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Monday, April 30, 2018

Palmer's Sugarhouse

Hi Blog!

We certainly had a good time on Saturday tasting all the various maple products at the Vermont Maple Festival. However, we felt we were missing part of the experience. No trip to Vermont would be complete without a visit to an authentic maple sugarhouse. As luck would have it, we learned we were camped just around the corner from one of the best - Palmer's Sugarhouse!

When we called to get more information, we were disappointed to learn that the sugaring season just ended. However, the owner, Michelle Palmer, agreed to meet us and open up the sugarhouse just for us. On Monday, April 30, 2018, we drove around the corner for our tour of the sugarhouse.

Although not a huge operation, Palmer's Sugarhouse is a family run enterprise with all the traditional Vermont maple sugarhouse trappings. During open house weekends, the public is invited in for sugar on snow, maple cotton candy, donuts, maple cream and even crepes. 

We had to ask, "What is 'sugar on snow'?"  Michelle explained that you bring maple syrup to a boil and pour it over snow (or shaved ice if no snow is available). The warm syrup crystallizes when reacting with the cold ice. What starts as a stretchy taffy-like texture gradually becomes rock hard. The traditional sugar on snow is served with sour pickles to cut the sweetness and a plain doughnut. Sorry we missed it. We'll have to put this on the list for next time.

To get a sense of what this place is like in full swing, check out this YouTube Video from the local TV Station. Destination Recreation Palmer Sugarhouse

The traditional method of tapping the trees and hanging a bucket from the tap has been replaced by more modern collection methods. The old buckets are now just used for decoration.

It takes about 30 to 40 gallons of maple sap to produce a gallon of syrup. Boiled sap becomes finished syrup when the sugar concentration reaches 66%. Syrup makers test for this in several ways. A candy thermometer will tell you when the sap reaches seven degrees above the boiling point of water. A hydrometer will float in sap at varied depths depending upon how dense the fluid is. A couple of older methods include the "apron test" -- a scoop is dipped into the boiling sap and held upright to drain. Formation of a large apron instead of drips indicates the correct density. Or, you could try the blob test. Take a spoonful of boiling sap and dip into a bowl of cold water. If the sap disperses or floats, continue boiling. If it forms a single blob and sinks to the bottom, you have maple syrup!

Once the sap has been boiled down into syrup, the syrup is then collected and taken over to a filtering unit. We never realized that maple syrup needed to be filtered. But as the water boils off, it can leave minerals behind that can form niter or sugar sand. Pouring hot syrup through proper sugarmaking filters before bottling will usually keep sugar sand out of the syrup.

Owners David and Michelle Palmer are carrying on a tradition started by David’s grandmother, Marjorie Palmer, back in the 1940’s when she decided to tap trees and make her own sugar, due to a cane sugar shortage at the time. David's dad, David Palmer senior, carried on that tradition, passing it on to his son, who now enlists most of his family to carry on the legacy.

A discussion of maple sugaring wouldn't be complete without explaining the grading system. Though all grades of pure maple syrup are identical in density and maple sugar content (66.9%), the color of the syrup can and does range from pale golden to dark brown. In fact, maple syrup is graded solely by its color. This difference in color has mostly to do with when the syrup is made. As the spring warms up, the sap coming from the trees becomes darker in color, producing a darker syrup. Corresponding to color, the darker the syrup is, the stronger its flavor. 

Here are the old and new grade designations:

OLD: “Fancy” or “Vermont Fancy” - NEW: Grade A | Golden Color and Delicate Taste. This is the lightest of the new maple syrup grades and highly recommended for drizzling over waffles, pancakes, or ice cream.

OLD: Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber - NEW: “Grade A | Amber Color and Rich Flavor.” This grade of maple syrup is a little more flavorful and works well when cooking and baking.

OLD: Grade A Dark Amber, Grade B - NEW: “Grade A | Dark Color and Robust Flavor. ”This grade of maple syrup is even stronger in flavor, and is best used for recipes that require a heavy maple flavor.

OLD: Grade C- NEW: “Grade A | Very Dark Color and Strong Flavor.” This grade of maple syrup is very strong, and probably best used as a substitute for molasses and for making maple flavored candies.

