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Posts Tagged ‘Vermont farmers’ markets’

This summer, while we live–on extended visits–with various units of extended family, my cooking life has been tyrannized.  Not by non-omnivores or picky children so much as by the need to please everyone.  How to do so?  In our family, it’s with the Square Meal.  Protein, veg, “starch,” bev.

Last night, I said, “forget it, I’m making what I want and I’m not cooking.”  Well, I did cook, but just two 8-minute eggs for Jack and a handful of green beans.  We ate a cold and warm assortment of fresh, ripe, local foods.  Remember those heirloom tomatoes I bought on Saturday?  Black and pink brandywines.  I sliced them thick and sprinkled them with fresh mozzarella, basil chiffonade, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  I cooked the green and yellow wax beans just a bit, and tossed them with leftover sweet corn that had been cut off the cob, and with an assortment of chopped herbs from the back yard.  We also had Tarentaise, the cheese made by the Putnams of Thistle Hill Farm in North Pomfret.  A bowlful of mixed greens with mustardy vinaigrette.  A King Arthur baguette.  Vinho Verde, the effervescent, airy as seagrass Portuguese white that I love.

I know, doesn’t sound like a very adventurous escape.  Ah, well.  It was a good meal.

And escape from the tyranny of square meals is a topic that warrants discussion.  We eat that way quite a bit more at home, and not just because we’re busy parents of a busy four-year-old.  It’s refreshing to eat picnics inside, or to make a meal of the humble egg.

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Thanks to the Seed Savers Exchange, Brandywine heirloom tomatoes are grown by many small farmers, and bought by many tomato lovers like me.  I spent a pretty penny on these green-shouldered beauties this morning at the Cedar Circle stand at the Norwich Farmers’ Market.

I bought two each of two varieties: Black and Pink Brandywine.  They are sweet and juicy, but touched with a delicate acidity, like a Provençal rosé.  I almost hate to dress them with anything but salt.

Adorned best by sun:

heirloom tomatoes

Or shade:

tomatoes

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nasturtiums

I put myself through another onrush-of-memories experience this morning.  I stopped by the Dartmouth Organic Farm, three miles north of campus on Lyme Road.  There was a space in the dirt driveway, so I parked my car next to the house I lived in senior year, and walked across the yard that, on my graduation morning, was a brilliant swath of dandelion yellow.

house

Things looked pretty much the same—seedling trays in the greenhouse here and there, the dry-erase board marked up with to-do lists and sunshine doodles, cast-off chairs and tables and grills in the garage—except for the plant life.  I couldn’t believe how overgrown the hillside had become.  I took the familiar path down the hill to the garden, (remembering how annoyed we got when people stepped over instead of around the switchback we’d built to keep the hillside from eroding) but what used to be an airy walk through saplings had become a dark walk through forest dense with vines.  Twelve years have gone by.

a freight train goes by now

a freight train goes by now

The garden, though, when it came into view, looked unchanged.  Beds of lush vegetables, some beds of mixed cover crops, stretching down to the grassy bank of the Connecticut River. The valley fog was just burning off.

Scott Stokoe, the farm manager, was talking with the head intern, John, about what had to be done before the CSA delivery to students this afternoon.  He acknowledged the growth on the hillside when he pointed out the shade that was keeping down the winter squash.

shade

John went off to start harvesting, and Scott and I had a long conversation about the farm’s evolution over the past decade, about that first year, when it was a pilot program and I lived there with three friends—weeding, planting, picking, eating well—and about integrating sustainability into the liberal arts curriculum (which I’m involved with at Auburn).

I walked through the fields snapping pictures, and then helped the interns harvest sungold tomatoes for the afternoon delivery.  They were ripening nicely, but the vines were sparse because of the hungry deer who come for a nightly meal.  The students recently erected a fence, which will hopefully keep the deer away from everyone’s favorite crop—the unbelievably sweet sungolds.

sungolds

I looked up the hill to the north, where we used to swing from a rope into the river and swim upstream as far as we could go until we got tired.

