On the Cover
Plate of Scott’s Revenge Chicken Wings
… Read More
On the Cover
Plate of Scott’s Revenge Chicken Wings
… Read More
Downtown Grocery Has
Big Flavors in Cozy Quarters
Story by Frederica Templeton
Don’t let the name fool you: the Downtown Grocery in downtown Ludlow in the shadow of Okemo Mountain is a gem of fine casual dining where you just never know what you’re going to get. And that’s the whole point of this very personal, gracious, and lighthearted dining establishment dedicated to the freshest possible ingredients in every season. Whatever the dish, rest assured it’s going to be deeply seasonal, locally grown, and thoughtfully prepared.
Up the steps and through the big red door, the first person you’ll meet is Abby Lechthaler who takes care of the front of the house, making every one who walks through the door feel warmly welcomed. She’s also the wine expert. Through the large open doorway, just to the left of the bar, Chef Rogan Lechthaler is bent over the central kitchen table or moving deliberately between stations. Abby directs your attention the large chalkboard on the wall where the evening’s menu is displayed. The young well-trained staff members have memorized it earlier, sampled some of the items, and received their short course in the terroir of the wine being offered as well as an all-important tasting.
White tablecloths and polished glasses set the stage here for some unusual combinations of traditional bistro fare with a youthful American flourish. Their goal is to give their guests the very best of what is seasonably available in a warm and casual atmosphere. Local is taken quite literally and the chef likes the challenge of presenting dishes that use every part of what he is working with, or “all of that loveliness,” as Abby puts it. On the menu you might find Pig’s Head Bruschetta with Blackberry Mostarda, Braised Pork Belly, Pork Buns, and even pig’s tail. Fall classics include Celeriac Soup, Pheasant Cassoulet, or one of their specialties, Chicken Livers and Onions simmered in a local dark beer.
“We’re not following trends here,” says Rogan. “We’re cooking what is local and seasonal, and what represents us and our interests.” Choosing sustainable suppliers is very important and many are within several miles of the kitchen. The chickens come from Plew Farm just up the road in Mount Holly where the family-run farm sells chicken and pigs that are pasture raised, organically fed and locally cured. Brown Boar Farm in Wells provides the chef with heritage beef and heritage pork as well as heirloom vegetables. Tender rabbit comes from Wanabea Farm in Manchester. From Old Athens Farm in Westminster, a family-run organic farm, they buy the freshest vegetables and berries. Coger’s Sugar House Gardens also supply organic greens, herbs and vegetables. Oyster mushrooms are delivered to the back door by the father of a staff member. The fish, though not local of course, is high quality, in season and line caught.
Rogan came to the realization his passion for preparing great food after a serendipitous start at the Ritz Carleton in Boston while he was waiting to go to Africa after college. He returned to their kitchen and started his career twelve years ago, eventually moving to Mistral in Boston’s South End. He continued his apprenticeship at the Pitcher Inn in Warren and at several four-star restaurants in the South including the famous Blackberry Farm in east Tennessee and the late-lamented L&M’s Salumeria in Oxford, Mississippi. In 2007 he returned to Vermont to be head chef at Stratton’s Verdé, with a dream of opening his own place.
During his travels Rogan, who is from Weston, Vermont, met Abby, who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and they worked together at Verdé. A professional and personal partnership came together in 2010 when they married and opened Downtown Grocery. All of their experience and their passion for great food and wine came together. In his own kitchen Rogan is now creating dishes that reflect his eclectic background, including house-cured charcuterie, handmade pasta, and the most amazing desserts you have ever tasted. Late Night Breakfast translates to warm French toast and buttermilk-bacon ice cream topped off with pure maple syrup.
Abby brings the same expertise and eclectic taste to the wine selection. All the bottles are listed sequentially by vintage and by the varietal grape. The list is short and wines are chosen to match the season. “We want to be able to tell the story about each of them,” says Abby. “I like to choose labels that people have not seen before that have small production. This is more fun for our guests and for me.”
