Author Archive | Edible Green Mountains

Our Contributors Spring 2015

 

ButeuxReade

 

Maria Buteux Reade transitioned from 27 years as a boarding school teacher and dean to become a working partner at Someday Farm in East Dorset. When not on her tractor turning compost, she writes in an old sugarhouse, happy to share that space with a few cows, some wandering geese and bales of sweet hay. Maria has a home along the Battenkill River in Arlington.

 

Davis

Chris Davis is a freelance food and travel writer who spent 29 years as an editor and executive in the publishing industry and seven years in the restaurant business, traveling the world in search of a food he doesn’t like (still looking). Chris lives just north of Boston, where he can generally be found eating, growing, planning, preparing or dreaming about his next meal.

 

 

JacobsonMichele

 

Michele Jacobson is a certified clinical nutritionist and the author of Just Because You’re an American Doesn’t Mean You Have to Eat Like One!, a book about how to shop for healthy food in the American marketplace and health benefits derived from different cultural diets of the world. She is working on a new book about genetically modified foods (GMOs). She divides her time between Jamaica, Vermont and New Jersey. Please visit NutritionPrescription.biz.

KennaCaleb

 

 

 Caleb Kenna is a photographer based in Brandon.  He grew up in Vermont and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Frommer’s, Rutland Magazine, Vermont Life, Vermont Land Trust, and many other publications. More of his work can be seen at www.calebkenna.com

 

L'HuillierFenton

Nicole L’Huillier Fenton, co-founder of Skillet Design & Marketing, has extensive experience in food marketing and journalism. In addition to working with a variety of local and national food producers, Fenton was the marketing manager at City Market, Onion River Co-op in Burlington. Fenton recently helped to start one of Vermont’s most successful farmers’ markets, the 5 Corners Farmers’ Market in Essex Junction, where she lives with her husband and son.

 

 

 

TraceyTracey Medeiros is a food writer, food stylist, and recipe developer and tester. She is the author of The Connecticut Farm Table Cookbook (The Countryman Press) The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook (The Countryman Press) and Dishing Up Vermont (Storey Publishing ) honored as 2010 National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist and 2009 Best Books Award Finalist (USA Book News). She travels regionally as a guest cooking instructor sharing her commitment to the sustainable food movement while providing skillful cooking demonstrations.

 

puckettjulianne

 

Julianne Puckett is the creator of yankeekitchenninja.com, a blog about eating better using healthy, easy recipes, DIY pantry staples and home-preserved food. A designer, writer and former IT professional, she struggles to balance the siren call of her inner farmer with her love of cute shoes and cocktails.

 

ShaheenTroy

Troy Shaheen is a freelance writer who has made his way from the Hudson Valley to Brattleboro to Boston. A former marketing and program director for Putney Student Travel, his work has appeared in VT Digger, Seven Days, and Southern Vermont Arts & Living.

 

 

kmsheadshot2014

Kristina Sepetys lives in Berkeley, California in a small cottage with a big garden that her urban farmer friends use to grow produce for their CSAs. She loves reading and writing about cookbooks and testing recipes for accuracy (and taste!). She is a frequent contributor to Edible publications throughout the country.

 

Sorkin

 

Laura Sorkin is an organic farmer, classically trained cook and food writer. She lives in northwest Vermont with her husband and two children. She can be reached at laurasorkin@myfairpoint.net.

 

Templeton

 

Frederica Templeton is a writer, editor and communications consultant who has tested the world’s cuisines and never found them wanting. She is editorial director of Mansfield/Templeton & Associates in Manchester, Vermont, and can be reached at mansfieldtempleton@gmail.com.

 

 

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From Pond to Table

DANAHER TROUT FISHERY

BY MARIA BUTEUX READE | PHOTOGRAPHY BY CALEB KENNA

Matt Danaher working in one of his fish tanks.

Matt Danaher working in one of his fish tanks.

Matt Danaher is the king of salvaged materials. He gestures with a broad sweep of his arm across his farm. “All those piles out there? My wife calls them junk. But I know where everything is and have a plan for it all.” Neatly stacked greenhouse ribs, 1,000-gallon steel and plastic tanks, pressure treated timbers and PVC drainage pipes.

