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My Great American Road Trip – Vermont, Virginia

October 8, 2020

I’ve been to Vermont a lot. A lot. I’ve got cousins there and friends with ski houses, and an over all love of the wacky, hippy, beauty of the Green Mountains. The last time I was in Vermont it was to see my niece perform a heartbreakingly beautiful monologue she wrote while a student at Bennington College. The time before that was for my first-cousin-once-removed’s wedding to my new first-cousin-once-removed-in-law. It was a fab wedding and I gained a whole new fab family.

They got married in Rachel’s hometown of St Albans. I stayed next door in tiny Georgia, Vermont. I drove up there from NYC, following the GPS directions that eventually said drive onto the boat. So I did.

On the other side of Lake Champlain I spent a few days celebrating the happy couple and enjoying the beautiful local. And I bought some local mustard. I don’t know why, I love buying mustard or hot sauce where ever I go. What I didn’t do was sample enough of the local cuisine.

I bet you thought for Vermont I’d do this:

And you wouldn’t really be wrong. I did have to buy the pint in anticipation of this photo, and then I ate the pint and had to wait a whole day before making my Vermont food.

My first choice for Vermont was something with fiddlehead ferns or gilfeather turnips, a veg my friend Linda helped get official status, but fat chance I could get either of those in Miami Beach. The Food Network led me to one of the states most beloved dishes – from none other than the Center Market in good old Georgia – baked beans. Now you cannot, or at least I could not, find the Center Market’s recipe on line, but with a little help from Vermont Public Radio, I cobbled together my own version.

First you need yellow eyed beans, it’s Vermont, that you soak over night.

When they’re nice and soft, you add some slab bacon or salt pork, sliced onions, a cup of sugar (I couldn’t, I only did a half a cup), and a cup of maple syrup (from Vermont please), some salt, and a couple teaspoons of dry mustard, but I didn’t have that, so I added Coleman’s yellow mustard. Then you cover the whole thing with water and put it in the over at 300 for like 8 hours.

Holy cow my house smelled good. But after 5 hours it was still soupy. And then like a miracle, it was baked beans. I had a bowl for dinner and they were so good. But man are they sweet. I actually added a little dash of apple cider vinegar, and perfect! Then next morning I had them with toast for a little taste of the UK.

After a couple days of beans (which were no treat for my pilates teacher), I moved on to Virginia. I was in Williamsburg once with the Boston Pops. And I’m pretty sure I was there in high school as well.

Virginia, surprisingly was a state with no ambiguity about what to cook. Every list I looked at started with Brunswick Stew, a hearty tomato based stew meant to keep the colonial troops fortified.

Brunswick stew is another easy, but slow creation. First you brown up some onions with some bacon in a big pot. Add in a bag of beans, whatever are local I suppose. I used lima beans, 4 chopped up potatoes, and a can of diced tomatoes. To that you add in a couple raw chicken breasts, bring the whole thing to a boil and then let it simmer for an hour or so.

When the chicken is cooked through and starting to break down, use two forks to pull it apart pulled pork style and add a can of creamed corn, which thickens the stew.

Let the whole thing cook for another 5 minutes or so and you’ve got stew. Except it was pretty bland. I added some oregano, thyme, and a dash of Frank’s red hot and then I had stew.

It was good with some brown bread, but it was a little boring. The next day though, when it got to 3 pm before I had a minute to eat anything, the hearty soup was exactly what I needed. I think, like Louisiana gumbo, this would be a perfect thing to have in my freezer for the winter. I just don’t have winters any more.

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