At the end of the evening you can show your appreciation for the kitchen staff by ordering up a “pony,” a beer that will be saved for them and enjoyed when the last guest has left. A great way to join the fun they are clearly all having in the other room. Reservations are a must as there are only fourteen tables but you’re welcome to grab one of the six bar stools if you come in on a whim. Matt Farkas, the master mixologist behind the cozy bar, will be happy to shake up one of his old-fashioned “pre-prohibition” cocktails using homemade bitters and aromatics and fresh juices.… Read More
Food is our common ground, a universal experience. –-James Beard (1903-1985) – an American chef and food writer
This is one of my favorite quotes. As I was getting ready to send this issue off to the printer I realized that many of the writers of the stories talked about how food made them feel. How it answered cravings, evoked memories, inspired travel, and comforted the soul. When I look at pictures of a trip many years ago to France (which seems so surreal now) I immediately remember the food – and the wine. I can still remember just about every meal along with what everyone else ate. Sitting at the cafes and facing the street, enjoying a croissant with a cappuccino and people watching. It caused one to linger, savor, taking time for socializing. Now I know what you are thinking, of course I had time to visit and linger I was on vacation – I would argue that when you are experiencing the trip of a lifetime this does not encourage relaxation. But the culture in France creates time to enjoy food and wine and they have a high regard for making time to dine.
Although I always have appreciated good fresh food this trip enhanced my awareness. The local food movement in this country has encouraged us to become connected to its source. We pride ourselves in knowing the baker a few houses down who we think makes the best apple pie. Exploring our back roads for that perfect taste of brie and sharing its source or satisfying that sweet tooth with a fresh made donut that is so good you just can’t eat one. Breaking bread during these upcoming holidays is an opportunity to eat local and celebrate our common ground and perhaps, do a little people watching.
Mary Blair… Read More
by Katie Powers
My grandparents never cooked – or ate – without their aprons. They kept a matching pair at our house: his and hers navy blue pinstripe, like a train conductor’s overalls. From the moment coffee was on through the ritual morning Checkers tournament, their aprons stayed put, my grandmother’s pulled taut across her middle.
Whenever they visited, my mom would make lasagna. My grandparents donned their aprons and pulled up their sleeves, and my brothers and I scurried around setting the table. I grew up in a family of six, in an old farmhouse with stiff joints, and the best way to warm up the kitchen and fill our bellies was to bake an overstuffed lasagna. We’d sit around the table, my brothers talking over each other, the dog waiting patiently for flying crumbs, and pile food onto our plates.
It was always simple and irresistible, with so much sauce that it had to be mopped up with a crust of spongy bread. The recipe wasn’t written in any of our cookbooks, it just happened quietly between my mom and the countertop. An hour later the house would smell cozy, and she’d lift the casserole out of the oven and onto the stove, where it would hiss and bubble and “set up.”
Lasagna was not reserved for our table alone: at pot luck dinners, at the church’s annual Italian Supper, when the weather called for rain, we ate lasagna. I’ve never grown tired of it.
Last winter my mom, Priscilla Powers, and my older brother, Ben Powers, started dreaming of a lasagna business. In June, she would retire after thirty-five years of teaching. “I don’t want to stop working until I find another focus,” she always said. Ben, who has a business background and lives in Vermont part-time, was eager to explore the opportunity. In late spring, the two launched Heart to Hearth Lasagna, and they’ve been selling their homemade casseroles every Wednesday morning at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market.
The concept of Heart to Hearth is to provide a high quality prepared meal that brings people together. Family dinners, pot lucks, evenings with old friends: these are the foundations of community, the gatherings that foster positive relationships. My mom and brother believe in the potential for a stronger, more healthful food culture, and in the value of Vermont’s local economy. They also recognize that there isn’t always time to make dinner from scratch. They decided to offer an oven-ready lasagna that is vegetarian, gluten-free and made with one hundred percent organic ingredients.
The debut has been a success. They’ve been well-received at the Farmers’ Market, where people are excited about a healthy meal crafted in a nearby kitchen. In July, the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op began carrying Heart to Hearth lasagnas in their frozen foods section. In the near future, my family hopes to work with an incubator kitchen, increase production, and make their lasagna available to a wider audience at regional specialty and natural foods stores.
It appears as though my mother has made the transition from classroom teacher to Farmers’ Market vendor quite easily. When I helped her one Wednesday morning, she nearly had the truck packed before I’d even had my coffee. She set up her booth like she’d been doing it for years, and had plenty of time to chat with other vendors before the opening bell. My parents’ mudroom is full of market supplies: chafing dishes, stacks of aluminum trays, and lightweight folding tables. Her favorite new toy, which she couldn’t wait to show me, is the vacuum sealer. “Kate, you have got to see this. It’s just about the coolest thing since sliced bread.”