“You need a big boneyard and a lot of heavy equipment to be a salvage farmer.” And that’s how he converted part of an old dairy farm into Danaher Fishery, the largest privately owned trout hatchery in Vermont.
Matt ducked inside a greenhouse, reached into a bubbling tank, and cupped a score of tiny fry in his work-roughened hands.

“A year and half from now, these trout will be swimming in someone’s fish pond. Or sitting on a dinner plate.” 80% of his trout become pond stock and 20% find their way to some of the state’s top restaurants including the Farmhouse Tap & Grill and Juniper in Burlington, The Inn at Essex, Basin Harbor Club, Downtown Grocery in Ludlow.

In 1983 Matt and his wife, Lori, bought 43 acres of a defunct farm in Shrewsbury. In addition to panoramic views to the mountains of southwestern Vermont, his property boasts excellent spring water. Matt began to terrace the gently sloping land, excavate 11 ponds, lay in water pipe and build four greenhouses mainly with recycled materials or bought second-hand from farms and reconstructed on site. He installed massive tanks and devised a water flow system and by 1991, he had created a fish farm.

“I had a steep learning curve and didn’t make any money till year 15. No one believed it would work. But I stuck with it,” said Matt, 56.

A hearty and charmingly loquacious man, Matt grew up in Colchester and comes from four generations of dairy farmers. He remembers milking at 4am and haying in the summers. How did he get into the fish business? “When my kids were small, they played in a little fish pond I had dug. My daughter was absolutely fascinated so I started to culture fish with her and I guess you could say I got hooked …”

He raises three types of trout: rainbow, brown, brook. “It’s like ice cream flavors. Everyone has a preference but they all taste good!” It takes about 18 months for a trout to grow to 10 or 12 inches. That’s the same amount of time it takes a beef cow to achieve market weight of nearly a ton. And compare that to a standard meat chicken, which gets processed at seven or eight weeks.

rutland3In 2014, Matt began to sell his rainbow trout as table fish. He sells about one hundred pounds each week to Earth and Sea Fish Market in Manchester. Matt guts and gills the fish on farm, bags them up, then Earth and Sea picks up the load that same day.

“It’s hard to be both the farmer and the marketer,” Matt said. “I don’t have the time or energy to prepare and deliver my table fish all across the state. So it’s great to work with Bob at Earth and Sea. He does the marketing and shipping for me.”

Retail customers and chefs now have access to buttery fresh trout, with iridescent skin, head still on, eyes firm and bright. Each fish is between 10 to 12 inches long and weighs about 10 ounces. Though he cannot keep up with current demand, he hopes to ramp up his production in the coming years.

“The Vermont-grown local food movement has steadily evolved and people are now willing to pay what food is worth,” Matt said.

So what actually happens at the fish farm? The first step occurs in the hatchery. Matt buys in the eggs, 150,000 in all, and places them in three incubators. Each incubator, a contraption about the size of a large microwave oven, has five sliding trays which are bathed in a steady flow of oxygen-rich water. The eggs hatch in about seven weeks. Rule of thumb: “50 days at 50 degrees.” Called sac fry upon hatching, the miniscule creatures live for the next 30 days on nutrients they absorb from the sac that envelops them. The tiny fry are then transferred to shallow tubs called raceway tanks.

As they grow over the next 14 to 18 months, the fish are graded by size and moved to increasingly larger tanks within a series of greenhouses. After the raceway comes the nursery where the fry will remain until they become fingerlings of four or five inches. At that size, Matt loads them into the rearing facility where the trout will size up from four to 10 inches. Finally, he moves the trout designated as stock fish to the outdoor ponds, while the rainbow trout destined for table fare are placed into the finishing tank until they reach 10 to 12 inches and the desired 10 ounces. This finishing tank can hold up to 5,000 trout, which are continually graded and sectioned off by size.

At every stage, whether greenhouse tanks or outdoor ponds, aerators keep the water bubbling with oxygen. Matt uses a quasi flow-through filter system where recycled water mixes with fresh for optimum conditions. Fresh water is pumped in from a 400-foot-deep well. One of his four greenhouses contains an intricate filtration system that cleanses and recycles all the water flowing to and from his tanks.