We have long been fans of the old Grade B. We love our maple syrup dark and robust. We were excited to learn that it was possible to get a very dark syrup. However, when we called around to different retailers, we were told that, under Vermont laws, very dark syrup is not sold by retail establishments, but is only available at local sugarhouses. And now you know the real reason we scheduled a tour of Palmer's Sugarhouse. They just made a batch of Very Dark Strong maple syrup and were happy to sell us some!

After settling up for our purchases, we were invited to take a self-guided tour into the "sugarbush."  A sugarbush is a group of Sugar Maple trees growing in the same area and used to produce maple syrup or maple sugar. This might mean 2000 trees used for commercial syrup production, or might refer to the 5 trees in someone's backyard. 

Some of the locals came out to greet us on our way up the hill.

We followed the old woods road up into the hills behind the sugarhouse.

The taps themselves are just tiny holes drilled into the trees. Clear plastic tubes are "tapped" into the tree and bright blue hoses weave their way from tree to tree.

The blue hoses all connect to one large, central black plastic pipe which runs all the way down the hill to the sugarhouse. A pump gently draws the sap down to a holding tank before it is then transferred into the boiler. Most trees only have one tap, but larger trees can take two or three taps.

Back in the day when Marjorie Palmer was tapping and collecting the maple sap, this was her sugarhouse.

When, in 1972, the Palmers moved their sugarhouse operation from the old building on the top of the hill down to the new barn so there would be easier access from the road, most of the equipment was moved down as well, but there were still some old buckets and taps laying around.

As we walked back down the hill, we got a better look at the "new" sugarhouse:

This Thursday, we are heading up into Canada and over to the Canadian Maritimes. It may be a while before we are back in Vermont, so we want to make sure we have enough maple syrup to hold us over until our next visit!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Fiddlin Around at the Vermont Maple Festival

Did you know that 1 of every 4 trees in Vermont is a maple tree?  Maybe it's not so coincidental, then, that Vermont is known as the home of the maple sugaring industry.  The industry is alive and well today, in thousands of family farms throughout New England.

Maple trees provide maple sap, which is made into sugar and syrup. Several food products -- including maple syrup, maple sugar, maple cream (also known as maple butter and maple spread), maple bars and doughnuts, maple liqueur, maple cookies, and maple taffy --  are created from the sap harvested from maple trees; and maple sugar and syrup are incorporated into various foods and dishes. The sugar maple, one of the most important Canadian trees, is (along with the black maple) the major source of sap for making maple syrup. Other maple species can be used as a sap source for maple syrup, but some have lower sugar contents or produce more cloudy syrup than these two.

Little St. Albans, a town of 7,000 people, located in northern Vermont just east of Lake Champlain, is home to the Vermont Maple Festival, held annually on the last weekend of April for 52 years to celebrate the first maple sap harvest of each spring. 

It may interest you to know that Vermont often votes Democratic in Presidential elections, and St. Albans, not unlike most of its neighboring municipalities, cast most of their votes for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.  This intrigues us, because Vermont (and perhaps much of New England) represents a rural, farming region that, despite sharing many of the problems of other farming areas of our country, has not found itself jumping chest-deep into the Republican version of the populist stream we see flowing so lustily these days.  It wouldn't surprise us, though, to see strong support for Bernie Sanders in these parts.

Chartered by a colonial governor in 1763 and settled during and after the Revolutionary War, St. Albans is also the unlikely site of the northernmost engagement of the Civil War:  the St. Albans Raid of 1864.   It was a controversial raid from Canada by Confederate soldiers meant to rob banks to raise money and to trick the Union Army into diverting troops to defend their northern border against further raids.  In groups of 2 or 3 a day over 10 days, Confederate soldiers out of uniform came to town from St. John's, Newfoundland, pretending to be in town for a "sporting vacation".  They staged simultaneous robberies of the city's three banks, identifying themselves as Confederate soldiers and stole $208,000. During the robberies, several Confederates held the villagers at gunpoint on the village green, taking their horses to prevent pursuit. Several armed villagers tried to resist, and one was killed and another wounded. The Confederate leader ordered his men to burn the city, but their bottles of "Greek fire" failed to ignite, and only one shed was destroyed by fire.  The raiders escaped to Canada. In response to US demands, Canada arrested the raiders, recovering $88,000. However, a Canadian court ruled that, because they were soldiers under military orders, officially neutral Canada could not extradite them. Canada freed the raiders, but returned the $88,000 to St. Albans.  As an unintended consequence, the raid served to turn many Canadians against the Confederacy, since they felt that Canada was being drawn into the conflict without its consent.

