of a shore dinner, and then fished again until late afternoon. Fine folk like George Pullman, Frederick Bourne, and J.P. Morgan—and even President Ulysses S. Grant when he visited the islands in 1872— took time to get away from big-city life and find a quiet fishing vacation in the islands. 

The main boat would often be a small steam yacht. They would leave around 7 a.m., towing up to ten skiffs trailing behind them. The captain would choose an uninhabited island to use for a shore dinner, prepare the meal himself or drop off the meal preparers, and send the fishing guides off to row their guests to different fishing spots. 

Around noon, the fishing guides row the guests back to the steamer for a relaxing shore dinner, and then take the fishermen back out for an afternoon of more fishing. 

You’ve likely heard of the shore dinners of New England. But the traditional Thousand Islands shore dinners include fresh fish, French toast, and a sandwich with fried pork strips. And, of course, a salad with Thousand Islands Dressing.

In Devyn’s Dilemma, Devyn and Brice are tasked to prepare the shore dinner for Mr. Bourne, his daughter, Marjorie, and the famous J.P. Morgan who came to visit. While they fished, most of the meal was made in one cast iron skillet, except the salad, of course. Shore dinners took several hours to prepare—the onions and pork fried, potatoes cooked, and the fresh fish cleaned, battered, and fried in the fat. It’s not a meal for dieters, but it’s a treat for hungry fishermen.

Appetizers consisted of fatback and onion sandwiches and a salad with Thousand Islands dressing, of course, and crumbles of fatback. The main meal includes plates of fish and potatoes. And dessert was coffee and French toast. 

When they made the camp coffee—they add a cracked egg, shell and all. That way, the grounds stick to the yolk at the bottom of the pot and the shells remove the bitterness. Hmmm…

Then comes the French toast for dessert, also fried in the same pan as the pork and fish, and topped with lots of local maple syrup. Again, one needn’t count the calories; just enjoy the unique flavors of the shore dinner.

Today, uninhabited islands are few and far between, so shore dinners became a little more complicated. But several companies still serve patrons who want a traditional shore dinner. In fact, the NY State parks were, in part, established to provide a place for shore dinners. Maybe one day you, too, can visit the Thousand Islands and enjoy a traditional shore dinner.   


Do you think you’d enjoy this meal? Why or why not? Leave your answer or comments on the post below and join me on the 19th for my next post. 


About Devyn’s Dilemma:

Longing for love, can she escape the shadows that follow her to Dark Island?

1910, Thousand Islands, New York. Others may consider The Towers castle on Dark Island an enchanting summer retreat, but to Devyn McKenna, it’s a prison. Yet as she works as a maid for Frederick Bourne, former president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, her life blossoms under the kindness of his family and fascinating entrepreneurs such as J.P. Morgan, Thomas Lipton, and Captain Vanderbilt. But more than anything, the growing friendship of Mr. Bourne’s valet, Brice McBride, begins to pry away the painful layers that conceal Devyn’s heart.

Brice is drawn to the mysterious Devyn even though he’s certain she’s hiding a secret, one far more dangerous than the clues they find in The Towers that hint of a treasure on the island. When Devyn is accused of stealing Bourne’s investment in Vanderbilt’s New York City subway expansion, he might not be able to protect her.

About Susan:

Susan G Mathis is an international award-winning, multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands, her childhood stomping ground in upstate NY. Susan has been published more than 20 times in full-length novels, novellas, and non-fiction books.

Her first two books of The Thousand Islands Gilded Age series, Devyn’s Dilemma and Katelyn’s Choice are available now, and she’s working on book three. The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy, Christmas Charity, and Sara’s Surprise, and her newest,Reagan’s Reward, are also available. Susan’s books have won numerous awards, including two Illumination Book Awards, the American Fiction Award, the Indie Excellence Book Award, and the Literary Titan Book Award. Visit for more.


  1. Thanks for the post! I think I would try the shore dinner once, just for the experience. Except maybe the egg in the coffee. Don't experiment with my coffee, please.