He even grows a bed of watercress in one of the filtration tanks. “The roots help clean the water and I get to harvest fresh watercress!” In junior high, Matt did a science project on a water treatment facility. “I never thought I’d be drawing on that same information all these years later,” he chuckled.

Matt or Lori feeds the fish twice a day, tossing handfuls of nutrient-dense pellets into the tanks and ponds. The surface explodes as hundreds of trout vault from the depths to devour the nibs. 150,000 start as swimming fry, though only half will survive to adult stage come spring. About 15–20% will be lost to predation (mink, otters, eagles, osprey, hawks, owls) and others to natural die-off.

Stocking season runs from April to late June, before the ponds warm up. Matt has definitely seen an increase in people stocking their backyard ponds so they can harvest their own fish protein at home, much like people who raise backyard chickens or laying hens. Pond stock can be ordered in two-inch increments from four to 12 inches. He loads the fish into his truck and trailer, equipped with a pair of 300-gallon tanks complete with oxygenated water, and hits the road seven days a week, delivering pond stock trout throughout the state.

“Any day spent behind the windshield with a load of fish in the back beats a day in the office,” said Matt.

He once received a frantic call from a grandfather who promised his grandkids fish in the pond for the Fourth of July. “So I loaded the truck and drove to his place. He was … Read More

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Last Bite

bharrewyn_elizabeth_300dpi-1

Photo by Brent Harrewyn

What’s Your Local?

I love being able to eat locally as much as I do. I always buy local meat, beer, cheese, chocolate and fruits and veggies whenever I can. Happily, I buy these things because they’re delicious, not just because they’re local. I’m not hardcore about it, and I’m unable to resist fresh berries and tropical fruits in the wintertime.

It feels oddly luxurious to pick up a steak that comes from a cow raised a half mile from my home. But this just underscores how backward our food system has become: Buying beef from down the road should be unremarkable and commonplace, like it used to be. We’re in the middle of something special here in Vermont and we’re proud of it, as we should be. I look forward to the day, though, when buying local is not a luxury, or a novelty, and when it doesn’t have to be constantly trumpeted.

For most major furniture purchases, I buy reclaimed wood from local salvagers and have my carpenter build what I need. Not only is this so much easier on the environment, I get an economical, utterly unique finished product that I could never find for any amount of money. I had my office table built from old spinning wheel treadles and the original slate chalkboard from the schoolhouse in Charlotte. It cost me $450 and is priceless to me.

I don’t think local should really have a mileage definition, and the spirit with which something is made is just as important to me. There’s a community out there beyond Vermont that also believes in environmental and social justice, in high-quality, healthy products. It may be a stretch, but one could argue that in buying within this community, one is staying “local” in a very important sense. I’d rather buy milk from a Wisconsin dairy that treats its farmworkers fairly than from a Vermont dairy that withholds pay from its laborers. Being educated about how what you consume is produced is just as important as where it is produced. I recognize that’s easier said than done.

With Cricket Radio, the order of thinking is: Can I get it in Vermont? Can I get it on the East Coast? Can I get it in the United States? I manufacture my products with Italian linen rather than U.S.-grown cotton because cotton is simply a terrible crop, and linen is inherently sustainable, in addition to being a fabulous product. I use Japanese water-based inks because they are the most eco-friendly. So in these cases, local is not the right choice for me.

Cricket Radio is still small, but providing employment for creative people is by far the highlight of my job. When I start a new project and get to reach out to new craftspeople and local suppliers to help me realize my vision, I couldn’t be happier. I’ve never felt more a part of a community as I do now. I’m proud that Cricket Radio is beginning to find its place within Vermont’s impressive food movement and I’m always happy to participate, whether it’s to loan linens to Shelburne Farms for their Farm to Table series, or to make linen chef’s jackets for Juniper for the James Beard Foundation awards dinner. We are also working with several hotels in the area, like Basin Harbor Club, Green Mountain Suites and Stowe Mountain Lodge, providing everything from shower curtains to duvet covers to wall art. We’re finding that the hotel owners are so excited to be able to furnish their rooms with high-quality products that tell our local Vermont story so well.