While my mom is in charge of cooking, and Ben of keeping the books, the rest of us can’t quite stay away. When my brother Joe is home, he helps in the kitchen. My dad drives into town early each Wednesday for the market, unpacking tables and tent and coolers before strolling down to a neighboring vendor who sells fresh pastries. And, of course, there are the taste tests. Last weekend I got to sample a preview of the fall special, featuring roasted butternut squash and kale.
When we talked in the kitchen during our casual interview, I got a sense of something else that my family members might be creating: a different way to make “slow food” work. We’re lucky, here in Vermont, to cherish our health, our communities, and our environment, and to therefore strive for a smarter way of eating. We understand the perils of fast food, and we want to have a hand in slowing things down. Sometimes it isn’t possible to do it all: to till the garden to plant the seed that grows the tomato that makes the sauce that binds the casserole. A vibrant food culture means thoughtfully grown and crafted food, yes, but it also means sitting at the kitchen table as an act of connection.
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Chole’s Salsa Verde
Makes approximately 2 cups
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ small onion, chopped
1 pound tomatillos, peeled and chopped
1 to 2 small red tomatoes, chopped
1 to 2 small jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a 1- or 2-quart saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until slightly translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatillos, tomatoes and jalapeño peppers.
Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Cool. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the garlic, cilantro, and salt. Process until smooth.
Serve with rice, grilled meat and vegetables, tacos, burritos and tortillas.
The salsa will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. It may also be processed in jars.
A Taste of Home
by Corey Burdick
The air in Vermont has become decidedly crisp, and if the early sunsets and crunchy-leaf-laden hikes are any indication, the holiday season is on its way. For many, this time of year involves gathering with loved ones around a bustling kitchen and hot stove preparing comforting dishes and celebrating the simple gift of togetherness. This time-honored tradition of preserving and passing recipes from one generation to the next has an incredible power to unite myriad individuals regardless of their differences.
A Mosaic of Flavor, a local program in its third year, serves to support and expand on this ritual. The program is a collaboration between the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP) and City Market, designed to bring the cooking of new Americans, many of whom arrived within the last two years, to a wider audience and build connections across cultures.
“Many people have been shy to interact with new Americans, but in the cooking class the barriers dissolve,” said Laurie Stavrandcommunity partnership coordinator for VRRP. “We include cooks who do not speak English well by inviting them to come with a family member. In this way, someone who is a gifted cook is able to be celebrated for their skills and the community members learn how to engage with someone who is not fluent in English.”
Each year, Caroline Homan, City Market’s food and nutrition education coordinator, sits down with VRRP and devises ideas for upcoming classes.
“This year, I told Laurie that one theme that is very important to me is showing people how to cook traditional foods that are on the cusp of being replaced by convenience foods. Traditional foods are often healthy and nourishing in ways that the replacement foods are not—for example, making a stock from soup bones rather than using an instant bouillon cube. New Americans are often closer to these healthy traditional food practices than American cooks are, but they, too, are at risk of losing them,” Homan said.
Over the years the program has featured cooks (all immigrants, primarily refugees and asylees, a few are VRRP volunteers and all instructors have been resettled by VRRP or are VRRP staff) from Nepal, Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Burma and beyond. One of the goals of the program is to share foods from all of the cultures of people who have resettled in Vermont and to highlight a broad range of dishes and ingredients.
Often, the cooks have learned from experience and stories from their elders but have never cooked from a recipe, which is why a volunteer sits down with the cooks to come up with both a description and recipe for the dish he/she is about to demonstrate so that participants can re-create the dish at home.
The classes provide numerous benefits to participants and cooks alike. Participants have the opportunity to hear not only how to prepare a traditional dish from another culture but the story behind the cook him/herself. The participants learn how the instructor arrived in Vermont, their impressions of being here and what it was like where they came from.
“Many instructors spent decades in refugee camps; in the case of children and teenagers who sometimes accompany their parents, they were raised there. So their stories are really compelling,” Homan said.
