October 5, 2011
First, please read my colleague Jim Dodson's delicious essay on homecomings and good eating located on this website. He captures the experience perfectly. During his years in Maine (eating the world's sweetest lobster and other New England stuff) Jim hankered for regional dishes of the sort he grew up with at church homecomings and family gatherings. After 21 years eating and writing about food a few states south, in Vermont, I must speak a piece about the fall foliage dinners, usually at churches or schools -- so popular and cheap that townspeople and bus tours full of folks from Alabama and Florida buy out the seatings soon as they go on sale. The staple of these meals is chicken pie prepared by a rigid recipe. Digress by one pea or carrot -- and you're out. Just boiled chicken and gravy topped by biscuits and baked until bubbly and brown. With it comes mashed potatoes, mashed butternut squash and a green vegetable, usually beans. Dessert's always pie: apple and something else, probably pumpkin made from fresh, not Libby's.. Then, the first Tuesday in March (the beginning of mud season) was Town Meeting Day, where folks gathered to discuss and vote on town issues like whether to buy a new snow plow and how much dog licenses should cost. Families stayed the whole day to socialize after the long, snowy, isolating winter. A mid-day meal was always part of the event. It, too, featured chicken pie and always, always baked beans using the last of last year's maple syrup. Man, you ain't et til you et those slow-cooked beans. Town meeting still exists in Vermont; CBS or NBC usually over-outfits a reporter at Abercrombie & Fitch, rents a Subaru ,,,and sends them up to cover this vestige of American democracy in a hamlet deep in the Green MOuntains. I'll grant you, Jim, the variety isn't there...nor the skill of southern cooks. But the fall colors and sweet spring sun melting the edges of the snowbanks sure do create an appetite.