There was another familiar sight: crew practice.

crew

onions

onions

John, who lives in the house now, said he didn’t mind if I peeked in.  The year I lived there, 1996-7, was the first year it was used by the College as “the farm house.”  It had been a long time since it had been occupied.  It’s a solidly built old farmhouse with sturdy hardwood throughout.  I moved in with three girlfriends—Amy, CJ, and Christine—and we brought just a few pieces of furniture and kitchenware.  It was spare and neat.  After twelve years of both female and male undergrads moving in and moving out, let’s just say the house looked lived-in.  I opened the solid wood door to the screened-in porch out back.  You used to be able to see the river.  I remembered the first time I invited Peter—now my husband—over for dinner.  We cooked vegetables harvested that day on the fields below, and ate on the gray-painted floor of the porch (we had no chairs).  I also went up to the room that used to be mine and looked out the windows at the familiar view of the river.  I remember sitting at my desk—a door on cinderblocks with a batik tapestry on top—and writing a poem about the ice on the river breaking up in the spring.

That was a good year I spent there.  I’m glad I went back.

tassels

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Everything was burning yesterday evening.  For the most part, in the best way.

First, I roasted the two bunches of beets–chioggia and golden–and some of the juice oozed out of the foil onto the cookie sheet.  The whole house smelled of burned beet slime.  The result of roasting, however, was delicious: warm beet salad dressed lightly with vinaigrette, sprinkled with chives, salt, and pepper, and covered with crumbled local goat cheese.

My parents’ best friends, the Ashleys, came down the steep driveway from their house for dinner.  Dad mixed martinis and mojitos (for different people–we didn’t mix).  We sat in the sun on the deck.  The tiki torches were flaming.  We snacked on corn chips and hummus, and the tender, nutty Cobb Hill cheese named Ascutney Mountain (for the Green mountain just south of here).

Ascutney chs

Along with a colorful salad made from our farmers’ market haul, we had sweet corn on the cob from Killdeer Farm, and those sausages from Hogwash Farm–Beer Bratwurst and Chorizo–which promptly caught on fire when Dad put them on the grill.  We moved them around, and the flames gave chase (it always cracks me up when baseball announcers use that phrase!).  In the end, there were some spots of char, but not too many, and the sausages were succulent.

This pyromeal was followed by a campfire, up on the hillside behind the Ashleys’ house, at their well-used fire pit.  The grown-ups nursed our drinks and constructed perfectly melted s’mores, while the boys torched marshmallows, pinecones, leftover Christmas candles, anything that would burn.

IMG_0177

IMG_0185

A good time was had by all.

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The morning started out cool and foggy.  I went for a run on the hilly dirt road here, and the air was so chilly and moist in the shade of the tree canopy, that my glasses fogged up.  Turnpike Road follows the course of the Blood Brook, which winds this way and that through culverts under the road (and is named for an old area family, not for early-American battles with Indians).  Normally, in the summer, the brook is just a trickle between dry stones, but lately, because of the uncharacteristically (well, insanely) wet summer, it’s been raging.  The rain has made it hard for all of the farmers around here.  Haying has to happen in the spots of sun between storms.  Vegetables are coming in later than usual.  Sweet corn only just arrived.

By the time we got to the Norwich Farmers’ Market, the fog had burned off, and the sun was getting hot.  We bought an array of goodies from the warm end of the spectrum, from dark new Peruvian Purple potatoes, to pork sausage and rainbow carrots, two kinds of beets, and pale yellow Fingerlings.

bratwurst

The potatoes all came from Hurricane Flats Farm, on the Connecticut River in South Royalton, Vermont, as did the beets.  I bought two bunches: the concentric-striped Chioggias and mango-colored Goldens.  I’m roasting them now, and will quarter them and toss them in some kind of salad later—probably with local goat cheese, again.