Elizabeth Archangeli
Cricket Radio Vermont
Shelburne, VT

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Back of the House

bharrewyn_table24_hires-19

THE RUTLAND RENAISSANCE MAN

BY NICOLE L’HUILLIER FENTON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRENT HARREWYN

When you take a closer look at the restaurant industry in Vermont, it appears that the state has attracted restaurateurs that not only have superb culinary skills and intricate knowledge of flavor, but have also studied the art of running a successful business.

house24Chef Steve Sawyer of Table 24 in Rutland fits that profile perfectly. He’s worked in top-quality kitchens across the country, but he’s also learned how to build a business model from the likes of House of Blues, ESPN Zone and the nearly 30 restaurants he has opened throughout his career. The unique twist to his story is that Chef Steve Sawyer is also on a bit of a mission. He wants to help revive Rutland, one delicious plate of food at a time.

“I’m incredibly proud of the community here and the resilience of Rutland,” he said one evening in January. Sawyer grew up in Rutland and is still a little surprised after all his worldly travels that he ended up back in his hometown to run what has become his most successful restaurant to date. He graduated from Johnson & Wales with a degree in food and beverage management in 1992. He says it was the perfect combination of culinary arts and business school. While the business side appealed to him from the start, it was the kitchen that called him.

He found himself working in various kitchens in resort towns in his 20s, traveling each winter to Colorado and spending summers in Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and South Carolina. In 1993, Sawyer purchased Brix Grill & Wine Bar in Flagstaff, AZ. It was the first time he realized that he knew a lot about the kitchen but not as much about how to run a financially successful business. The restaurant folded, but Sawyer persevered.

For the next four years, he worked as a sous chef at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, SC, and in Chicago, IL. That restaurant gave him a true sense of how an effective and structured program could work. It wasn’t until he landed as a sous chef and later as the corporate chef of New Openings at the ESPN Zone conglomerate that he really sharpened both his culinary and his business savvy.

“I trained at the flagship restaurant for the ESPN Zone in Chicago. It was intense training and gave me in-depth perspective on all aspects of the business. I then went on to open the ESPN Zone in Las Vegas, Denver and Anaheim,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer says that the front-of-the-house systems and efficient kitchen processes that he perfected opening restaurants around the country influence what he does every day at Table 24. In the kitchen, you’ll find him stoking the wood-fired oven, plating up one of his signature and award-winning burgers and answering questions from the servers. His approach to culinary arts is to cook in a manner that is respectful of the food and its unique flavor profiles to allow the product to shine through.

“One of my favorite dishes at Table 24 is our Simple Fish. We grill it, or blacken it, brush it with butter and season with sea salt. In its simplicity, the flavor of the fish becomes the hero of the dish.”

bharrewyn_table24_hires-6

That focus on flavor is woven into everything that comes out of his kitchen. The Jerk Chicken Fondue appetizer was a perfect balance of spicy seasonings that mellowed just a tad when dipped into the creamy smoked Gouda fondue pot. This colorful dish—which also came with green apples and sourdough croutons to dip—was an immediate hit at our table. Sawyer says that the most popular dishes at Table 24 are a toss-up between the Slow Roasted (wood-fire rotisserie style) Prime Rib or the Lobster Macaroni & Cheese. Five cheeses including Monterey Jack, Asiago, Parmesan, Gouda and Emmenthaler Swiss are melted together to create a velvety sauce for his Macaroni & Cheese. Toss in sweet Maine lobster, tomatoes and chives and you’ve got a dish that you’ll be talking about for months.

Somewhat surprisingly, it was Chef Sawyer’s Black Bean Soup, available only on Thursdays, that really caused a stir at our table. He talked about what makes it so delicious. “We soak the beans overnight, then brown ham hocks in oil. Add onions, carrots and celery. Simmer the beans in homemade chicken stock until tender. Remove ⅓ of the beans and the hocks. Reserve the hocks until cool enough to pick all the meat off. We purée the soup until smooth and then add the reserved beans for texture. Fold in the picked ham hock meat.” It’s served with pico de gallo, lime sour cream and tortilla strips.