Homan related that the dishes made in class are often more elaborate than they would have been able to prepare in camps and therefore are very special to them. Homan gets a lot of pleasure out of shopping for their dishes and bringing them fresh-tasting, local Vermont ingredients (meat and vegetables) whenever she can.
Instructors and participants aren’t the only ones who benefit from this program; a great school/community partnership has been forged as well. The Sustainability Academy, where the classes are held, often ends up incorporating recipes that were demonstrated in their kitchen—perhaps Nepalese dal or Burmese rice pilaf—into school lunch for their very ethnically diverse student body. “The community response has been fantastic,” Homan said. “Every time we hold one of these classes, people thank us for coordinating them. People are curious about the people and food from other cultures, and this is a great way to explore those and hopefully pique people’s interests to go further on their own, to pop in to the many ethnic markets, to volunteer with VRRP, or just to greet a neighbor with a wider smile.”
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An Interview with Jack and Anne Lazor
By Amy Halloran
Jack Lazor has written a book, The Organic Grain Grower: Small Scale, Holistic Grain Production for the Home and Market Producer, published by Chelsea Green. The chapters include small histories of each grain along with Lazor’s anecdotes about growing them. This is a condensed version of a conversation at Butterworks Farm at the end of July. The monumental tome hit bookstores in September.
– Maria Buteux Reade
Amy Halloran: How did the book grow out of your life?
Jack Lazor: At the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) conference 2 years ago, I gave a workshop on whole farm systems. In the audience was this woman who worked for Chelsea Green, McKenna Goodman. We struck up a conversation afterwards and she said “I think you have something we could put in a book, so why don’t you come up with an idea?”
What do I really know about, what’s my real passion? Grain growing. I made up an outline and took it down to White River Junction and they liked it.
I started writing and she liked my style and so I did it kind of in an unconventional way. Instead of just writing the whole manuscript I basically wrote it chapter by chapter and turned the chapters in after each chapter.
AH: Had you written other things?
JL: I graduated from Tufts in 1973. For my thesis I wrote a history of farming in the town I grew up in Northeastern Connecticut from 1850-1890. Agricultural history has always been my thing. And it’s pretty obvious in the book that I needed to do everything the old- fashioned way first before I did it the modern way.
Ann Lazor: Except for writing. You started out on the computer.
JL: True. But in farming we had to try the threshing machine and the reaper before we used the combine. We had to use the chopper and the hayloader before we used the forage harvester. We used milk cans before we had a bulk tank. We wanted to do everything the old fashioned way but we very quickly learned there was a reason why people gave them up. But at least we got to try it.
My first experience farming was at Sturbridge Village. I worked on the farm while I was in college. Anne did too. My father worked at Monsanto. He was a research chemist. He was a master gardener and orchardist, bread baker, and a pickled herring maker. There was a lot of process. I grew up with a lot of process.
When I was deciding the back-to-the-land thing was what I wanted to do, he told me to do it as a hobby, have a real job, something that will support myself. I decided to do farming for my real job.
AH: Your writing style is really fluid. Were you a letter writer?
JL: I’ve found that for some reason, the book needed to be written and I must have been the person to do it because it just flowed out of me. I decided that the best way to do it was to kind of intersperse anecdote with recommendation, and not be afraid to tell people what my mistakes have been.
I wanted it to be warm, you know? And it is warm. It’s warm and welcoming and it’s not critical. It’s my style. I was able to actually get my feelings across. It’s amazing. I can’t believe I did it all but I did. Interesting now that it’s over, I kind of don’t know what to do with myself.
AH: What job do you want the book to do in the world?
JL: I’ve got so many people asking me how to do stuff that I’d like to be able to tell them to go read my book. And it’s not that I don’t want to tell the story over and over again, but it would be a way to reach more people more thoroughly or more quickly. Education.
AL: Plus so many people helped you.
JL: It’s kind of like sharing the wealth.
AL: You tapped into a generation that’s no longer there.
JL: It’s true and thank God I was able to disseminate some of the information I was given by old timers like Clarence Huff.
AL: Now we’re the old timers!
JL: Clarence was this old English farmer from Quebec. He had a combine, had a seed cleaner, and we used to buy oats from him. We bought his combine from him and he came and actually ran the combine for us the first year. I went to see Clarence a few years later and he had Alzheimer’s, didn’t know who I was. You know he’s the one who told where my seed cleaner was so I was able to buy it for 200 bucks?
