A Letter From Chris Kimball

CHRISEach issue of Cook’s Illustrated begins with a folksy letter with news from down on the old Vermont farm by founder and editor-in-chief Chris Kimball. These charming, old-timey updates remind us all of a slower, simpler way of life, where neighbors stop to swap plowing tips out by the trading post and run when they see Old Henry coming. Who’s Old Henry? Why, what a question, stranger. Old Henry knows who you are. That much is certain. Old Henry knows who you are just fine. 

The Toast has received an advance copy of Mr. Kimball’s latest essay, which we are proud to publish in full here. 

I found a perfect miniature of myself in the walk-in freezer this morning. His hands were clasped behind his head and he had no eyes. He was buried under forty pounds of boar meat.

Some of you haven’t been following the instructions to my Perfectly Flaky Biscuits (May 2009). Some of you thought you could skip the step where the dough chills. You can’t skip that step. That isn’t how Cook’s Illustrated works. From now on, the illustrations in your copy will never hold still long enough for you to see what you’re supposed to be doing. That’s only fair. And fair’s fair, here in Vermont.

Fall’s coming on. You can’t smell it in the air just yet, but the trees will tell you, if you’re still for long enough. And after fall there’s always winter. Mr. Winter always walking just a few steps behind Mr. Fall, hiding his foosteps in the echo of Mr. Fall’s. Someone will go missing this winter. They always do. Someone who went missing the last winter back will show up on the frozen edges of Fike’s Pond, but with different-colored eyes this time. They always do.

Have you seen Old Henry yet today? Old Henry says hello. I saw old Henry out by the hitching post, and he was doing just fine. “Spry as a mule with a chicken’s ear,” he said with a low, rumbling laugh. He clacked his heels together and I gave him a silver half-dollar, as is my custom.

A tractor’s a mighty useful thing, if you can find one.

Someone tried to take my bowtie last night while I was sleeping. You found yourself with more than you bargained for on your hands, didn’t you? Got yourself a little surprise. Don’t worry about trying to scrub it off. It won’t come off. I’ll know you when I’ll see you, now.

Did you know that maple syrup makes an excellent preservative? Sink almost anything into a vat of maple syrup, and it’ll keep. Yes, sir. It’ll keep.

Let me tell you something about lobsters.

Saw a man in rags on the north end of my cornfield this Saturday at dusk. He appeared as if out of nowhere, dancing nervously between the rows. He spoke only in rhyme. Said his name was Granger. Said he used to work the grapevines up in Maine. Worked like a dog. Never saw no money, never met no one named Luck. One day he spat in the ground and said he wished Death would come for him. Then Death came and caught his eye, and he lost his nerve and ran. Been running ever since. His voice was thick and hurt to hear, like his throat ached to say it. “I called for Death, he learned my name/ Now I run through cold, I run through rain/ Oh, I wish I were in the fields again!” He took off before I could offer him a slice of the peach pie I’d made. Someone was walking in his direction after he left. Walked that way a long while. Walking fast against the horizon.

You can sell just about anything to a restaurant.

Mae down at the drugstore wanted me to let you good folks know that all salves and unguents are half-price this weekend, and that a large ball of twine has gone missing, along with half a carrot cake she was saving for Old Henry. Old Henry won’t be pleased when he hears about this.

A tin can’s as good as a gravestone, in a pinch, as my grandmother used to say.

No crashes up on the mountain pass today. Nobody mangled in a thresher this afternoon. Nobody’s drowned in the cistern or fallen down a collapsed mineshaft. Everyone hale and hearty and walking around on the earth with all their red blood pumping through their arms and legs. What’s Death up to, you have to wonder. Biding his time for something.

If you chase a turkey long enough, it’ll pass out from exhaustion. Like as not, it’ll choke on its own vomit, and then you won’t even have to wring its neck. You’ll want to clean the vomit off, though.

No supper like a church supper. No gravy like church gravy. I like Presbyterian gravy best, but don’t tell the Methodists.

Saw one of the hired hands out near the bingo hall today. He wouldn’t meet my eyes as we passed in the street. He’s got something to hide, Maxie does. Wonder if he’s seen how swollen Suzy Pyle’s belly has gotten since the last full moon. Wonder if he knows.

What does your furniture do when you leave the house? Are you sure?

Went back to the walk-in freezer this afternoon. The doll was missing. But I found something else, something even smaller. A tiny version of our entire village, perfectly recreated in ice. Right down to Old Henry’s stump out by Fike’s Pond. And it was alive. Things were moving, like. There were little ripples across the surface of the pond. I wasn’t in it, though. Couldn’t find myself no matter how hard I looked, no matter how loud I screamed.

Sure do wonder what that doll could have got to.

Well, folks, that’s all from Vermont. Til next time – happy cookin’. You let me know if you see that doll, now.

Chris Kimball

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