Whatever dish is being prepared at Table 24, Sawyer keeps a keen eye on quality control and adherence to the recipes, while he talks about his vision for the future.

“I’m focused on seeing our staff succeed, helping them to get better at their jobs. We have a 401(k) program for our employees, which is a little unusual in the restaurant business,” said Sawyer. He is also committed to giving back to the community that has supported him over the last seven years, through philanthropic work from a golf tournament that he and Table 24 staff organize each year. The charity changes each year, with the main requirement being that the money raised stays in Rutland County. This year’s recipient is the Foley Cancer Center at Rutland Regional Medical Center.

Standing at the door to the entrance of Table 24, Sawyer greets customers warmly and comments that Table 24 wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the support of Rutland. He’s often been called a “local boy that made good” and it appears that is something he is very proud of. He laughs at that label but says, “I like to think that I’ve contributed a little bit to the renaissance of Rutland and that feels pretty good.”

Nicole L’Huillier Fenton is a native of Rutland and works daily to support the local food system through her marketing agency in Burlington, Skillet Design & Marketing.

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Contents Spring 2015

FEATURES

CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL
Keeping It Real in Rupert


CAST OF THOUSANDS: Then as Now, Many are Hooked on Vermont Fly Fishing

GREEN MOUNTAIN FLY FISHING

FROM POND TO TABLE: Danaher Trout Fishery

BACK OF THE HOUSE
The Rutland Renaissance Man

Christopher Kimball by Brent Harrewyn

Christopher Kimball by Brent Harrewyn

EGM13-cover-250

Cover photo by Brent Harrewyn

 

DEPARTMENTS

GRIST FOR THE MILL

MOUNTAIN PEAK
Green Sauce in the Green Mountains

THE FARMHOUSE KITCHEN
Ramps and Robins, It Must Be Spring!

WHAT’S IN SEASON
Seasonal Eats: May through July
Rhubarb Rising

EDIBLE READ
Think Spring

HERE’S TO YOUR HEALTH
Which Fish to Dish Up Now?

EDIBLE VOICES
“Eye on the Sky” Weather Guys

EDIBLE KITCHEN
Practically Perfect: The Cast-Iron Skillet

EAT DRINK LOCAL GUIDE

LODGING LOCAL GUIDE

LAST BITE
Cricket Radio Vermont

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

 

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Cast of Thousands

Atherton-2REV

Photos courtesy of American Museum of Fly Fishing

Fly fishing is admittedly an odd sport, requiring as it does a knowledge of biology, ecology and entomology, and the ability to remain silent for long stretches of time. If you hear someone mention the Hendrikson hatch after the second Saturday in April, you’ll know you are in the company of a sportsman who enjoys luring trout to a hook camouflaged with an indescribable array of feathers, fur and silk called a “fly.”

The most famous description in English of fly fishing is contained in The Compleat Angler; Or, The Contemplative Man’s Recreation written by Izaak Walton, first published in 1653 and still in print. Walton fished the Lea River, which like most chalk streams owes its ideal trout habitat to England’s limestone landscape.

Fly fishing came to America with the early settlers where they found the New England landscape awash with rivers and streams hospitable to trout and salmon fishing. In Vermont fly fishing has been synonymous with the name of Orvis since 1856 when Charles Frederick Orvis established a business to provide sporting fishermen with well-made and well-priced fly rods and tackle.

Born in Manchester in 1831, Charles spent his childhood exploring the fields and streams of his mountain valley home. He learned how to fly fish on the Batten Kill, which flows southward through Manchester and, at the time, was considered one of the country’s best trout streams.

In a collection of essays he published in 1883 titled Fishing with the Fly, Charles Orvis described his introduction to the “gentle art” of fly fishing: “l remember well my first trout; I remember as well, the first fine rod and tackle I ever saw and the genial old gentleman who handled them. I had thought I knew how to fish with the fly; but when I saw my old friend step into the stream and make a cast, I just wound that line of mine right around the ‘pole’ I had supposed was just right, and I followed an artist. (I never used that pole again.)”

