The second season of the Milk Street TV starts airing on public television on September 8 and the new companion cookbook is now available for pre-order at a very good discount. Click here to pre-order your copy today.
This offer expires 9/30/18.
Dear Milk Streeter,
In small towns, almost any event can be a participation sport, whether it is watching cars go by from the comfort of the old sofa in your garage or, in this case, watching the fire department burn trees. Years ago, when my neighbor Tom was renovating our farmhouse, he had to get rid of a large pile of evergreens. Hauling them away would have been expensive, so he stopped by the volunteer fire department and asked if, for a small donation, they would be willing to do a controlled burn. They enthusiastically agreed. The night of the bonfire, over 100 locals showed up with folding chairs and coolers to watch the fun. Cheaper than going to the movies!
This month was Old Home Day. The fire department carnival ran for three days, starting on Thursday evening. The usual booths were there, including French fries, fried dough, burgers and dogs, maple milkshakes (my favorite) and the Win A Cake contest—put down a quarter, the wheel spins, and one lucky player gets to take home a homemade cake of their choice.
This year the theme was local heroes. My favorite float was built by my neighbor Jed. His hero was Mr. Rogers and so he built the set of the TV show complete with a working trolley car, puppets and a walking tree with an owl in it. The largest float was the American Revolution with the local Green Mountain Boys fighting the redcoats. Doug’s granddaughter Carly walked her goat down the center of the road. There were a dozen fire trucks, bagpipes, marching bands, the Cabot Cheese throwaways (candy is thrown to the kids; small sample-size cheese to the adults), my veterinarian neighbor sitting in the back of a convertible, and riders on horseback bringing up the rear. Quite a production for a small town of just 930 people.
I have spent a few days in the woods trying to find old property lines. I got out my compass, struggled through an understanding of magnetic versus true north, found the first IP (iron pin; a narrow pipe pounded into the ground as a property marker) and set off. The map included headings (e.g. “S 53 degrees E,” which means, starting at due south, point your compass 53 degrees towards east). I am pretty good at pacing distance so I found the next two pins right off, but then things got dicey. I finally found the next pin (hidden between tree roots) but after that, I was at a loss. The next marker was somewhere on the side of a mountain and there were no obvious boundaries such as a stone wall, a stream or even a line of large trees. And from there on in, all the map showed in terms of waypoints were 14” birch or 16” maple. Not helpful since the map was drawn in the early 1970s.
We had a nice supper one evening up at the hunting cabin. I made grilled pizza (just olive oil and salt; more flatbread than pizza) and I also served a Greek-inspired white bean soup. It was the perfect evening for sitting on the deck, watching the shadows lengthen, and listening, if this makes any sense, to the silence. Once you get to a remote spot with none of the sounds of civilization, that’s when you really start to listen.
Finally, a note about our neighbor, John Wayne. He passed a while back and I remember him most in August, when he used to help me organize the pig roast. He used his fancy homemade aluminum rotisserie cooker and I used a cheap, China Box roaster. (Mine cooked faster than his, which drove him nuts.) He brought a can of hairspray to fuel the potato gun. He was always passing out maple-cured venison jerky to put in my pack for hunting season. And he was famous for going home in summer evenings, sitting on the porch with a six-pack and a shotgun, putting out crow decoys made of PBR cans sprayed black, and trying to get lucky. Tom and I took him rabbit hunting once and he got so excited, he forgot to pull the trigger! Well, he was a great neighbor and always willing to lend a hand. He always showed up the morning after the pig roast to help clean up—now that’s neighborly.
That’s about it for August. It’s been a hot, humid summer, so we are all thinking of fall. Tom and Nancy have frozen day-old corn put away, canned tomatoes, beans, peppers and two tons of wood pellets for their stove. They’ll be all set for a cozy winter. For my part, I’m dreaming of a nice fire at the cabin, a cold November evening and lots of deer sign in the woods. It’s coming soon.
All the best.