• Tapping for Taste

    Tapping for Taste

    There are people in Vermont who prefer fake maple syrup—not just people who are looking for something cheaper but who actually prefer the stuff made of corn syrup. There are other people in Vermont who don’t talk to those fake syrup types. And there are Vermonters who stand by Grade B for all occasions and others who keep a little Fancy on hand.

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  • Last Morsel—Roots on the Rails

    Last Morsel—Roots on the Rails

    On summer evenings in the garden in Weathersfield, I know it’s nearly time to call it a day when the train whistle blows; over the river, Amtrak’s Vermonter is about to cross the highway in Cornish. As I stand up, knees cracking from too-long bending over the rows of carrots that want thinning, I think about the train on its trek north to St. Albans, and how tomorrow it will head south to Washington, DC. Back and forth, more than 600 miles, each day, every day.

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  • The First Localvores

    The First Localvores

    I have always been fascinated by wild foods. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana we had a copy of Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and I remember how exciting it was to read about eating cattails, making acorn flour, and brewing sassafras tea. As I recall, the cattail stalks tasted a bit like mild turnips, the acorn flour was tannic and needed a lot of processing before being edible, and the tea tasted like something just this side of root beer. Little did I know as a kid that wild edibles such as cattails and acorns were just a couple of the foods historically gathered and consumed by the first people to inhabit the state I would one day call home.

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  • Taking it Slow in Italy

    Taking it Slow in Italy

    Getting together, the listening to and exchanging of ideas— that is the miracle of Terra Madre.”

    With this, Slow Food International founder Carlo Petrini welcomed us to the 2010 Terra Madre conference and set the tone for our four days in Turin, Italy. He addressed an audience of 5,000 representatives from 161 countries—small-scale farmers, producers, educators, and observers—who had traveled to Italy to meet with their peers and discuss global issues of food, culture, and justice. We came to take part in the conversation, too, along with two dozen other Vermonters. The experience renewed our appreciation for the value of gathering around a table to break bread and to exchange ideas.

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  • Cookbooks, Culture,  and Community

    Cookbooks, Culture, and Community

    The case for local nuts. No, I’m not talking about your odd mother-in-law, your bizarre ex-boyfriend, or that whacko who expresses herself, extensively, at town meeting. And I don’t mean aficionados or extremely enthusiastic people. I mean those portable nuggets of nutrition, held aloft by tree limbs. A nut, technically speaking, is a big seed enclosed by a hard shell. And even though you’re now fantasizing about almond and macadamia instead of weirdo and diehard, I’m here to tell you about what nuts we can grow in Vermont, and why.

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  • Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

    Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

    A strong regional food system—one in which the people of a region are participating in their own food production in both sustaining and sustainable ways—is community based. As much as this system grows food, it grows people, encouraging relationships of collaboration and mutual aid, respect and care. No longer at war with nature and each other, unburdened by that ancient power relationship of us over them, and having given up the self-destructive effort to control life, people actively work with life in a community-based food system. In this way, they practice “relational agriculture,” building the social fabric that leads to a truly sustainable food system for all.

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  • Halal in the Hills

    Halal in the Hills

    Art Meade is a 59-year-old livestock and poultry farmer with a thick Maine accent and a farm on Route 100 in Morrisville. He also happens to run the only state-licensed slaughter facility in Vermont that caters to Muslims who practice halal slaughter. This is the Muslim tradition of swiftly slitting the throat of a domesticated meat animal with a sharp knife; the animal is believed to be killed instantly and painlessly (though there is some debate about that). Muslims, who are directed by their religion to eat halal meat, can purchase such meat in Vermont stores, but some prefer to do the slaughter themselves.

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  • New to America,  Old Hands at Agriculture

    New to America, Old Hands at Agriculture

    There’s something exciting happening at the Intervale. “So what else is new?” you might say. “There’s always something interesting happening at the Intervale.” But not every day do you see families from more than four different countries, speaking a mix of different languages, planting lenga-lenga, molukhia, or Asian mustards side by side in a lush valley in Vermont. This summer that will be the scene at the gardens at Ethan Allen Homestead, a field at the Intervale Center in Burlington, and on farmland in Shelburne.

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  • Set the Table with Switchel

    Set the Table with Switchel

    Long a staple in Northeast hayfields as a thirst quencher and restorative, switchel—alternatively called “haymaker’s punch” —was a colonial era proto-Gatorade, a source of both hydration and electrolyte replenishment. Recipes vary, but the most common ingredients were molasses, cider vinegar, and ginger, mixed to taste in a jug of very cold well water. While the concoction could have provided benefit to all manner of laborers and sporting folks, its use was particularly common among the workers of the hayfield and the children who carried the switchel jug to them.

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  • Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    “The farming of our fathers was exceedingly simple, content to draw from a virgin soil the supplies of simple wants, instead of aiming itself for their increase. With the impoverishment of the soil, with the forests almost swept off the face of the country and the consequent climate change, with the multiplied wants of society and development of so many new industries, the highest intelligence and energies are required to remodel our system of agriculture so that it may fully meet the demands made upon it.