Charles Orvis went on to spend a lifetime building rods and perfecting tackle that became among the best in the world. Fortunately for Charles, his personal passion coincided with a tremendous increase in the number of sportsmen financially qualified to spend their leisure time exploring the great American wilderness, fly-fishing rods in hand.

He initially built rods for friends and visitors to his brother’s popular resort hotel, the Equinox House, still today at the heart of Manchester Village. He was also happy to fulfill orders that came in by mail, and after the Civil War his business grew rapidly. He even went to the trouble of stocking a pond he had built behind his brother’s hotel with 10,000 trout. He later drained this pond and dug a new larger pond on the side of Mount Equinox, known then as Orvis Pond, and today as Equinox Pond.

The mechanics of fly fishing involve putting a fly on a leader which is attached to the line which is fed from a reel attached to your rod. But this is only the beginning. Learning how to read the water, understand where the fish are and what they are eating, and then to cast the perfectly matched fly with precision and gentleness takes patience and persistence.

How to describe the fascination of fly fishing? According to Charles Orvis, “More than half the intense enjoyment of fly fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life secured thereby, and the many, many recollections of all one has seen, heard and done.” This is still true today for those who love fly fishing.

Atherton-3

His beloved Batten Kill continued to draw fly fishing men and women to southern Vermont in the decades after he was gone. Margot Page, author of Little Rivers: Tales of a Woman Angler, published in 1995, remembers well her grandparents’ stories of annual fly-fishing excursions in the 1950s with friends, including Jack Atherton, Norman Rockwell’s great friend and fellow artist. At Rockwell’s urging Jack and his wife, Maxine, had moved to Arlington in 1944 where the Batten Kill takes a turn and meanders its way westward to New York State. They built a very modern house high above its banks off Route 313 and spent as much time as possible fly fishing. Atherton brought his artist’s attentiveness and talent to flies and fly fishing in his classic book, The Fly and the Fish, published in 1951 with 105 illustrations and many evocative memories of fly fishing in Vermont.

With its dozens of rivers and hundreds of brooks and tributaries, northern as well as southern Vermont has long been popular with sportsmen looking for elusive trout. The brook trout is the official cold water fish of Vermont and the only native trout in Vermont streams. There are also brown trout and rainbow trout as well as salmon. Brookies, as they are fondly called, like cold, clear water. They are one of the most cold-tolerant of trout and they are found in quantity all over Vermont in small spring-fed brooks. Fishing for brook trout can take you deep into the woods for a tranquil experience in beautiful surroundings. Sometimes there is quite a lot of hiking and exploration involved as you look for the perfect spring-fed stream where the trout are rising to whichever insect hatch is in season.

Vermont fishing guide Drew Price has spent many years fishing the rivers, streams and tributaries of northern Vermont for trout and many types of fish most people don’t think of as fly rod targets, such as bowfin, longnose gar, freshwater drum (sheephead), suckers and carp. The State of Vermont has opened up more rivers for year-round fishing, he said, and “the amount of opportunities are pretty amazing.” Drew especially loves warm-water game fishing on Lake Champlain, which he says is somewhat similar to salt-water fly fishing. He prefers to fish from a canoe using his keen eyesight to spot his prey, which have been as large as 20 pounds.

Atherton-4REVLike many sportsmen of his day, Orvis was aware of the need for preservation and management of the rivers and streams they all so enjoyed and he supported early efforts to limit the damage done to the environment by sportsmen. Conservation interest continues to this day. Though trout populations are relatively stable compared to several decades ago, the streams where they live are still endangered by development and land use practices that threaten to degrade their habitat. The Batten Kill was the focus of intense rebuilding efforts in the last 15 years after a steep decline in the number of wild brown trout sounded the alarm. The success of these efforts bodes well for the future.

Packing some nourishing food to keep you going while out in the woods and on the stream can be anything from a favorite sandwich to a special picnic.

