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 most recent letter, which we are proud to publish in full here.
It’s a hard world for little things. I’ve seen the first of things, and I’ve seen the last of things. I’ve seen the last of Marie Briggs, the baker at the Yellow Farmhouse, the first farmhouse on the left as you drive into town. No one saw Marie after me.
Funny how you can chop and chop and chop away at something, but it never quite disappears.
I’ve seen the last of Marie, but that don’t mean she isn’t a-moving and a-bustling around in my barn right this very minute. Can’t you hear her? Something’s in there, moving between the walls and above the floor and below the roof. Something’s in there, children, and it isn’t me and it isn’t you.
Ah, children, you’re staring at my choppin’ fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of Right-Hand, Left-Hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I’ll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one against the other. Now watch ’em! Old brother left hand, left hand he’s a-fighting, and it looks like love’s a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love’s a winning! Yessirree! It’s love that’s won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!
No, no! Don’t you touch that, little lamb. Don’t touch my dicing knife, that makes me mad. That makes me very, very mad.
If you’re a curious child — and I don’t recommend curiosity, children; it makes your biscuit dough tough — you might wonder what could disappear next. Why, anything. A man sitting on his porch, watching his potatoes grow. Tom and Nate and Joe and the boys grilling venison over a wood fire, thinkin’ they’re alone in the dark. Why, children, a body’s never really alone in the dark, because the dark’s with him. Remember that, now.
A town’s only as real as its oldest stories. If you take the stories, the town is yours. Who’s takin’ ours? Who’s takin’ ours, and dancing under a moonless sky at the crossroads, and always running a little bit faster than me when I try to see his face? Why do I hear him laughing low and soft under my bed a-nights when it’s too cold and too troublesome for me to lift the covers?
There are things you do hate, Lord. Perfume-smellin’ things, lacy things, things with curly hair.
Anyone can kill a woman, but it takes a special kind of man to cook an artichoke right.
People ask me sometimes: What religion do you profess, preacher? And I tell them: The religion the Almighty and me worked out betwixt us. And they don’t ask me again.
I hope I haven’t seen the last of the bachelor farmers who work their fields without mouths and without eyes. I hope I haven’t seen the last cunning woman run out of town after interferin’ with a birthin’-woman. I hope I haven’t seen the last gravestone wedding. I don’t like the look of single headstones. It’s messy, and I won’t go to my final rest in a messy churchyard.
If they let me rest. Would you let me rest, children?
The stars will start movin’ again soon, and then the world will change without me. I know that. Once the stars change, nothing a man can do but watch the new people move into his house and set his clocks wrong and walk right through him, as if he weren’t even there. Nothing to do but wait for them to drown in the creek, if ever they drown at all.
I have a black and white photograph from the 1920s of a school outing at the Haunted Chimney. The girls are well-turned out in white frocks, the boys in pressed pants and collared shirts. The chimney is still there, at the end of Chambers Road past two dairy farms. It’s just into the tree line on the left—the foundation intact and the chimney standing tall. Someday, I’ll be the last person to look for a woman on a white horse. That’s the day that the old foundation turns to ruin and we are all lost. You keep this photograph, now, and I’ll always come a-running when you need me.
I can hear you whisperin’ children, so I know you’re down there. I can feel myself gettin’ awful mad. I’m out of patience, children. I’m coming to find you now.
Hing hang hung. See what the hangman done. Hing hang hing hang hing hang hung. See what the hangman done. Hung hang hing. See the robber swing. Hing hang hing hang hing hang hing hang. Hing hang hung. Now my song is done. Hing hang hung. See what the hangman done. Hung hang hing. See the robber swing. Hing hang hing hang hing hang hing hang. Hing hang hung.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.