A Vermont Picnic

By Melissa Pasanen, "A Vermont Picnic," July/August 2008

A Meal to Celebrate Local Bounty.

Veteran sugarmaker Burr Morse, 60, of East Montpelier, Vermont, has been sugaring since he was a boy. The last 20 years have been a struggle: “Weather just stopped happening right,” he explains. “If sugaring goes away, then I go away,” he says simply. “It’s not only important to the economy, it’s important to the temperament of the people here.”

Most of Maple Syrup nation was settled by homesteaders who had to diversify to survive. They grew their own vegetables, dry beans and grains; planted fruit and nut trees; raised chickens, pigs and sheep for wool and meat; and always had a milking cow. They hunted game and gathered berries, grapes, dandelion leaves and fiddleheads. To sustain themselves through the long winters, they canned summer’s bounty and stored apples, potatoes and other root vegetables and cured pork in root cellars, attics and barns.

The growing season was full of hard work, but dishes like some of the following recipes might well have been spread out for all to share at a community barn-raising or a church picnic. Picture a hearty bean and tomato salad made, perhaps, with Vermont Cranberry beans and sun-warmed orange Oxheart tomatoes. Or an earthenware bowl of freshly dug and boiled new Early Rose potatoes tossed with cob-smoked ham and the buttermilk left after butter-churning. You might find a platter of crisp-crumbed chicken and a basket of warm Cheddar-cornmeal biscuits made with stone-ground flint corn grown since the time of the Abenaki Indians, who lived in what is now northern New England and southern Quebec. There would be pie and giant jugs of ginger-spiked switchel—the preferred drink for hot, dusty summer work—chilling in a nearby stream.

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