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Sugarhouse Fare

Tina Hartell

Amtrak's "Empire" is hurtling down the Hudson river valley alongside marshy river bottoms, riverside mansions, and recently-inspired villages. Bobo, my fellow passengers, and I are headed "to town." Bobo's Mountain Sugar is invited to attend tonight's Maple-Run dinner at the James Beard House on West 12th St in Greenwich Village. Five chefs from New England and Canada are whipping up a maple feast, and Bobo's will be representing maple producers. 

The menu consists of ten amazing dishes. Things like: curried lamb turnovers with chiles, maple, pickled onions, and fennel; maple-braised beef short rib with kimchi stew; waffle baba with maple–bourbon syrup, vanilla–bourbon ice cream, brown butter, and maple meringue. 

This is not the kind of food that makes it's way into our sugarhouse. Not even from the same planet. I was thinking this last night at 11pm when I ate my gazillionth hotdog of sugaring season nestled in half a hamburger roll with a shot of Sriracha. 

We, in large part, eat incredibly well at home: whole grains, our garden vegetables, locally-grown meat and eggs, nuts, fruits. But there's something about the month of sugaring that permits to impulse-buy all our cravings at the IGA. 

Tortilla chips and salsa, sour cream and cheddar potato chips, hot dogs, pickles, cheese and crackers, cheese dip, ham sandwiches, kielbasa. In rural Vermont, take out isn't much of an option but Jake's pizza from Londonderry usually makes an appearance once or twice a season. Once, our friends from Ludlow brought us Mexican take-out from Mojo's Cafe. That caused a hat dance. 

Grilled meats are ubiquitous: venison steaks, venison burgers, and every form of sausage-type fare imaginable. Will Reed's favorite cheese-filled kielbasa shows up at least once a season. Things that eat well out of a slow cooker are also big hits. There's been lamb chili, venison chili, venison stew, and lentil soup. These provide a nice counter balance to the grilled meat but once they're gone it can be hard to find the time to prepare another round. Vegetables take a back seat and you know that the the season is winding down and the sugarmakers are weary when salad fixings appear. 

A bit of  a mess. 

A bit of  a mess. 

Historically I think the "womenfolk" would prepare elaborate meals for their men who were up all night sugaring - elaborate meals meaning the quintessential hot-dish casserole. And lots of it. Nothing nearly as elaborate as what's going to be dished up tonight at the Beard House, but maybe we'll invite the chefs up for a boil next year.