Three Square—Fall 2008
Written onSeptember 01 , 2008
Growing up in Vermont I ate chokecherries, dandelions, venison, and tempura daylilies. I recently returned to live here full time. Since then, I’ve noticed that conversation often turns to food. What’s for dinner? This is the fourth and last installment of a series in which I’ve visited a variety of Vermonters in their homes, peered into their iceboxes, and shared their thoughts about what they eat. Because of the often personal nature of their stories, I’ve chosen to omit their last names.
“I don’t care much about cooking,” Edith tells me. “I don’t put much stock in it. My highest value is children. I love children. I wrote a history of Weathersfield for the children here. When they took a field trip to the old town cemetery, they knew the people buried there, they recognized all the names.”
We’re sitting on the sun porch outside Edith’s kitchen door. She has a pile of books beside her to read—history, poetry, nature. Old toys are neatly lined up: a dollhouse, a small gas station, toy trucks, and a few dolls, ready for young visitors. Edith holds on to a hefty cane; her leg is bum now, she says. She is 88.
Forty years ago, when a highway was routed through her family’s New Hampshire farm, Edith and her husband and four children moved to Vermont, to Weathersfield, where her husband’s aunts—privileged maiden ladies from Philadelphia—had a classic Vermont farmhouse and a barn big enough for Edith’s family to build a house in. When the aunts died, Edith’s family moved into the main house.
Edith has had a full life as a writer, newspaper publisher, radio commentator, teacher, mother, and community leader. She lives alone now, but with family close by. Her mind is lively and critical. And her applesauce, which I’d tasted at a friend’s house, is delicious.
“I make scads of applesauce. I work around the bugs. I cut up the apples. I don’t skin them. Then I put them in the Foley food mill. The other thing I make is vichyssoise. It’s the Vichyssoise a la Ritz recipe from The New York Times Cookbook. Four leeks and an onion, a stick of butter, five potatoes, and a quart of chicken broth. Boil this for 35 minutes and then put it all in the blender. Freeze that in small portions; when you want some, defrost it. When you’re ready to eat it, heat it up, and add the milk and cream. I make lots and eat it all year long.”
Edith uses a blender, never a food processor. “Years ago I wanted a blender and asked my son Will to get me one. ‘I think I have one in the back of my car,’ he said, and he did. He went right out and got it. I’m still using it, the same one.”
“I’m not a venturesome cook,” she explains. “I have greens for lunch and iced coffee; sometimes soup, too. For breakfast I have a poached egg on toast, coffee, orange juice, and strawberry jam. But the strawberry bed isn’t doing very well this year.”
“We’re having marvelous lettuce this summer, though, mesclun, and three kinds of garlic. My daughter-in-law isn’t crazy about gardening. She takes care of the onions. My daughter Ibby—she lives in North Carolina—plants all the squash when she comes up to visit.”
It’s her youngest son Charlie’s garden now, she tells me. She gave it over to him this year. “And he’s started going by some book. Here I’ve been planting for years with good tomatoes, and now Ibby and Charlie have put wool around them and they’re not getting any sun. Wool!” Edith shakes her head, but is clearly pleased by the collective family effort: six people creating one large and beautiful garden.
“I started my first one in 1948. Our Italian neighbors taught me to braid and hang onions. I learned everything else about gardening from our Russian neighbors, the Prohodskys.”
I ask what she ate growing up. “My father loved to make quahog chowder. We had baked beans on Saturday night. On Sunday we’d have Welsh rarebit around the fire. We lived in Roxbury, in Boston. He had a wonderful little garden, with two pear trees, an apple tree, tomatoes, and rhubarb.”
Before I leave Edith gets the car out and we drive around back. She points out two large apple trees. “Aunt Margaret—the nice one, Ibby used to call her—her ashes are scattered there, under the Northern Spy. We planted it in her memory. Aunt Mary’s are over there, under the Yellow Transparent.”
We pass the sugarhouse where this year Edith and her sons made 16 gallons of maple syrup in 10 boils. The pig house is empty, but the woodpile, stacked along the road, is high. It’ll heat the main house, as well as the barn-house where her son Graham and his wife now live.
I spy a wild turkey on the hillside. We stop, and a parade of small turkeys slowly comes into view. Edith is delighted. “Look! They’re back! And this time they’ve brought their whole family with them.”