October Letters From Vermont

From the desk of Christopher Kimball

Pre-order the 2010 Cook’s Illustrated Annual and Save 23%! Order Soups, Stews, & Chilis Cookbook and Save 30%! View Photos from my Annual Pig Roast Listen to and Download Pig Roast Orchestra Songs Look at Game-Camera Photo from Kimball Farm (Fox!) Watch Game-Camera Video from Kimball Farm (Bucks!) Watch a Funny Behind-the-Scenes Video from the Cook’s Country TV Show

Dear Home Cook,

I visited Axel yesterday (he appeared in the first season of Cook’s Country, stopping by the test kitchen for cooking advice), and he told me a fishing story—a whopper. In summers, trout often come up the Green River looking for colder water once the Battenkill warms up. If you know where to look, there are a few deep pools in the upper part of the river, and a few very large trout hang in there. Well, Axel had lost a huge trout last year in one of these pools, and he was determined to go back and get it. He caught a couple of fine trout but then hooked into the big one. He almost got it up on shore, but then the fish jumped and flopped off the hook. Well, that was it for Axel—he just wasn’t going to lose that fish a second time, so he did what any determined angler would do: He went crazy and jumped in after it, hands outstretched. He missed the fish but didn’t miss banging up his leg and ankle. And that’s a real Vermonter’s fish story for you!

The pig roast was a big success this year: The rain held off, the pigs were nicely cooked, the crowd was large, and the band had its best year ever, adding a sax player and a lead vocalist. You can listen to and download our set list on my blog and also see photos of the event. We have renamed our band in honor of the roast and are now called the Pig Roast Orchestra.

I have had game cameras out for the past few weeks (they automatically take photos when a large animal passes by) and got a couple of big surprises. The first was a night shot of a large fox—he’s the one who has been after our chickens. But when I loaded photos from the camera taken at the top of our summer pasture, I almost fell over. There was a video of a large buck—at least six points! Click here to see what else has been around the Kimball farm when nobody is looking.

We just published two new books. First, Soups, Stews & Chilis (order for just $24.50—a 30% discount) is now available, just in time for fall cooking. Among our discoveries when developing these recipes was that the best beef stock is made quickly from ground beef, not bones, and that cream of tomato soup is terrific without even one drop of cream. And we created dozens of recipes in which the oven does most of the work—not you, the cook. There’s also Sirloin Steak and Potato Stew, Asian Chicken Noodle Soup, and Baby Carrot Bisque. Enjoy! We also published the 2010 Cook’s Illustrated Annual (pre-order for $26.95—a 23% discount), which will be available in early November. It contains all six issues of Cook’s Illustrated from 2010, nicely hardbound with a stiff cloth cover. I still hang on to all of my back issues in these hardbound editions, arranged by year. It’s a handy, quick way to travel back to a recipe or technique that I want.

We just finished up two weeks of filming the 2011 season of Cook’s Country from America’s Test Kitchen. It was a glorious year. The crew went to the marble quarry almost every night to swim, we had movie nights with films projected on the side of the barn, and we made a funny behind-the-scenes video that we showed at the wrap party. The line of the year came from Bridget, who said, as I was making yummy noises while trying some of her Slow Cooker BBQ Beef Brisket, “You and that brisket ought to get a hotel room!” Well, it was funny at the time.

I was just given a book on Maine humor by Ken, one of the cameramen on the Cook’s Country shoot. This story is a variation on the classic Vermont story about getting directions.

A Boston couple bought a summer home in Maine and were told that a man named Ben Higby might be willing to undertake repairs at their cottage. About a mile down the road, they found a man working in a field.

“Excuse me, do you know where Ben Higby lives?” asked the husband.

“Ayuh,” said the man, looking the two over and volunteering no further information.

“Well, could you tell us where he lives?” asked the wife. The man pointed to a small house about a mile up the mountain.

“That’s quite a walk,” said the wife. “Do you suppose Mr. Higby is in?”

“Nope, he ain’t home,” said the man.

As the couple looked at each other, pondering their next move, the man in the field asked, “What do you want with him?”

Replied the husband, “We just bought the Varney cottage and we were told that Mr. Higby might be willing to do some repairs for us.”

The man regarded him for a moment, then said, “I’m Higby.”


