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.
Today’s a happy day, readers. Today I’m marrying the assistant girl, which marks the beginning of spring. Every fall I shed my old assistant-wife, and every spring I marry the new one. It’s an old Vermont custom – as old as sinking your mother into a vat of fresh-churned butter and storing her in the jam-cellar for freshness – and it makes for a good harvest. I’ve spent many a lonely winter camped on top of Briar Mountain aiming perfectly hard-boiled eggs (p. 16; the secret is to use a steamer basket) at anyone who dares to mention the phrase “property taxes” to me, and it’s time to turn my fancy to thoughts of love once more. The only tax I’ll ever pay is the wagonload of – never you mind what’s in that wagon, stranger – I deliver to Old Henry every year on the night of the Turnabout Moon. And you can count on that just as surely as you can count on my recipe for salt-cured country ham (p. 20, the secret is tightly controlled fury and low heat).
What can you do with an old assistant-wife after she’s finished? Well, friends, here in Vermont you can trade her to the first stranger you meet at a crossroads for a sack of molasses sugar and a witch-glass. Or you can wall her alive in the orchard; the next year’s crop of apples will be small and bitter, but every year thereafter, they’ll be crisp and fresh and red and white as you could possibly please. She also makes an excellent substitute for buttermilk, if you haven’t any to hand.
Do you know why they call them long johns? I do. I do. But I won’t tell, not for any price. I can’t tell. Only two men under the moon know the promise I made thirteen steps from the graveyard all those years ago to learn it, and neither of us are telling.
If a man eats a cow tongue, he has two tongues in his mouth. That’s Vermont, all right. Pickle a cow tongue and your basement’s whiskey still won’t ever run dry.
A man who’s willing to fight a three-legged pointer dog on a hot duck-hunting afternoon is a man I’d be proud to invite to my campfire for a fistful of Johnnycakes.
Hasn’t been a recipe yet that will get blood out of the mill-stone hanging over my front door. It casts a shadow over my eyes every time I walk outside. That’ll be the stone that kills me, mark my words. I just hope I manage to finish collecting enough hen of the woods mushrooms to make my quick skillet beef stroganoff (p. 37) before it drops onto this wicked, wicked head.
If you can swallow an oyster, you can swallow a man’s heart.
A well-cooked pork chop is every bit as important as a childhood. Who decided that nonfat Greek yogurt was mandatory in $250 restaurants? Why can’t a man hunt New Hampshiremen that swarm across the Old Wall in his own backyard? My own mother used to leave me for dead at the base of a powerful waterfall every morning with only a curse and her spit in my eye to guide me back home, and I’m seven feet tall as a result of it. She’s bound and stricken in the cellar now, and every day I strike her with a silver wand to keep her witch-ways off the highways and thoroughfares of the darkling state of Vermont.
If you’re a visitor in Elfland, it’s considered rude not to taste everything on your plate; but if a single morsel of food or the merest drop of wine should wash over your lips, you’ll be frozen like a stone in place at the elf-table forever. What’s a backwoodsman to do?
A man’s got to stand for something. Put your back against the hangman’s tree and hold your fists out and leave your eyes and your heart open, boys. A white dog with a purple tongue is comin’ down the road with your name written on its heart, and we all know what that means. Until next time – happy cookin’.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.