But we digress.  On to sweeter topics.

We thought it would be fun to attend the festival on Saturday, April 28, in order to enjoy all things maple, understand the industry, and get to know our Vermont neighbors a little better.  When we arrived in the center of St. Albans, the party was already going full-tilt:

Music was provided at all of the venues, including on Main Street, where a very talented local rock band did a great job of playing crowd favorites:

Right away, David felt his Oregon lumberjack genes vibrating in sympathy to that cold maple-sugaring culture:

We wandered around the main square a bit, taking in the local architecture, which is quite distinctive:

Our first stop was to pick up tickets to the BBQ dinner and the fiddle show.  We wandered over to the festival headquarters which, not incidentally, was also located in the Exhibit Hall where we could enjoy maple food products and walk the vendor room to admire all sorts of local crafts:

In the Exhibit Hall, we were treated to some local bluegrass melody: 

Time is fleeting, however, and we had an appointment for a maple beverage tasting at the local 14th Star Brewing Co., so we strolled up Main Street, enjoying the carnival sights, the food vendors, the puppies and the kids.

The maple beverage tasting was both interesting and disappointing - interesting because, indeed, there were some beers, liqueurs and wines made with maple (even a honey mead) --

-- but disappointing because many of them didn't really have much of a maple flavor, and there weren't as many different maple things to taste as we might have expected.  Indeed, most of the sips on offer weren't even maple flavored.  However, David made the most of the occasion and shows off his sample of 14th Star's Maple Breakfast Stout (ABV 5.5%), which receives an average rating of "Very Good" (3.79 on a scale of 5.0) from Beer Advocate:

To illustrate our disappointment however, the event advertised the availability of Founder's Brewing Co.'s Canadian Breakfast Stout (ABV 11.70%, and a Beer Advocate rating of 4.66 out of 5.00), and none of it was to be had.

Nevertheless, our 14th Star bartender was very friendly and helpful, and was even willing to pose with a photo of their Maple Breakfast Stout:

This is not to say that we abstained in protest:

In fact, the event introduced us to our new favorite sparkling water drink, tretap's Maple, which (along with three other flavors - blueberry, cranberry and cucumber) is made in Vermont by seventh generation family growers.  Tretap's sparkling water uses water boiled from Vermont maple trees infused with organic flavors such as our favorite maple and naturally sweetened with a touch of anti-oxidant rich, organic maple syrup.  We're going to purchase a big supply before we cross the border into Canada next week!

But that wasn't the end of our adventure!  We still had the BBQ dinner and the fiddler show.

As it turned out, the BBQ dinner was more an awards dinner for the festival participants, than it was an event for tourists.  But we still enjoyed some great grilled chicken, potato salad, beans, and -- oh, yes -- vanilla ice cream with maple topping!  There were something over 100 people in attendance, mostly representative of the many family farms that participate in the festival. 

We were told that over 170 handmade maple syrups were entered into the maple syrup competition!  Unfortunately, we weren't certified to do the tasting or judging, so we just had to imagine how good they all were.  Awards were handed out to the best recipes for cooked products using maple --

-- and for the "Best of Show" winning maple syrup:

We had to hustle over to the fiddle show just as the BBQ dinner presentations ended.  After some difficulty finding the fiddling venue (this festival is DEFINITELY for the maple farmers and other locals, and not for visitors, because it was very difficult finding the locations of some of the venues).  Persistence paid off, though, because we were treated to THREE hours of some of the best fiddling we have ever heard live.  Listening to the performances, we were transported back over 250 years, throughout which we imagine people on these farms shared their fiddle music.

The music was of English, Irish, Scottish and French origins, reflecting the diverse cultural heritage of these local families.  Many fiddling styles were represented, but our personal favorites were Catherine Rooney, a young fiddler whose technique was superb and tones were sweet --

-- and Bill Campbell, who is the President of the (Vermont) Old Time Fiddlers Association, who took Catherine's skill and made it smooth as maple syrup!

The "biggest character" award goes to the MC, Franklyn Hayburn, whose classic fiddling style you can sample here.

The two oldest fiddlers were Guy Fortin and Gaston Provost, each of whom made it down from Quebec to participate in the concert.  As Franklyn Hayburn observed, it is said that the best soups are made in the oldest pots, and these two old pots served up some mighty tasty fiddlin'!