AH: I think it’s really great you have this legacy in a book.
JL: The fact that we live on the Canadian border, you know, most of my craft was learned up there because that’s where the grain is being grown. Go up to Derby Line and cross over in October and the combines are rolling, you think you’re in Illinois. It’s no different than here. It’s the same rolling country, same growing season, if anything a little shorter growing season, but the Canadians are self-sufficient in grain.
So I have basically been emulating the Canadians. It was also the Canadians that developed short season varieties of corn and soybeans that have allowed us to grow those crops in this cooler climate. When we first moved here in the 70s, there was no corn and soy being grown across the border, just a little bit for silage. Around 1980 we started seeing them, short season hybrids. After I figured out I could grow hybrids and actually mature grain, that’s when I decided I wanted to grow my own corn and that’s when I realized that all the varieties of corn, especially the short season ones, are all gone.
I got friendly with Walter Goldstein at the Michael Fields Institute in Wisconsin and he told me about Frank Kutka, who developed this Early Riser corn (an open pollinated variety). I started growing it 7 or 8 years ago. We just looked at our corn this morning and it’s over my head and tasseled.
AH: The people who are coming to you for advice as the movement to grow grain builds momentum will be ambassadors for the book.
JL: Yes, Heather Darby (from the University of Vermont) will be. She’s so generous. To me that generosity is the most important thing any one of us can have, whether we be generous to the earth or each other or with our information.
AH: I’m all the more impressed with the book, knowing that you don’t have a history of writing.
JL: I found out that I could do it, it’s a skill that I have. There’s a lot of other stuff that I can’t do very well. I’m a terrible mechanic. I can fix stuff but I hate it, I hate it. I … Read More
Cooking Needs Cloth
By Susan Ager
It was in my grandma’s kitchen that I first fell in love with dishtowels. They gave me purpose in a circle of women for whom purpose was most important.
After holiday dinners, as the men sidled off to the living room to play pinochle at folding card tables, we females took to the kitchen to clean up. The eldest among us washed. The middle-aged women dried. The girls—my cousin and I—shuffled our feet and looked at our hands until, finally, someone asked us to help carry dishes back to the pantry. Just two plates at a time, please.
One day, though, my grandma handed my cousin and me clean, dry dishtowels. She was handing us her trust. We stepped into maturity drying my grandma’s best china.
I do not exactly remember my grandma’s dishtowels, but I am sure they did not feature appliqués of cherries or poodles. They were not brightly striped in purples and mauves. She was practical and of modest means, from “the old country.” I suspect they were muslin, probably made from old flour sacks.
Fifty years later, I keep in my own dishtowel drawer several towels much like those that my mother stitched for me from flour sacks that we discovered in a dead relative’s basement, neatly pressed and stacked and forgotten in a cupboard.
Now they are on active duty. But I am sentimental about them, so I choose them only for clean jobs—drying wine glasses, for example, after a dinner party at our house.
Other dishtowels do the dirty work. In the spring, that includes patting morels dry. In the summer, dishtowels wring the moisture from shredded zucchini or cooked spinach. In the early fall, the tomato harvest is washed in the sink and then arranged on a blue or green towel to dry. In the winter, I rub toasted hazelnuts with a towel to swiftly remove their stubborn skins. Or I cup a steaming chunk of butternut squash on a towel-lined palm while scooping out the sweet flesh with a spoon.
And bread, when I dare it, always rises beneath a clean dishtowel.
I know someone who keeps no dishtowels but wipes her hands and everything else with paper towels. This is sacrilege. Cooking needs cloth—cloth that you can drape over your shoulder or tuck into your waistband for readiness.
In my dishtowel drawer, which is right opposite my sink, I keep 45 dishtowels. That means there are plenty more if too many get damp or dirty at once. One friend who comes often for dinner likes to lay out almost a dozen towels on our butcher block counter before she hand washes and dries each dish and glass and pot.
When a towel is almost ready for the laundry, I also use it to wipe down my beloved patch of granite countertop, sprayed first with Windex. Voila—shine! And when any towel gets so badly stained that it makes me sad, into the rag box it goes.
