Personal Touch Marks Chef ’s Second Act

Photos by Michele Davis

Walking into Sissy’s Kitchen you are greeted with a warm tsunami of delicious smells that wash over you and draw you into this enticing space filled with sweet and savory goodness. Your eyes begin to take in the delicate cookies filling the glass jars, the table awash in cupcakes, tiny tarts and other bite-size sweets that call to you.

Just when you feel you are having a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory moment, you are saved by the array of savory dishes that Sissy’s turns out every day from her neatly efficient, personally designed kitchen in the back of this venerable old house across from the cemetery in Middletown Springs. The sign outside “Drive Carefully. Dogs Also Park Here” is explained when you meet her two basset hounds, who are always ready for a quick ear scratch.

Co-owner of the Dorset Inn for over 20 years, Sissy Hicks was the kind of chef who developed a strong personal following and the inn’s tavern was deservedly famous for the simplicity of its delicious food and its lively ambiance. In 2008 Sissy sold the inn and moved north to Middletown Springs, an even quieter Vermont village. Once there, she says, she found she could not stop cooking. She decided to renovate the back of the house she had bought and put in a professional kitchen that was big enough for two or at most three cooks working together … just big enough for her to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner made from local ingredients for the local community. And then word got out.

Sissy’s joy in producing really good food is infectious, and it wasn’t long before her screen door was constantly in motion. Old friends and new customers from all over were stopping by to see what was on the daily blackboard. There is no seating indoors but in fine weather the porch and the grounds are a welcome spot to sit and there’s the barn too.

Sissy is completely devoted to local food producers and this focus starts in her own backyard. Behind the house, next to the large gray barn, she plants her abundant garden every spring. From its raised beds she harvests vegetables, herbs and fruits from early May until the first frost in October.

“The local food is so important for purity and high quality,” she said. It is also important to teach others and she is delighted that schoolchildren are brought by to learn about growing your own food. She purchases her meat, dairy products and handmade cheese from local producers all within a 50-mile radius. She credits the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) with filling an important role as promoters of local farms and foods and helping to forge partnerships between farmers and restaurants.

For breakfast it’s imperative to try Sissy’s signature corned beef hash, along with the muffins and scones. Homemade soups on the menu range from cold cucumber in the summer to rich butternut in the fall and winter. The lunch menu may include shepherd’s pie, chicken Marbella with wild rice, and baked acorn squash stuffed with wild rice. She loves stuffing vegetables with rich, flavorful, healthy medley of grains, herbs and spices.

Regulars know where to find the chili and hot stews in the Crock- Pots against the wall. Salads are tossed together with seasonal greens. Sandwiches range from the vegetarian to barbecued pulled pork served on breads fresh from the oven for every taste, including glutenfree breads (and all are served with homemade coleslaw or German potato salad). Her pies are legendary and if you have never tasted lemon buttermilk cake you might have to forego the chocolate chocolate cake you were eyeing wistfully.

You can pull an entire feast together from Sissy’s … literally from soup to nuts. In the corner near the window is a freezer filled with her popular entrees to take home with you. Or you can ask for whatever she is cooking that day to serve your loved ones. A part of her very personal approach to taking care of her customers, Sissy also will fill your own bowls and platters with your entrees and sides for a big family gathering. Of course, if you really want something special, you can invite her to your home where her catered ensemble will leave you and your guests feeling well pampered.

When the day’s cooking is done, Sissy relaxes by bottling some dilly beans and yellow squash pickles, chutney or jams and jellies from whatever is in season for her private label. She also will sell you her salad dressings and the so-melt-in-your mouth cheddar-Parmesan crackers.

Supporting local artisans as well as local farmers is a very important to her and you are encouraged to find something beautiful as well as delicious to bring home with you.

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