Christopher Kimball
Founder and Editor
America’s Test Kitchen


Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Bring Back Axel! I liked seeing those messes he brought for you to fix…also, you should have had him back at the end to taste the good stuff1

  2. I really love all your wonderful Vermont letters. Its the first thing I read when I purchase Cooks. I love to learn about all the research done in every recipe-except the pumpkin pie recipe-all he had to do wsa read the back of the Libbys can basically. One thing I always do is rub a little lightly mixed egg white on the bottom and sides of unbaked pie shell and my custard pies never get soggy. I tried to send in my suggestion but I was told the web page was not operating at the time. thanks for guiding me to the best olive oils and spices-especially paprika. It saves alot of time and money since I will globally search for the best spices-your advice on peppercorns was right on the money. I was able to quickly find Morton and Basset peppercorns and I was in heaven, I never knew pepper could be so heavenly. I ran out and grabbed another brand-schilling tellicherry in its own grinder-BLAH, no flavor whatsoever, like using sandpaper. I hope to have my own pie shop and I use so many of your recipes. Your beef Burgundy-I cant spell the correct wording- is a triumph. I laugh when other magazines attempt to remake a classic dish, I like it just as it was meant to be. I also felt for the big guy who made 500 pounds of fudge-it may have been more. I loved why he used some ingredients rather than others and why. I would enjoy a subscription however I only buy the magazines that I know I will cook from because thats what I can afford. I was thrilled to see your T.V. show, its great and I always look forward to it. Is that really the test kitchen I wonder? Also I wonder if others-like myself- can contribute articles about recipes they have tried and researched? I know there is no reply but thats okay. Well thanks again for the monthly peek into a beautiful and useful life. sincerely Amy Hyde

  3. Would you be a descendant of Sarah Hannah Kimball, married to James Henry Hazelton? They were my great grand-parents.

  4. Dear Chris, I keep watching your dessert show and tell in vain! I am waiting for you/ youe team to come up with a good eggless cake recipe and a good eggless chocolate cookie recipe or how to substitute eggs in baking! I suspect I have you stumped?? I ask, as there is a huge population out there including Indians who like to eat desserts sans eggs and there is a growing population of kids with egg and nut allergies.. Your help in addressing this issue would be a huge service.

  5. Very inspiring job seeking information! Cover letter is very crucial in getting an interview.

  6. I get your “Letter from Vermont”. Those emails are great. Almost gets me to buy stuff from you. Maybe some day. As a former chef, I’d say your ATK shows are the best out there, maybe ever, no kidding.

    I used to live in Rowe, MA for many years near VT. Here’s one reminiscence of those days as emailed to my daughter in Northampton MA:

    ‘Back in the 70s or early 80s I used to visit a friend of mine and also of my wife’s named Richard in Greenfield. He had this old Willys Jeep pickup, a real oldie from the 50s. He made a connection for cow manure on an old defunct dairy farm up in Shelburne. He needed it for a garden he was starting on Federal Street in G’fld. We went up to the farm with his pickup which could only go 45 mph on our way up Rte. 2 (Mohawk Trail) and went into the abandoned barn where the cows used to be many years ago.

    We dug into the built up manure in the concrete stalls and discovered that it was two feet thick. Literally, two feet thick, even more. It was all anaerobic below just a few inches. As fresh as the day it came out of the cow, smell-wise, texture-wise. I don’t remember how long the last time cows were in there as I was I was told at the time, but I think it was at least ten years, I think more.

    We made several trips and spread it all on his garden plot on Federal Street. Pretty hot manure, not composted hardly at all.’

  7. Just one more reminiscence of those days: once I had moved out of the hills and working as a chef down in the nearest big town, I happened to meet a former neighbor of mine from Rowe MA, an old logger guy named Norman Hicks. It was a chance meeting in the only Chinese joint in Greenfield, MA The conversation went like this:

    Me: “Hi, Norman”

    Norman: “Hi”

    Me: “What’s up?”

    Norman: “Went to Disney World”.

    Me: “How was it?”

    Norman: “No shortage of people”.

    That was the end of the conversation. People up there just don’t talk very much.

  8. Would you please publish a collection of your CI essays? I would love to have a copy to go back & “visit” my favorites, & it would make a lovely gift for many folks I know.
    Thank you for bringing a bit of Vermont out here to Ohio!

  9. […] graters? What will Cook’s Illustrated be without the folksy letters from the editor, full of pig roasts and taciturn New Englanders? For more than twenty years, Cook’s Illustrated — the forerunner of “ATC” […]

  10. […] graters? What will Cook’s Illustrated be without the folksy letters from the editor, full of pig roasts and taciturn New Englanders? For more than twenty years, Cook’s Illustrated — the forerunner of “ATC” […]

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