I have standards for dishtowels. They must be 100 percent cotton. None of this modern microfiber. A good dishtowel will dry a glass without leaving any specks of water on it. A good dishtowel also has a loop on one edge or corner, so you can hang it from a hook. My favorite dishtowels are not gaudy. Simple plaids or stripes are best. No appliqués, no words. A good towel is at least 16 by 24 inches. (Exception: The smaller tarp-blue shop rags a contractor left behind—beautiful!) A good towel ages well, growing softer with each washing, its edges never rolling. And dishtowels must be cheery. A certain relative’s towels are all black and beige, which makes doing her dishes a gloomy chore.
An objective observer would say, I suppose, that I am a collector of dishtowels. Everywhere I travel I seek them out, although the pickings these days in this country have become predictable. But not long ago I bought one, for $7, that was handmade on a loom in Berea, Kentucky. I should have bought two.
Two dishtowels, in autumn colors, were gifts from my old friend Marty, whom I rarely see. I think of her every time I use one. A couple of towels were included with a Christmas gift from my brother in Minnesota; I’ve forgotten the gift, but cherish the blue towels, especially the one with the moose on it. A couple of big, square, white cotton ones, so lightweight you can almost see through them, were bought at a Mennonite general store in mid-Michigan. And one bright green-and-white towel is the only one left from a batch I bought 20 years ago to use at our old lakeside cottage, when drying dishes while watching dusk fall on the water was as good as it gets.
I must confess, though, that one of my favorite dishtowels is stolen.
We had leased for a week an apartment in London in a century-old building. It was quaint as could be, with an ample, well-appointed kitchen. It had not a towel drawer but a whole towel cupboard, overflowing with towels both virgin and stained.
I developed a fondness for one unlike any I own. It was deep rose and white, with the image of an urn overflowing with fruit. Its tag read “Made in France.”
I used it every day of that week, and before we left, I tucked it in my suitcase, telling myself the household still had several others like it, that the owner would never miss it.
Now I am contrite. If someone stole it from me, I would be devastated. But then again, anyone who appreciates a beautiful, functional dishtowel is a special soul, and could (I hope) be forgiven.
Do I own too many dishtowels? Can a day have too many kisses, or too much sunshine? Can a person have too many friends?
All I know is this: The holidays and dinner parties that end with a full laundry basket and an almost empty dishtowel drawer are the very best.
Susan Ager is a Leelanau County writer and former Detroit Free Press columnist who grew up in metro Detroit. She’s always looking for tips on finding good towels. Contact her at susan(at)susanager.com
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Story and Photographs by Julianne Puckett
Move over, apples, there’s a new fruit in town this fall – quince – and it has quite a history.
Quince, or cydonia oblonga formally, is a yellow, pear-shaped fruit, from the same family as apples and pears. It originated long ago in the Middle East, in the region near modern-day Turkey, Armenia and Iran. Quince is so ancient, in fact, that some claim that the “apple” said to have been eaten from the tree of knowledge in the story of the Garden of Eden was likely not an apple at all but a quince.
If you’ve ever traveled and eaten locally in Spain or Latin America, you have likely tasted the most popular form of quince, dulce de membrillo, a sweet, thick paste (“membrillo” is the Spanish word for quince), often paired with hard, Spanish manchego cheese.
As well as a complement to cheese, dulce de membrillo, usually shortened to simply “membrillo”, is just as popular in Spanish-speaking countries as a breakfast spread, slathered on toast, or as a substitute for jam or marmalade. In 15th-century England, in fact, marmalade was originally a type of quince paste, called “marmelo” after the Portuguese word for quince, and was served at the end of the meal with cheese due to its purported digestive properties.
Given its storied history and international popularity, it should be no surprise that there are nearly as many recipes for making membrillo as there are ways to enjoy it, whether at the beginning of the day or late in the evening.
Yet, if you’re game to make your own membrillo here in Vermont, you’re not likely to find quince at your local farmers’ market or fruit stand, even though it has deep New England roots.
Despite being difficult to work with and not very flavorful unless well cooked, quince was popular in Colonial New England. Nearly every home in the area would have likely had a quince tree in the yard, because quince provided a plentiful source of natural pectin, necessary for home canners to ensure that the preserves they put up for the winter set properly. However, with the introduction of powdered gelatin by Charles Knox in the late nineteenth century, quince was no longer needed for home preserving. The quince and planting quince trees soon fell out of favor.