The fact that they are French Canadian and ventured down here for a fiddle context is not as remarkable as one might first assume.  Since we've been in the Burlington area, we've noticed a significant French-Canadian influence in place names, and possibly -- very faintly -- the accents of some of the people we've been meeting.  It turns out our impression was accurate.  French-Canadian emigration to New England began as a trickle in the 1830s, Burlington and Winooski being the first communities to receive sizeable populations.  The French-Canadians started to establish a presence in 1839 when they began publishing a French-language newspaper, the Patriote Canadien in Burlington. Although that venture was short lived, another, more successful paper, the Protecteur Canadien, was started in St. Albans in 1868.  The trickle became a floodtide after the end of the Civil War, with the majority settling further south and east, in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. When the Great Depression put a brake on the exodus, some 900,000 French Canadians had made the journey and stayed.  Geographic proximity was a driving force of this exodus. The impoverished farmlands of the St. Lawrence Valley sat cheek by jowl to industrializing and urbanizing New England towns and cities. And railroad and road access between the regions, including the Central Vermont Railroad which linked Montreal to St. Albans and Burlington and points south and east, made it relatively convenient and inexpensive to make the trip.  Today, nearly 1 in 4 Vermont families trace its ancestry to French-Canadians!

So, there you have it:  a fulsome tour of the culture of Northwestern Vermont, maple sugaring, and fiddling.  Just in case you'd like a little deeper video dive into what the festival is like, here is a 1974 news video showing highlights of the Vermont Maple Festival of that year.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

On the Road to Stowe VT

Hi Blog!

After a wonderful dinner last night with Leigh Ann and Jeremy, we came away with loads of ideas for things to do in the area. On Thursday, April 26, 2018, we decided to drive over to Stowe, Vermont. The rainy weather provided a very striking background.

Our first stop was The Alchemist, a craft brewery in Stowe. Opened in July 2016, this state of the art facility was designed to be as low impact as possible while providing enough space to serve its community and the growing number of beer tourists to Vermont. In our six years of RVing, we have never visited a more beautiful brewery.

In spite of the rainy weather, we still found a few minutes to enjoy the view.  We also met a hophead or two:

The inside of this state of the "art" brewery has plenty of art.

While this brewery is a sight to behold, we found the folks working there to be totally lacking in personality and knowledge about the beers they were pouring. We were further disappointed that we could only sample 3 of their 8 beers. How can you run a brewery tasting room, but offer such a limited tasting? I guess looking pretty is more important.

Next, we went up into the hills overlooking Stowe, to find the von Trapp Family Lodge. In the early 1940s, the von Trapp family toured the United States as the Trapp Family Singers before eventually settling in Stowe on a farm with sweeping mountain vistas reminiscent of their beloved Austria. In the summer of 1950, they began welcoming guests to their rustic, 27-room family home/lodge. After a devastating fire in 1980, the original structure was replaced by the new Trapp Family Lodge, a striking, 96-room alpine lodge situated on 2,500 acres offering magnificent indoor and outdoor resort amenities. The entire property is owned and operated by the von Trapp family.

We were again disappointed by the snobbery we found, so we decided to head back into Stowe for lunch.

Stowe is Vermont’s largest town in land area with over 50,000 acres and a permanent population of over 4,000. Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak and a popular skiing destination, and some of the finest agricultural and woodland in the state, are located within this land area.

We had a lovely lunch at the Cafe on Main in Stowe. We then strolled up and down Main Street looking into all the shop windows. After our lunch stop, we headed over to Waterbury and the Ben & Jerry's Tour. On the way, we stopped at Vermont Artisan Coffee and Tea Co. We were excited to stock up on some fresh roasted coffee beans.

After getting our coffee buzz on, we were ready for ice cream! As we entered into the grounds of the Ben & Jerry factory, we came upon the "Cowmobile." Ben and Jerry drove their converted RV across the country in 1986, handing out free ice cream. Everything went great, until it caught on fire outside of Cleveland, OH. Lucky for us it was saved and returned to Vermont!

We couldn't contain our excitement.

Yes! You've always known we were half baked. Now you have proof!

As we waited for the tour to begin, we reviewed the "wall of flavors," trying to decided which flavor we would get after the tour.

No trip to Ben & Jerry's would be complete without a "Sundae Selfie."