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  • A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

    A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

    When Joseph Kiefer and Martin Kemple founded Food Works in 1987, phrases such as “food security” and “local food system” had yet to come into common parlance. It was ambitious—maybe even radical at the time—to think of using gardens and locally grown food to address the root causes of childhood hunger.

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    In the not-so-distant past, eating locally was a way of life and a matter of necessity. For four generations, the Robinson family farmed in Ferrisburgh, at the place known today as the Rokeby Museum. The museum’s collection includes correspondence and household records detailing the family’s ways of farming, preserving, and eating. In the last of this four-part series, we take a look at how the Robinsons cooked, ate, and farmed in the late 1800s.

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  • How to Start a Community Garden

    How to Start a Community Garden

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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  • Getting Everyone to the Table

    Getting Everyone to the Table

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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Last Morsel—Reliving History through Food in Burlington

tour group on St. George Street, Burlington VT
tour group on St. George Street, Burlington

Written By

Pamela Hunt

Written on

May 20 , 2015

I swirled the creamy beans, sweet chunks of zucchini, and crunchy corn niblets in the last of the lemon-herb vinaigrette at the bottom of my dish. This salad had a story to tell, and I was hungry to hear it. Lucky for me, I was in the right place: Sugarsnap restaurant at the Echo Center, the first stop on the Burlington Edible History Tour.

The tour’s creators and co-leaders, Gail Rosenberg and Elise Guyette, “asked us to prepare something that represented the early local residents and their staple crops,” says Deanna Hunt of Sugarsnap. So the restaurant decided to feature the “three sisters” of Native American agriculture: squash, beans, and corn. Many of the vegetables were grown just a few miles away at Sugarsnap’s garden at the Intervale, a 700-acre tract of land along the Winooski River that was hunted and farmed for millennia, first by the Native Americans and then by European settlers and American colonists. Today, vegetable farms, chicken coops, and beehives line the dirt road leading into the fields.

Gail and Elise have enthusiastically set out to share their knowledge gained through copious research into the foodways and traditions of the various ethnic groups who have made Burlington their home. On the September afternoon when I went on the tour, the pair led our group on a leisurely two-mile stroll through the city’s downtown, stopping frequently to point out a historic building or to share a tale of an immigrant’s contribution to Vermont’s culture.

Daniel Caudle, manager of Church & Main, literally threw open his door to Gail and Elise on a blustery day in the early months of 2014. His intent had been just to provide shelter from the inclement weather, but after learning about their plans for interpreting the Queen City’s history through food, he was in. “Almost every restaurant on Church Street was owned by immigrants from Greece, and [this location] did not buck the trend,” he told me.

Although usually preparing American bistro fare, chef Trevor Smith borrowed from the eatery’s Hellenic background to develop his tasting menu for the tour. As I sliced into the juicy Mediterranean-herb-crusted pork loin on a savory bed of orzo studded with kalamata olives and feta cheese, my eye caught the red-and-white stained-glass panel on the wall. “Candy Shop,” it read, a reminder to patrons of the restaurant’s history as a Greek-run confectioner’s shop.

We found our sweet break at Burlington’s bicycle café, Maglianero. The tart, lime-flavored frozen yogurt—a nod to the coffeehouse’s location in what was once a Lebanese neighborhood—paired perfectly with its bookends of not-super-sweet chocolate graham-flour cookies. These grown-up treats emerged from the hands of Andrew Lestourgeon, pastry chef at renowned Hen Of  The Wood, a Vermont restaurant synonymous with local and foraged ingredients.

Menus from the city’s past inspired the day’s final food tasting. Chef Doug Paine of the Hotel Vermont’s Juniper was thrilled to host a stop on the tour. “I told Gail about some old Hotel Vermont menus from the 1920s and 1930 I had seen, and one thing that stuck out to me was that they all had some sort of local fish on them.” At one time, residents of all nationalities feasted on salmon, trout, and other species from the lake. However, by the 1900s, the stocks had been depleted, due to development and the building of dams and canals. Further industrial growth polluted the water, leading to the perception that local catch was unfit to eat.

Doug, who is also chef at Bleu Northeast Seafood, is active in trying to rehabilitate the image of Lake Champlain’s fish: “The idea is, you have to eat it to save it,” he said. The tender perch fingers he offered us certainly enticed me to follow his advice. And keeping to the locavore theme, it was stone-ground flint cornmeal from Butterworks Farms in Westfield that formed the perch’s nutty, crisp coating.

Gastronomic writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once wrote, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” From what I sampled on that afternoon, I could see that Burlington’s cuisine and culture has resulted from the serendipitous mixing and melding of cultures, with no single influence standing above the others. The addition of food traditions from more recent arrivals can only add more spice to the mix.

To find out the dates of this year’s Burlington Edible History Tour, go to burlingtonediblehistory.com. Gail and Elise have committed to donating 10 percent of their profits from the tour to New Farms for New Americans, a project of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont.

Pamela Hunt lives in South Burlington and writes about travel, food, and general Vermont goings-on. Follow her at pamelahunt.com.

About the Author

Pamela Hunt

Pamela Hunt

Pamela Hunt lives in South Burlington with her husband and two dogs and writes about travel, food, and general Vermont goings-on. Follow her website.

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