But Nan Stefanik, owner of the specialty food business Vermont Quince, has set out to change all that.
The Newfane resident was on a trip to Spain with her son several years ago when she was first introduced to quince through membrillo, which was served at many meals. “At that time, I didn’t know anything about quince other than ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’,” Stefanik joked, referring to the children’s poem by Edward Lear which mentions slices of quince. The autumn after her return, she was helping a friend can applesauce when she noticed a bushel of large yellow fruit in her friend’s basement. It was quince, which the friend had received from a man with three prolific quince trees in Putney. Recalling how much she enjoyed membrillo in Spain, Stefanik decided to try her hand at making her own from that bushel of local quince.
After some recipe research, she was quickly hooked, making not only membrillo but quince caramels, savory dishes with the fruit and nearly every recipe she could find that included quince. Like so many other home cooks, Stefanik gave her creations to friends and family as gifts; she was overwhelmed by positive feedback. Recognizing that she could turn her love of cooking and gardening into a business, in 2012 she launched Vermont Quince, a specialty food business that offers a range of quince products – including membrillo, jelly, mustard and syrup — made “Vermont style.”
For Stefanik, “Vermont style” means that all of her products include Vermont maple syrup as sweetener, and she uses as much locally sourced fruit as possible. Stefanik also makes her products in Vermont, working exclusively with the Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick, even though there are commercial kitchens more convenient to her in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
However, despite quince’s long history in the state, Stefanik has had difficulty locating sufficient amounts of local quince. During peak quince season, in October, she found she could only get quince from California, which is the largest producer of quince in the United States. At that point, Stefanik says, “my fascination turned into an obsession” and she started scouring New England for more local sources of quince.
While Stefanik considers herself fortunate that the two largest commercial growers on the East Coast are both located in the Connecticut River Valley – Allyson’s Orchard in Walpole, NH and Scott Farm in Dummerston (she has wholesale relationships with both) – she must also rely on individual growers throughout the state during the quince season to get all the fruit she needs. When she travels, she posts signs around the state, seeking quince-producing trees, and maintains a list of trees to monitor, as older trees can often be big producers. Last year, she wound up harvesting 100 pounds of fruit from a single, 65-year-old tree in Guilford. And people are happy to supply her with their homegrown quince. “Some people have a recollection of a grandmother or mother making quince jelly, so they don’t want the fruit to go to waste. That’s part of our ‘Vermont style’, too,” she adds.
For Stefanik, quince has turned out to be more than a vehicle for her small business: She has become a quince evangelist. With the two large growers producing the fruit plus several other small area businesses also recently introducing quince products, Stefanik notes, “I see a real opportunity for local fruit. I want to help position this area as the quince center for the entire East Coast.” To that end, in an effort to become a resource, a curator for both backyard and commercial quince growers, she is compiling an online repository of quince-growing information, archiving best growing practices and conditions to encourage the planting and appreciation of quince. Additionally, she has already convinced six additional growers on the East Coast to plant more quince trees to meet the growing demand. And she’s putting her money where her mouth is, having planted several cultivars on her own property.
When asked what she most wants Vermonters to know about quince, she quickly responds, “It can be grown from seed, can tolerate frost, has a flavor that everybody likes, is part of slow food cooking, and it can be used in both apple pies and hard cider.” The real question is, Why not quince?
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Shat Acres Farm
In a (Cattle) Class of Its Own
Story by Tracey Medeiros • Photo by Justin Molson
The Shatney family has been raising Highland cattle on Shat Acres Farm in Greensboro Bend, Vermont, for over 40 years. Originally a dairy farm, Shat Acres Farm has been in existence for over 100 years.
Their earliest breeding herds were called Shat Acres Highlands, but they now market their beef under the brand name Greenfield Highland Beef. The family has the oldest closed herd in the country, meaning that they have not bought a cow in over 30 years, proudly owning the third-largest herd in the United States. Today, Shat Acres Farm is considered to have some of the top Highland cattle genetics in the nation.
The Highland breed was developed in the Scottish Highlands, which are known for their rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions. These cattle have long horns and long wavy coats, which are colored black, red, yellow, dun or brindled. They use their long horns to dig through thick snow to find vegetation, as well as for defending themselves against predators. Because of their large size, Highlands have few enemies in the wild. Depending upon location, their enemies are packs of wolves, mountain lions, cougars and bears.