Our tour guide, Katie, was great. She walked us through the creative process. Unfortunately, they asked that we NOT take photos of the production floor. They're afraid Haagen Dazs will steal their company secrets! At the end of the tour, we each received a sample of the flavor of the day. We were treated to "Sweet Cream and Cookies":

We stopped in the ice cream store on they way out, hoping to sample some of the flavors we saw on the wall of flavors, but we found their ice cream selection to be too limited. Apparently, they don't make all their flavors all year long. It must be a Vermont thing. WHERE'S THE PEANUT BUTTER????

We did, however, come home with a new addition. Look who "Stowe-d" away!

We are having a "Name That Cow" contest.  Our teddy bears George, Bubu, Ruthie and Eddie are prohibited from entering, but all humans are eligible to join in the fun. Get ready to "Name That Cow"!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Bread and Veggie Sausage on a Rainy Day

We have two straight rainy days here in Shelburne, Vermont, and we decided to do some nesting-type activities.  Today is the first of the rainy days, and we thought it fitting to make a big mess, so that we can clean everything up tomorrow.  We also slipped some laundry into the mix, too.

We decided on two projects:  make some great honey oatmeal bread, and mix up some spicy veggie breakfast sausage.  Here's how it went.


Here's a preview of the outcome -- two golden brown loaves of delicious whole grain bread:

We've baked bread before, although not in our new RV's propane oven.  We even have the silicon bread pans.  And all the ingredients are handy in our pantry.  Here's the recipe, with photo commentary.


2 cups boiling water

1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)

1 cup rolled oats

4 cups bread flour - up to 1 cup (25%) of total flour can be soy flour

1/2 cup honey

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons salt

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast


1. In a large mixing bowl, combine boiling water, oats, 1/2 cup honey, butter and salt. Let stand for 1 hour.

2. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

3. Pour the yeast mixture into the oat mixture.

At this point, we took a photo of all the ingredients before throwing them together:

4. Add 2 cups of flour; mix well. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.

5. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 20 minutes.

Well, the "kneading" was a little more "punching," but it got the job done:

6. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

7. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces and form into loaves. Place the loaves into two lightly greased 9x5 inch loaf pans. Cover the loaves with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes.

8. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Here are the loaves, snug in their little red pans, ready to bake:

And so we got the bread shown in the first photo above!

We've tried numerous veggie sausage recipes, all with the aim of eliminating cholesterol and sodium, and adding super amounts of fiber.  This is our best version to date.

1 sm. onion, minced

1 Tbs olive oil

1 cup brown rice, cooked

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup cooked black beans


1/2 cup olive oil soaked sun-dried tomatoes

1/4 cup grated carrots

1/4 cup diced/grated (steamed) green veggie (USED 1 PKG FROZEN CHOPPED SPINACH, DRAINED AND DRIED)

3 teaspoons ground sage

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp dried cilantro

1 Tbs Cajun garlic sauce

Black pepper to taste

(If desired, add 2 TBS soy or whole wheat flour to bind – DID NOT ADD TO THIS BATCH)


1. In a large nonstick frying pan, saute the carrots, onions and garlic in 1 tablespoon of the oil until clear. Set aside.

This is how our carrot-onion-garlic saute looked:

-- and this is how all the ingredients looked as we readied to moosh them together into sausage patties:

2. Pulse oats in food processor 6-7 times, set aside.

3. Pulse black beans, sun-dried tomato, green veggies, onions and rice in food processor 8-10 times.

4. Combine oats, black beans, tomatoes, veggies, carrots, onion and rice. Add remaining ingredients and blend by hand till mixed.

5. With dampened hands, form 2 oz. balls and flatten into patties.

Gotta get our hands dirty now!  David packed and weighed the 2 oz. sausage balls, and Kathy artfully shaped them into patties:


Here are our baker's dozen of veggie sausage patties, all nestled in their freezer bags.  We'll pop them in the freezer, separated by parchment paper, so that we can take out one or two per person for an occasional hearty breakfast!


We just got home from a great dinner with Risa and Laird's nephew Jeremy and his partner Leigh Ann, at a great restaurant, The Farmhouse Tap & Grill, in downtown Burlington.  The beer and food were great, and we had a spectacular time with those two, sharing fishing stories, their recommendations for the Burlington area, and wild stories of hiking and climbing Adirondack mountains!

Our bread had a chance to cool down and breathe, so we sliced it and tasted a bit.  YUMMY!  We're staying at the Shelburne Camping Area -- stop by and share a slice with us!