As we strolled from their stand, we stopped at Hogwash Farm’s to sample their beer bratwurst. (They raise beef cattle, pigs, and laying hens, and are located here in Norwich.)  It was so tasty, that Jack and his cousin continued to sample while I looked through the freezer and picked out grass fed ground beef and chorizo.  We decided to get a package of the bratwurst too, before the boys cleaned them out.

Hogwash T

From there, we made our way to Your Farm’s stand, and spotted the dazzling rainbow carrots!  We each tried a color.  I’m partial to the purple-skinned-orange-centered kind.

rainbow carrots

After the Farmers’ Market, we stopped at Norwich Square, where all the shops were having a little outdoor fair.    There were musicians, made-to-order crepes, book-signing, and Silkie chickens pecking the grass.

chickens

Jack went into one of his favorite places in Norwich: the little house.  Sometimes, while I drink a coffee and eat an almond croissant from Allechante, Jack brings his snack in there, sits in the rocker, munches, and hums a little hum to himself.

J in little house
I left the boys with my mom in the bookstore, and ducked into Zuzu, where I found the snazziest dress!  Here’s a shot of the fabric:

dress

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Another vegetable with architectural pretensions!

cauli

Like the costata romanesca, this one has classical roots, but its look is more minaret than column.  It’s a green brassica that tastes a bit like broccoli, looks a bit like its white cousin, and is a whole lot more fun than either.

cauli 2

I bought this one today at Killdeer on my way home from the mechanic’s.  Scott, the Farm Stand manager and a wonderful food photographer, suggested roasting or sauteeing the little spirals.  If it weren’t in the upper-80s today, I might roast it with some butter and garlic and a crust of breadcrumbs.  To beat the heat, I’ll just cook it quickly on the stove-top, until al dente.  I’ve also been marinating bone-in pork chops all day.  Mmm… it’s going to be a good meal.

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The other day, I went back to visit friends from high school, whom I hadn’t seen in about fourteen years, in the town I haven’t visited much since then.  Why not, I can’t really explain.

It was one of the strongest experiences of sense-memory: watching the curve of the off-ramp come into view; feeling the curve in the tilt of my car; knowing when to slow down.  Driving from the Putney Road strip into the little downtown: they’ve redirected traffic, one way past the Common now, so where I expected the stop sign I’d failed to stop at during driver’s ed.—with the bulldog-owning bulldog of a teacher jamming on the breaks—there was none.  Past the library on the right, where I’d spent so many after-school afternoons.  Down the slope.

I can’t believe how much has stayed the same over the decades. The same businesses with the same awnings, not updated in twenty years. (The sign remains for the Common Ground, though the restaurant is no more.  It was a true hippy spot: a cooperatively run restaurant, on the second floor, with creaky floorboards, a bottomless bowl of salad with great tahini dressing, and dense, buttery cornbread.)
common ground

Over other storefronts, new signs : shiny, with spiffy, computer-designed lettering, but keeping in the spirit of the town–a store selling natural body products, another new-age bookstore.  I parked on Main Street, across from The Shoe Tree—there for as long as I can remember.  Above those buildings to the left (east) I see the top of Wantastiquet, that huge hump of a mountain I’d walked up and down with these friends so many times, (and remember parking in its secluded parking lot at night), rising up abruptly from its foot in the Connecticut River.
wantastiquet

I looked up Elliot St. and saw that familiar block between Main Street and the Harmony Lot, where we’d always circled slowly a few times before finding a spot.  There was McNeill’s Brewery on the left, Maple Leaf Music on the right, where I had my first real job (lots of dusting and re-alphabetizing of sheet music).  Just across Elliot Street, down the beginning of the steep hill to Flat Street, was the slanted storefront of Mocha Joe’s coffee shop, where I had my second, and probably favorite, job.  Everything inside was exactly the same.  Four steps down to the counter, display of Bodum pots, tea things, and tee shirts on shelves on the left, a little round table to the right, and the milk-sugar station, the high counter straight ahead.  They were playing The Smiths.  That sounds familiar.