Highlands are easy to maintain, requiring little in the way of shelter or food supplements. They do well in conditions, such as snow and cold, in which other breeds would not survive. These hardy animals are not prone to diseases and seem to handle stress well. All of these traits, along with an even temperament, make them a very desirable breed to own.
Ray Shatney’s dad, Carroll, had an eye for cattle. He knew what bulls to use and what animals to cull. The success of Shat Acres Farm stems from Ray’s dad, who passed away in 2009 at age 98. Carroll loved his Highlands and instilled that love in his son, Ray. Today, Janet Steward and Ray Shatney own the farm, strongly believing that their Highland cattle are very special animals.
“As I did not grow up a farmer, I came late to the occupation of farming, while Ray has been farming all of his life,” says Janet. Being a good steward of the land has been a big part of Ray’s upbringing. He feels that if you don’t take care of the land, your animals will not have what they need to thrive.
The Highland cattle saga began in 1967, when Ray’s dad bought his first Highland cow off of a train car in South Dakota. At the time there were no Highlands in the area, and very few in the United States. Carroll took his unusual cattle to county fairs to pay the taxes on the farm. Farmers were paid a premium to bring unique animals to county fairs, and the Highlands were a true novelty.
Janet met Ray in 2001 when he brought some Highlands to pasture on her land in Plainfield, Vermont. Not surprisingly, she also fell in love with the cattle. It was during this time, when Ray and his parents were farming and raising about 40 Highlands, that Janet quickly realized they could not pay for the Highlands by only selling breeding stock. For many years the price of Highland cattle was at a premium, which enabled the farm to sell breeding stock and make a profit. With more of the breed becoming available, it was difficult to continue selling stock at a rate that would support the farm.
Janet started doing some research and discovered a great deal of information about Highland beef and its uniqueness. She explains, “The Highlands have a prehistoric appearance and are the oldest registered cattle breed. There have not been any genetic changes through the centuries. They are exactly the way they were hundreds of years ago with the breed still able to eat and digest large amounts of scrub and brush.
“In fact, a lot of people use the Highlands to clear pastures and open up land because they are able to eat a variety of plants that other cattle breeds will not. It is interesting that the cattle’s consumption of the weeds and scrub actually changes the flavor of the beef in a very positive way. It flushes out any of the off flavors that you sometimes get with grass-fed beef. The Highlands are also unique in that they are slow-growing and have not been genetically altered to produce beef faster.”
The proud owners point out, “The flavor of the meat is what makes it so special. The animal’s slow growing process makes the meat very flavorful. For other breeds to get that kind of flavor, grain or corn has to be added to their diet to put more fat and flavor into the meat. We tell people that the Highlands do the work for us—they age it on the hoof. The meat tastes like beef that has been aged for 40 days. It is a very complex process because it is done while the cattle are growing. When you grain-feed and finish an animal you get a thick layer of fat on the outside of the beef, not much of it goes into the meat because the cattle are not fed the grain long enough to actually have it become part of the muscle. It just puts fat on the outside.”
An unusual characteristic of the Highland breed is the long hair that insulates their bodies, which prevents them from putting on an outer layer of fat. Any marbling, or fat, that they are able to accumulate goes into the meat, meaning that their meat is marbled throughout—the fat is integral to the muscle. When you cook a six-ounce burger you get a six-ounce burger; there is no waste at all with Highland beef. The meat does not get tougher as a cow get older. Butcher an 8- to 10-year-old cow that is no longer calving, or in production, and the meat will actually be better than that of the younger members of the herd.
It has been a challenge for Shat Acres Farm to grow the herd and supply the market because Highlands are slow-growing. Their numbers have grown from approximately 40 head four years ago to a herd of about 130 animals today. The goal is to remain at this current size for a couple of years to see if the owners can sustain the herd and the farm by selling up to 75 animals a year. Janet and Ray do not want their business to get so big that they cannot stand behind every product and piece of meat that they sell.
The hardworking couple enthusiastically states, “We feel really fortunate to be able to supply people with humanely raised, high-quality local protein. This job also gets us outdoors connecting with the land, while building a relationship with these wonderful animals that are super smart. They learn quickly what is expected of them and whom they can trust. It is our mission to ensure that they have a good life and are properly cared for.”… Read More
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