Monday, December 14, 2015

Eating local

Recently, a friend of mine, as a response to the sausage roll media event, posted on Facebook a link to a list of British foods that Americans really need to discover . It was an odd list: why, for example, would you include spotted dick (an irredeemable form of stodgy carbohydrates that should be buried in a list of historic culinary mistakes) but not jaffa cakes or trifle? Or scotch eggs (shudder!) but not stilton?? And no mention of Minstrels??

Anyhow, in the spirit of international culinary exchanges, I thought I would write an alternative list: food that we've encountered in Vermont that we think really should be tried by kiwis. It's true that some foods we've found not quite to our liking - we've struggled to find a soft wholegrain bread that approaches Molenberg or Freya's. We're yet to find decent spreadable butter or a museli (granola) that doesn't feel as if it might break your teeth. And some American staples leave me puzzled: frankly, I cannot understand the attraction of a bagel. But the food here is, with those few exceptions, delicious.

The best thing about food in Vermont is eating local. The farmers' markets are phenomenal: in summer you'll find fresh cheese, local honey, maple butter, locally-made summer sausage, 20 varieties of tomato, and corn so crisp you could eat it for every meal. As the season changes, you'll find pumpkins and squash and kale for sale at every farm gate, berries for of every kind to be picked from local gardens, tart apples and cider in the orchards. Friends buy their vegetables from co-ops or community gardens.

 My girls, of course, are not impressed by any of this. They would happily live on other kinds of American food: burgers, buffalo wings, "most pulp" orange juice, goldfish and tater tots.

But, we love the fresh and local food we eat here. So, here's a list of the foods we really think our friends around the world should try. 

  1. Maple sausages. If it wasn't illegal to bring food (and meat products in particular) into NZ, I would ditch the clothes and pack my suitcases with maple everything, but especially maple sausages. I can hear you saying from here "maple sausages??" but you will just have to trust me on this one. Indescribably delicious, they were the first food we went looking for when we got back to the cottage.

As an aside, anything from Dakin farms is just heaven. Maple-cured bacon, maple-cured ham, summer sausage. If you're in Vermont, go there.

2. Apple cider. I'm not a great cider drinker at home. I tend to be of the mindset that says if you're going to drink alcohol it needs to be a decent red, single malt, or perhaps a gin-and-tonic on summer days. So we were a little puzzled back in Michigan when we stumbled over a country fair selling cider and apple doughnuts: since it was a family affair, we were surprised they were selling alcohol in a school hall. We have since learned that apple cider is not alcoholic (alcoholic cider is referred to as "hard cider"), and it is.....I'm going to have to find another word for delicious. In Vermont, the apple orchards sell apple cider in season: often the orchard has its own press and own recipe  a sprinkle of cloves, a cinnamon stick, a crushed cardamon. But mostly it's just apples - and the cider is sold hot or cold. I like it served in a glass cup, hot - it looks beautiful and warms the soul. It's different to simple apple juice such as we might buy at home, it's sweet and tart because often it's made with cider apples. Bruce has been planting cider apples on the farm and we hope to find a press to take home with us.

3. Cherry pie.  Well, any pie. I am totally on board with the American pie tradition. We're continuing the sweet and tart theme here. Cherries here are often sour rather than sweet - I haven't forgotten our friend Barry's delectable sour cherry scones. I love the ubiquitous pie in the US: at a recent Thanksgiving dinner the dessert table groaned with pie: apple, pumpkin, coconut cream (another favourite), coffee-chocolate cream pie, and New Zealand pie (aka pavlova).

4. Cookies. I know, we think cookies is just another name for what we call biscuits.  Not so. Try dunking an American cookie in your tea and you won't do it again. Cookies are soft, melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness, compared with biscuits which tend to be hard and brittle. I love the chocolate chip cookies we buy at the store here. I would eat them for breakfast if it weren't for the issue of setting a bad example to the children.  As an aside, we have discovered that biscuits here are something quite different to the sweet biscuits we eat: a regular item on any breakfast menu is biscuits and gravy. This sounds so appalling to us that so far we haven't tried it - but I've been assured that they are delicious. I shall report back on this one.

5. Cheese, oh cheese! The article on British foods was very sarcastic about American cheese - but they only seemed to have tried the smoked variety, which we have to say most closely resembles a form of edible plastic. But local cheeses are something else. We have toured the cheese making house at Shelburne Farms (where I discovered that cheddar is a verb!), swooned over horseradish cheese spread, and when we go home with expanded waistlines, it won't be just attributable to pie and maple syrup: we love the smokey cheese with bacon from Dakin Farms, the sharp cheddar from Shelburne Farms. But there are so many local cheese makers in Vermont: we want to sample them all.

6. Peanut butter with a twist

I loathe peanut butter with a passion, so my recommendation here is second hand. The first time Lizzy opened a jar of local peanut butter, she said  "what IS this? It's full of lumps!" Bruce peered over: "No, " he said, flourishing the bread knife with enthusiasm, "they're not lumps, they're peanuts." "Huh,' she said doubtfully, "is it safe to eat?" Turns out Vermont maple walnut peanut butter with whole peanuts, or peanut butter with chocolate chips is to the kind of thing you want to eat with a spoon. However, I shall take that on trust.

7. Soups made with cheese

I know this kind of soup is not found only in the US, but it's not something you'd serve routinely in NZ: I'm more likely to make a meat-based farmhouse soup or maybe a thick vegetable soup at home. Yet that creamy, sharp and tangy flavour is so nourishing on cool days. I have the recipe: I'm making cheese and broccoli soup for tea tonight! Won't the girls be pleased? (No.).

11. Local beer with mad names
What is the most embarrassing thing a mother can do to her teenage daughters?  Whip out her phone in a country store and start taking photos of boxes of beer. Bruce's favourite beer - Big Sky Moose Drool - hasn't made it as far east as Vermont, but the local beers keep him entertained:

profanity ale??

12. Ben and Jerry's

 Finally, not so much a food as a phenomenon: Ben and Jerry's ice cream is made in Vermont. Every time we go to Stowe, we pass the factory on the other side of the road, and the girls almost fall out of the car, shrieking "surely we can go in this time!!!??" and we say "on the way back, we'll stop there". But we don't, because it's always too late, too dark, too cold, or we've done too much and we're too tired to stop. Recently, I agreed to buy some B&J at the grocery store and the girls were most dejected to find none in the ice cream freezer: a Vermont supermarket that doesn't sell its iconic ice cream? Turns out that Ben and Jerry's ice cream is its own food group: it has its own freezer.

We're working our way through the flavours:  'hazed and confused', 'that's my jam', 'karamel sutra', 'americone dream', 'chubby hubby', and 'everything but the...' But the girls have not given up their first love: phish food.

So there you have it. I could keep going. For example, we've recently discovered 'birch syrup' which is made the same way as maple syrup, but has a more savoury flavour. I haven't included that here because it's a rarity, not part of the local diet. But perhaps this is enough, to say that there is more to American food than hamburgers and chips. Just as in NZ, there's a strong tradition of fresh, local food but based on a completely different set of traditions. And in Vermont, we eat like kings. 



  1. I laughed aloud when I read your part about the cider Lisa! Here, we are breaking open a Tui and a Sav (it's hot) and toasting you for Christmas, just before finding the meat for the BBQ!

  2. Hi Jacqui: it's impossible to imagine hot weather right now! I raise my glass of hot cider back to you and yours :-)