Every fall, when eels migrate through the Delaware river on their way to spawn at sea, Ray Turner is ready for them. He spent the summer building a weir, and now it’s just a matter of waiting. And it’s worth the wait: Turner’s smoked eels, which he sells out of a wooden shack at the end of a dirt road in the woods of Hancock, New York, are the stuff of local legend.
The secret to Turner’s sweet and savory river bounty? He brines the eels in salt and dark honey before smoking them over applewood. But, like the migrating fish, those who want the rich smoked meat must make a pilgrimage: First follow the signs for “Delaware Delicacies Smokehouse” on Route 17, then turn onto a dirt road, head past the quarry, and keep going until you hit the small store and smokehouse itself.
You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see Turner inside. He’s unmistakeable, with a long, white beard that makes him look every bit the part of wise forest hermit. (In a 2006 profile, the New York Times noted that Turner called himself “the old hair-bag by the river.”) Along with his famed smoked eels, Turner also sells an array of other smoked foods, including trout, shrimp, salmon, bacon, and gouda. But like any seasonal delicacy, the smoked eels are in limited supply. Call ahead to see if they’re still available before migrating over.