I saw Shannon first at a table at the center of the same ancient-stylized floor painting of a bird’s head in a circular design.  She looked like Shannon.  She said, “you walked right past Ham.”  He was at the counter.  We gave each other a big hug.  I was shaking!  Shannon said she’d reached Amy, who had said she’d be here.  We waited just a few minutes and saw her coming down the stairs, looking exactly like herself.  She said, “I saw you on the street, and thought, yup, that looks like her.” It’s hard to express the feelings in all of our looks and hugs.  We’d known each other so well, and then had been so far apart.  We all felt as if we couldn’t explain why we’d lost touch. We stayed there for a few minutes and then walked down the hill toward the bridge to New Hampshire to the Riverview Café.  We sat on the deck above the river, looking over at Wantastiquet—that mountain that figures so prominently in my memories of high school.
wantastiquet bridge
Our personalities were the same, though we were all more comfortable in our own skin, and talked more like adults, less like self-conscious teenagers.  I remember all of their voices so well. And their laughs, mannerisms, bodies.  It was like seeing distant cousins you used to know well, but more complicated.  We didn’t do much reminiscing in part, I think, because our group memories weren’t always happy.  There was also the feeling that we didn’t need to repeat old stories: the stories were in the air around us.  We had so many shared memories, they were there in our looks more than our words.  We had a decade and a half to catch up on.  The fourteen years when we became “grown-ups” and made our lives what they are now.

One has traveled all over the world and lives in New York City, where he writes headlines for The New York Times; another lives in her childhood house, farms the land of Circle Mountain farm, and sells her organic eggs and produce to the locals; a third is a scientist studying the impact of climate change on different species, and on humans.  I’m working on a Ph.D. in literature and writing a blog about local food, living in Alabama, and moving to Rome.  All of these endpoints, and the paths that took us there, make perfect sense for who we were and at the same time seem paradoxically outlandish.  When I told Amy my dissertation was about eighteenth-century British literature, we both started laughing.  Shannon laughed at herself for knowing so much about the different beetles that are killing off the trees of New England.  Hamilton laughed about having a job that feels like professional ADD, and Amy said, “I’m a farmer,” and we all laughed.

Walking with them, back up to Mocha Joe’s, where Ham went in for another coffee, and then up Elliot St. and around the corner into the Harmony lot, felt so familiar.  My feet, legs, body, eyes remembered all of the little details: even the concrete sidewalks haven’t been updated. There was the little triangle of grass at the corner of the lot and the street that always gets trodden down to mud. The lot, and the back doors of old buildings leading to the same shops (The Book Cellar, Galanes’) were exactly the same.

As I drove up the hill, I remembered—in a deep mind/body memory—the little y intersections and nineteenth-century houses along the streets that led up to Western Ave.  I took a right onto the interstate, but if I’d gone straight, the third right would have been Orchard Street, the hill I walked up and rode my bike up so many times, to Meetinghouse Lane, and home.

Incidentally, the food we had was mostly local: goat cheese salads, grass fed cheddar-bacon burger, pulled pork.  We ate and talked.   The hours went by, and we barely noticed.

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hi

hi

I spent the morning in the Pomfret, Vermont hills among cows and affable, talkative farmers happy to have me help to spread their gospel: eat locally and sustainably, and preserve the traditions of good food and respect for the land.  I’ll save Cloudland Farm for another post, because my visit to Thistle Hill Farm was so involved as to have me elbow deep in the copper vat of warm curds and whey.  This was the warm soup that would become the delicious, nutty Tarentaise.

John and Janine Putnam, the owners, farmers, and cheesemakers, were nice enough to let me watch and trail along and ask questions while they dealt with their uncharacteristically chaotic morning: it was a cheesemaking morning, which involves precise timing; and one of their cows had escaped the night before in search of a private place to birth her calf.  When I arrived with my sister and our two sons, the Putnams were harried.  John was measuring the temperature in the vat and watching the clock, while running in and out of the cheese house, changing his shoes each time, to keep dirt out of the cheese room.  Janine was walking all around the steep hills of the property searching for the new mother and her calf.  “Some are good mothers, some are bad.  The bad ones will just leave the calf, and we have to find it.”  They both disappeared for awhile, and Jack and Jeremiah found the Putnam children’s old tractor toys in the back of the barn, and played happily.  I snooped around the cheese house, where there is a wall covered with awards and accolades for their organic Vermont alpine cheese, named Tarentaise, and made in the style of the alpine cheeses of France and Switzerland.  On the wall a map of this region shows, with red circles, where the Putnams traveled with their four children, almost ten years ago, when they decided to make real cheese.

