Merry Christmas From Chris Kimball -The Toast

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Previously: Happy Halloween and Someone’s gone missing.

Each 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 Christmas letter, which we are proud to publish in full here.

Merry Christmas, folks. Merry Christmas to you. Children, I find myself having to remind you once again in the coming year that you mustn’t ever touch the bowtie that I always wear around my neck, even in sleep, even while I sleep and lie dead to the world every night. Children, I can hear you when you think you’re sneaking up on me.

The greatest gift a man can get is a simple black-and-white line drawing of an antique garlic peeler.

You mustn’t ever touch this bowtie. You mustn’t ever remove this bowtie that I wear underneath my chin, the bowtie that rests against the softness of my warm throat. If that bowtie were to come off — oh, children, how sorry you would be then. How sorry, and how pitiful, and how remorseful, and how useless would be your remorse.

Sure, searing a piece of meat seals in the juices. But it seals in a lot of other things, too. Things you wouldn’t want to get out, things you wouldn’t want to see the light of day, if you came to know them.

Ask yourself in the coming New Year if you’re really scrambling your eggs slowly enough. Sometimes I wonder. Sometimes I wonder if you are. Turn that flame down. This isn’t a race.

You can fit a lot more than a Dutchman in a Dutch oven. No guarantee you can keep him in there, of course.

A few years ago, we finished building our farmhouse back on the old Tikander place. One neighbor brought over a loaf of bread and a shaker of salt to ward off the spirit of old Tikander. We had a large fire that night, and old Tikander hasn’t been seen in these woods ever since. We still hear him, though. O, do we still hear him, shaking and a cursing and a tearing up a storm out there, but he can’t get in, and we sit over that buried bread and that buried salt and we laugh at him, and then we go to bed.

You have to learn to respect the mushroom before you can hunt for it, lest you anger the other things that live under roots and in between trees.

Funny, when you think about it, the way everything is wrapped in skin, and that this is the time of year that we unwrap things.

You can always pay a debt in apple pie.

If you’re not out haying, you’re not really living, my grandmother was fond of saying when she wasn’t begging us to kill her from her hiding place in the barn.

Most of the day, you’re never more than a few steps away from the kitchen. What else do you think is a few steps away from your kitchen? What do you think is a few steps away from your kitchen right now?

Someone finally went missing this winter. They always do. Young Paulsen swore it wouldn’t be him this year, but it was, sure enough. Never came back from plowing; horses running and foaming all up and down the field without him for hours. Miss Polly, the schoolteacher’s assistant who went missing the last winter back, showed up yesterday morning on the frozen edges of Fike’s Pond, but with green eyes instead of blue. She couldn’t speak and won’t answer to Polly any longer. We’ll see if she sleeps through the night. If she sleeps through the night, there’s no telling what she’ll do next.

There’s a secret to extra fudgey brownies, but I’ll never tell you what it is.

Have you got enough stones with you for Christmas, I wonder. Wouldn’t do to get caught without enough stones in your pocket, especially if you haven’t got a gift for Old Henry.

Have you seen Old Henry yet today? Old Henry says hello. I saw Old Henry out by the old apple cannery, and he was doing just fine. “Spry as a barrel in a cabbage patch,” he said with a low, rumbling laugh. He clacked his heels together and I bowed deeply, fingers braced firmly in my suspenders, as is my custom, before he rode off on a deer with no eyes.

Funniest thing happened to me today. I saw myself hanging from the chestnut tree in the middle of town, only I could swear I’m not dead. I waved at myself, and I waved back, which is hard to do with a broken neck.

Rabbit hunting is my favorite winter pastime. A friend, a beagle and a sandwich, and we are out in the fields and woods all day. You can hear the rabbits laughing a half a mile off on a clear day, if conditions are right.

The temperature in Vermont is 22º and holding steady. Been 22º for nigh on three weeks, day and night both, ever since the last boy tried to touch my bowtie. The sun sets a little differently here in Vermont. You’ll know what I mean, if you ever come to pay us a visit. You won’t be able to explain it, but you won’t be able to forget it, neither.

I don’t think spring will come this year. Something went wrong. There’ll be no spring this year.

Your car is rusting. Your car is rusting and falling apart out front, and it’s starting to snow. How will you get home this Christmas? Better find a place by sundown. Wouldn’t do for Old Henry to see you moving on his lands after sundown. After sundown, all land is Old Henry’s land. Everybody knows that.

Well, folks, that’s all from Vermont. Til next time – happy cookin’.

Chris Kimball

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