“I have fond memories of many memorable meals from my decades of fishing, either eaten riverside or perched in a boat that’s tethered to the bank,” said Margot Page. “I love to prepare a light … Read More

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CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL

Keeping it Real in Rupert

BY CHRISTOPHER DAVIS | PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRENT HARREWYN

bharrewyn_kimball_300dpi-7To describe Rupert as “sleepy” is understating it by a country mile.

This bucolic Vermont town, a stone’s throw from the New York State line, in the shadow of the Taconic foothills, feels a world away from the manicured lawns and outlet stores on display in Manchester, just 15 miles down the road. This is a place where Old Home Day and the Firemen’s Carnival are seriously big deals, events where it would not be extraordinary to see all 714 residents lining the streets or marching in the parade.

Here, the General Store (Sherman’s) is the authentic article—a necessity, not a quaint relic. The Congregational church—in need of a little paint, perhaps, but a dignified New England beauty notwithstanding—serves as everything from meeting room to chicken ’n’ biscuit supper hall to charity auction house to quilt showcase to food pantry to, well, church.

In short, Rupert is a place where you would least expect to stumble across a professional production crew filming one of the most popular shows on television. But for two weeks each of the last eight summers, the 200-year-old Carver House, a gleaming white postcard Vermont farmhouse with requisite red barns and cornfield, has been transformed into the set of “Cook’s Country,” the broadcast incarnation of the namesake magazine.

“I bought this house, which was falling down, and fixed it up,” says Christopher Kimball, the program’s host and executive producer. “I felt that if the show were here—if you had a real place with its own feeling, instead of just being a TV set—viewers would respond.”

Kimball’s is a familiar face from 14 seasons of “America’s Test Kitchen” on PBS, rated the fifth-most-watched food show on all TV. He is also founder and editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, boasting an enviable circulation of well over one million subscribers, and the print version of “Cook’s Country.” Kimball has written numerous cookbooks; authored Dear Charlie, a surprisingly endearing collection of letters to his kids; and writes a food column for the New York Daily News. He’s also a fixture at Sherman’s and the Firemen’s Carnival.

Kimball is quick to admit, wistfully, that he is a “part-timer.” But while he plays flatlander much of the year, Kimball’s no carpetbagger; he comes by his Vermont bona fides honestly.

“I started coming here in 1955,” says Kimball, who is 63. “We built a tiny cabin on 20 acres and then in ’61 or ’62 we bought a farm on the other side of town. We raised pigs and Angus [cattle] and had someone take care of them when we weren’t there. But we were up all summer and most weekends and sold the meat out of the back of a car. We were still weekenders, not Vermonters.”

His disclaimers give you the sense that Kimball is very respectful of what constitutes the “real” Vermont, and especially, a true Vermonter. Like the French reverence for their idealized la France profonde, there is a Vermontness that his qualifiers suggest can only be earned through a lifetime spent on its farms, hills, rivers and woods.

“I love Rupert . . . It has the firehouse, it has the chicken dinners. It’s really a town. I would say over half the people here were born in their house. There aren’t many out-of-towners in Rupert—I’m one of them. You talk to the old-timers and they know almost every house and who lives—and used to live—in them.”

In his regular online Letters from Vermont, little countrified musings that are riffs on the Cook’s Illustrated editorials, Kimball describes the pastoral serenity of the region with something approaching devotional fervor, and treats the quirky local cast of Lake Wobegon-esque townies with palpable affection. His beloved “old-timers” (a yardstick less of age than of roots) show up regularly in the Letters to offer homespun observations and advice—or just plain weirdness. Among them appears “Old Henry,” a vaguely foreboding wraith of a neighbor who may or may not actually be there: “Have you seen Old Henry yet today?”

Kimball’s on-air personality, which uniquely fuses this “aw shucks” folksiness with an egghead knowledge and curiosity, delights his fans, who find in him and his low-key cast welcome relief from the overproduced “BAM!” of much cable food programming. But he has his detractors, too: “smug” and “condescending” are descriptors that pepper the foodie blogs.

