• 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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  • Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    When the Upper Valley Localvores took their first 100–mile diet challenge in August 2005, we came upon a serious stumbling block. No local salt! Tomatoes and corn–on–the–cob were abundant, but oh, we needed salt. Fortunately, one of our members had vacationed in Maine and brought back a precious supply of sea salt. It made us wonder what our Upper Valley ancestors had done for salt.

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  • Eat it on the Radio

    Eat it on the Radio

    In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben focuses on the importance of strong communities for the health and well-being of the planet and its people. He suggests that we can strengthen our home regions by producing more of our own food, generating more of our own energy, and even creating more of our own culture and entertainment. To achieve these goals, McKibben advises, we need to build or rebuild local institutions that draw people together, and one such institution that he cites in his book is a low-power radio station in the Mad River Valley: WMRW-LP Warren, 95.1 FM.

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  • A Passion for Artisan Soap

    A Passion for Artisan Soap

    My soap-making journey started a decade or so ago, when I was becoming more and more sensitized (allergic) to mainstream, detergent-type soaps. Eventually I just couldn’t use them anymore. As I researched the subject, I became alarmed at what was being used in cosmetic products on the market, not to mention all the harmful chemicals leaching into our waterways as a result of those products. I decided to start making my own soap, and the enthusiasm I had back then for soap making has now turned into a passion and a business for me. My only regret is that I didn’t start making them sooner!

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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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  • 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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  • The Story of Bread

    The Story of Bread

    Green Mountain Flour, a new artisan bakery in Windsor owned and operated by Zachary Stremlau and Daniella Malin, takes a unique approach to its craft: it uses local wheat, local milling, and local fuel to create its flours, breads, and pizzas. Here, woodcuts that comprise the bakery’s logo tell “the story of bread,” echoing a time in early New England when, according to Zachary and Daniella, “the farmers knew the miller, the miller milled with stone, and the baker baked with fire.”

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  • How to Get Grounded

    How to Get Grounded

    On a road in Cabot, not far from the land that Laura Dale and Cyrus Pond bought this past March, you can look out to the west at a horizon dominated by the undulating spine of the Green Mountains. For many young farmers in Vermont, the cost of land can seem as daunting and insurmountable as the largest of those mountains in the dead of winter.

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  • 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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  • 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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  • Classy Wheat

    Classy Wheat

    Last year, I arrived at The Putney School as their new gardener and was tasked with getting the high school students at this Putney boarding and day school excited about gardening. Early on, the farm manager told me he had planted some wheat on the edge of one of the farm’s hayfields. I was intrigued.

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  • Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    As I downshift off the Putney exit of I-91, my husband, Jerry, is roused from his dozing by the hollow sound of several hundred jostling maple syrup jugs. It’s April, time to buy containers for our maple syrup at Bascom’s 10% container sale, and time to post Farm Camp flyers.

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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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  • 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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Learning at the Market

Lisa Mase of Harmonized Cookery
Lisa Mase of Harmonized Cookery

Written By

Carolyn Grodinsky

Written on

September 01 , 2011

Shop, Learn, Connect— that’s our market’s slogan, and this summer we emphasized the second word “learn” with 15 teaching demonstrations held during market hours. Intended to match the spirit of the market (local, seasonal, and affordable), the demonstrations helped customers learn how to preserve foods to enjoy year-round, how to prepare a variety of dishes from local produce, and how to stretch their food dollar. We partnered with Montpelier-area chefs, our market vendors, and food educators to lead these almost-weekly demonstrations.

New England Culinary Institute (NECI) Executive Chef Tom Bivins led six of the demonstrations, giving NECI students a taste of how to teach outside the classroom, and giving market customers some delicious samples to try. At the zucchini bonanza demo, Tom proved that it’s possible to make a creamy vegan sauce without cream. (Just what was his secret cream stand-in? Cashews.) His tall chef’s toque (hat) drew kids to the demo tent, and some of them came back many times to taste the different foods that were prepared.

Dave Moyer a chef at the Vermont Foodbank, bought a market chicken to cook for one meal and then used the leftovers to make a second meal of chicken gumbo. He spoke about all the ways shoppers can save money on groceries, including buying in bulk, planning menus in advance, and making a shopping list. At one demo, he showed that meat doesn’t have to be the center of a meal but that rice can be used as the meal base. He cooked a cherry tomato risotto that cheaply fed a large group using what was fresh at the market that week. The crowds were scarce at first, Moyer says, but once he began chopping and stirring, people got interested. “I guess to get somebody’s attention, you gotta start cooking.”

Jane Tucker of Highland Gardens showed how to can dill pickles and bread and butter pickles. Lisa Mase of Harmonized Cookery showed how to make chutneys and relishes. We scheduled our ice cream demo on our Youth Market Day, when kids get a chance to vend their own food products and crafts. Mark Simakaski of Artesano mead did the demo, and because adults love ice cream, too, he sold ice cream at the market that included a basil ice cream—a big hit.

Demonstrations gave customers a chance to try unusual new dishes they probably haven’t ever cooked at home, such as blackberry ketchup and coconut-mint chutney. At a demonstration highlighting pea dishes, Tom Bivins encountered a customer who adamantly refused to eat any foods that were green—not too easy to find at a farmers’ market. He managed to persuade her to try the pea risotto and she even liked it. (Tom thinks she liked the risotto because only the peas were green, not the whole dish.)

The teaching demonstrations also offered shoppers opportunities to ask questions and to learn new cooking techniques. Peggy Thompson, who led most of the canning demos, notes that most people came to learn about general canning techniques. During her strawberry jam demo, one man asked her why his jams never set, even though he had carefully measured the correct amounts of sugar, fruit, and pectin. Thompson showed him the jam-making process from start—pulling the caps off the strawberries—to finish—sealing the jam in a water bath. After watching her, the man was able to figure out what he did wrong. Peggy wished him luck and sent him home with new instructions, free pectin samples, and discount coupons for buying canning supplies.

Ball Fresh Canning and Preserving awarded 50 grants to farmers’ markets across the county to teach canning. The Capital City Farmers’ Market was the only market in Vermont to get one. At each demo, market staff handed out free recipe booklets, coupons, and samples to encourage people to preserve their fresh produce. At the end of each canning demo, staff drew names from the market’s newsletter signup to give away canned items, canning supplies, and recipe books. (If you want to try canning just about any vegetable from a farmers’ market, Ball Fresh Canning and Preserving has an excellent website with recipes to help you get started: freshpreserving.com.)

Learning doesn’t end just because the weather turns cold. Demonstrations will continue at our winter market, which is held inside from December through April. Last year, the winter market offered demonstrations on meats, maple syrup, and fermented foods. This year we’d like to focus on specific cooking techniques. We hope to schedule demonstrations on how to carve your holiday turkey and use every part of the bird, as well as how to use all parts of a meat animal (think: organ meats). Demos don’t have to involve lots of time or money. Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier paid the food costs for the Vermont Foodbank demos, as they fit the store’s mission.

We’re always looking for useful demo topics, so please send any suggestions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. All of our demo recipes can be found on our website, montpelierfarmersmarket.com. Encourage your local farmers’ market to host demos of their own!

Photo by Caroline Abels

About the Author

Carolyn Grodinsky

Carolyn Grodinsky

Carolyn Grodinsky is the manager of the Capital City Farmers’ Market and an enthusiastic shopper there. Using the knowledge she’s gained from the canning workshops, she canned all sorts of vegetables this past summer.

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