pasture

pasture

curds & whey in copper

curds & whey in copper

Jackboots

When we all bustled back into the cheese room with too big boots, Andrew, the Putnams’ 21-year-old son, was there to help his father lift out the heavy curds.  My glasses fogged up.  It was much hotter and more humid in the room, and the air smelled both sweeter and more acidic.  The curds had reached one degree shy of the critical 48 degrees Celsius.  John said he can tell where it is in the process by the smell.  When he was apprenticing, he said, he was told that at a certain point, “just put away the instruments and the thermometer.  Your senses will tell you what you need to know.”

the cheesehouse

the cheesehouse

The American consumer, too, is learning to trust and hone his senses when it comes to cheese (and wine–the two go together).  The kind of business the Putnams run, and the kind of cheese they make, are helping to put Vermont in the vanguard of what some are calling the good food movement.  Consumers–literally–are willing to pay good money for good food.   John and Janine can speak both poetically and pragmatically about their chosen methods.  They love their loyal local customers, but they also love selling their cheese to D.C. restaurants.

Suddenly, John was gone again, and we found him and Janine in the barn with the newborn 45-pound calf and its mother.  They’d been at the top of a woodsy hill, together, and Janine had carried the calf on her shoulders back to the barn.

the newborn

the newborn

John ran away again, this time to the house to change his clothes and shoes.  You can’t go in the barn when you’re making cheese.  They even have the cheesehouse uphill and upwind from the barn, so that its “perfumes” won’t be detectable in the cheese.  The Tarentaise, instead, will carry the aromas of the terroir—the characteristic soil, grasses and forages of the North Pomfret hillsides.

Then, it was time to lift out the curds, with huge pieces of cheesecloth and one foot against the wall—so as not to fall into the vat when leaning down to scoop from the bottom.  John and Andrew worked together wordlessly, in sync, with the familiarity of father and son and habit.  They make cheese every other day.  “Cheesemakers don’t need to go to the gym or to the spa,” said John, in constant movement in the humid room.

curds 1
curds2

curds3

They first lifted the huge sacks of curds into draining-compressing vats, and then, after about 15 more minutes, when the curds had glommed together in big jiggly discs, John sliced them into quarters with a chef’s knife, and lifted the sections into the round containers where they’d be compressed with the weight of 65 pounds.

curds4
curds5

Then they cleaned up, which was a time consuming and wet process.  Part of the clean-up is lifting the “pig cheese”—the curds left at the bottom and no good for cheese but good for the local pigs—out of the vat, which John let me do.  (I’m using my teeth as a third hand to hold the corners of the cheesecloth.)

cheesecloth

then to the aging room

then to the aging room

The Putnams have an eloquent website which describes their practices and tells their story.  Here are some of their links:
About the farm
Story
Home

And don’t forget to heed Janine’s advice:

Janine's shirt

As for me, I’m already looking forward to the Norwich Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning, when I can buy some more of the delicious, honey-colored Tarentaise.

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We have fresh local radishes and those salmon colored carrots, as well as about an ounce of fresh goat cheese.  The combination of these flavors–peppery, sweet, and earthy-tangy, will make a delicious salad to go with our pasta tonight.

radish salad

I sliced the carrot and radish into thin discs, tossed them with a spoonful each of red wine vinegar and evoo, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.  I remembered that there was a huge chive patch out front, so I went out into the drizzle with my scissors and snipped a small bunch.  I snipped these right into the bowl, and then dropped in the goat cheese, and mashed it around a bit. Yum!

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