Kimball tacitly concedes that he may come off a little dour on TV: “I am still trying to learn how to smile,” he confides, betraying the hint of one. But on this sparkling morning in the last week of “summer,” all glorious frosty sunshine and glimpses of red in the sugar maples, Kimball is relaxed, gracious, warm, voluble—and very funny. Sure, the signature sarcastic wisecracking is on full display, but the show’s critics would be sorely disappointed to encounter this guy, who doesn’t seem to take himself all that seriously. When told that the New York Times recently called him “the most influential home cook in America,” Kimball shoots back, “They did? Obviously the editor didn’t see that before it was published!”

Maybe what rubs some viewers the wrong way is a perception that Kimball appears just slightly irritated much of the time. But this is precisely the point of “ATK” and “Cook’s”: recipes that don’t work, with ingredients you don’t have and can’t find (a pinch of amchur powder? Really?), “toaster ovens that don’t toast,” schlocky kitchen gadgets that fall apart—the things that drive home cooks crazy—are his bread and butter. Kimball and his staff work hard at messing up, to help you avoid it.

“I’m easily annoyed,” he declares, chuckling. “I get very annoyed when people say, ‘You can make a wonderful dinner for eight in 20 minutes.’ Well, you can’t. Forget it!”

By contrast, the not-so-secret secret to the remarkable success of his shows is what Kimball describes as their “authenticity.”

“We try to show people the reality,” he says. “What really happens in home kitchens is so different from what happens in a chef’s kitchen or what happens on TV shows: totally different worlds. This idea that you can stand up there blithely and give them a recipe that works . . . because most of the time they don’t work.” That observation strikes a chord in those of us who often wonder, “So who chops all the onions and parsley and peels the garlic and lines up the utensils and sharpens the knives that allow a TV cook to make a ‘30-minute meal’—and who cleans up?’”

Even when a set-up question invites the famously opinionated Kimball to tear into the insipid TV stew of “celebrity chef” and contrived cooking competition shows, he takes the high road.

“I used to make fun of The Food Network all the time. But Emeril [Lagasse] brought men into the kitchen—almost singlehandedly. So Emeril and the band seem kind of silly, but if it weren’t for him, I might not be here. Now 40% of my audience are men, and Emeril had a lot to do with that. He made it OK for guys to get in the kitchen. He was a guy’s guy and made everyone … Read More

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Cast-Iron Skillet Fried Trout with Herbs

Trout-RecipeCooking a whole trout is simple, with delicious results. This recipe can easily be adapted to any similar-size fish available at your seafood market.

Serves 1–2

1 whole trout (1½ to 2 pounds each), scaled, gutted and gills removed
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for fish
1 bunch fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, or oregano

Open fish like a book. Season cavity with salt and pepper, and drizzle with some oil. Stuff with herbs. Close fish, and rub both sides of fish with oil. Transfer prepared fish to a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Grill until the fish is browned and crisp, flipping fish halfway through, about 14 minutes each side.

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Cousin Sue’s Cast-Iron Skillet Pizza

bharrewyn_skillet_pizza_300dpi-2This recipe is written for a large, 12-inch skillet and requires a 16-ounce ball of pizza dough (readily available at local grocery stores). If your skillet is smaller, simply use a bit less dough. No specific sauces or toppings are listed; those choices are entirely up to you.

Preheat the oven to 475° with the skillet inside.

On a floured work surface, roll and stretch a 16-ounce ball of pizza dough (at room temperature) into about an 11- or 12-inch circle. Place the dough circle on a piece of parchment paper lightly coated with nonstick spray that is wider than the skillet by 4–6 inches on each side. Using a fork, poke the dough with holes every few inches. Dress the pizza with sauce, desired toppings and a blend of shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.
Carefully remove the skillet from the oven and place on the stovetop. With help from a friend, lift the parchment from all four corners and place the pizza (still on the parchment) carefully into the pan, seating the edges lightly with a fork if necessary.

Bake the pizza for about 4 minutes, then carefully remove the skillet from the oven. With help from a friend, lift the pizza from the skillet using the four corners of the parchment and place it on a large cutting board. Carefully slide the pizza off the parchment. Gently slide the pizza off the cutting board and back into the skillet. Return the skillet to the oven to finish cooking, about another 4–5 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Carefully slide the pizza from the skillet back onto the cutting board, letting it rest for a few minutes before cutting into slices.

 

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