Spring has been getting off to a slow start here in New England. None the less the sap has started to flow, if only in dribs and drabs. So we decided to make a run up north to stock up on maple syrup. Well, and to see some much loved friends who decided to take a yearlong break from France and enjoy a rather snowy winter in Vermont.
So we headed up through central Mass to Brattleboro, Vermont to meet up with our friends and get a bit of a guided tour around the area.
The weather turned out to be pretty nice, if not a little on the cold side. So after saying our hellos and having a quick lunch of homemade galletes and a glass of homemade hard cider we were off to tour Southeast Vermont.
Rural Vermont can be exceptionally picturesque and bucolic even in “mud season” and driving around I could not help but think of the movie Funny Farm. Which I guess is fitting since I was in the heart of the filming location.
We ended up up Weston and the Vermont Country Store in which is sort of the Wall Drug of Vermont. Only not so kitschy, these are yankees after all. I’ve known of the Vermont Country Store for so long I don’t even remember where I first heard of it, probably early on in childhood (my parents did have a subscription to ‘Mother Earth News’ since nearly the first issue). Turns out that the store’s original proprietor Vrest Orton was acquainted with our friend’s grandparents some decades ago. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Not to mention, only last year I read Vrest’s book ‘The American Cider Book.’ When an old copy was given to me by another friend. So it was a small delight to go to the store if only to buy some salty licorice candies.
It is a bit touristy, or rather caters to them, but underneath it all, it still reminds me of the old country stores that were once common in rural America. And now are all but gone. This one lives on probably because of the steady flow of New Yorkers looking for a vacation in the country can’t help but spend money there.
After a pleasant tour over hill, and over dale, and including something that in dryer seasons would probably be known as a ‘dirt road’ we headed back to Brattleboro. Where a french inspired home cooked dinner would be forthcoming.
Starting with some homemade Pommeau, oh the delights of having friends with family in rural France! Then came a salad course that included boudin noir. Then lamb tagine. Accompanied by a glass of french wine of course. Then pears braised in calvados and maple syrup. All that before a relaxing nip of homemade calvados. Sleep was not hard to find after that.
The next day we were up and out and on the search for maple syrup. Which is not real hard to find, since every maple tree I seen had a bucket or a tube attached to it. We headed north a bit to Putney where there is an abundance of syrup producers.
I remember making maple syrup when I was just a youngin so I am was not altogether unfamiliar with the process. But this was the first time I got to glimpse the facilities for slightly larger scale production of maple syrup. And the seemingly miles of poly tubing that run through the woods from maple tree to maple tree. Because the buckets are just too labor intensive for anything but home production anymore.
We made a few stops around Putney and stocked up on syrup and a few other sweet goodies. The car was loaded with syrup and it was not even noon. So we made one more stop. One that was my favorite stop of the day.
Up on top of some Vermont hill, down some dirt road, past a stand of maple woods we came to an old orchard and an associated farm. With a old barn and a small pasture for the hogs, (which were laid out in the spring sun), it wasn’t much to look at. Inside the chilly barn was bins of apples, bottles of syrup, and a fridge full of farm raised pork. With a decor that included stacks of press cloths and press racks, old equipment waiting for the next apple season, and people actually doing chores. The till was a small wicker basket with a small stack of money with a rock on it. This was about as far from a tourist attraction as you could get. I happily came across some jars of raw cider vinegar. Which of course I just had to get some for drinking vinegar. After that I had a gander at their orchard, just to see how they do things out here.
I have to admit I am a little jealous, even their wild trees look healthy. Not like back in western Washington where it is a constant fight against anthracnose canker.
After lunch back in Brattleboro we had a bit of a look around town including a stop by Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters to buy a new road atlas. So I could find my way home without having to rely on major roads. Then we bid our friends farewell and took a rather meandering course back through Massachusetts, a bit of Connecticut, and finally back to Rhode Island in time for dinner. Being from out west I am always a little amused by the size of the states in New England, so little.
Back home with a cupboard full of syrup I guess I can make pancakes with wild abandon!