Vermont Fancy Grade

maple_syrup_LRGbreakfast_72dpi1-280x260centerfold_web One of the more delectible treats that I have enjoyed over the years has been Vermont “fancy grade” maple syrup. My fascination with syrup began in my wandering days in the Northeast when I first tasted good syrup in the Keene Valley on my way through the Adirondacks. A lot of the restaurants on the way to the ski areas served locally produced maple syrup with their breakfast. Once you taste this treat, you will never go back to Aunt Jemima again. Working up at Sugarloaf,Maine on the ski school, I was introduced to the Maine version in the little diner in Stratton, Maine. I had the experience of comparing the Maine produced syrup to the Canadian version and was fast becoming a connoisseur of all things maple.

This fascination continued with my introduction to truly quality syrup through my friends the Durfees when they lived in Bethel, Vermont. I had the pleasure of tasting Vermont “fancy grade” and its light color and texture was really something on a stack of buttermilk pancakes. The Durfees use it on oatmeal, and ice cream as a topping and Eric showed me his grandfather’s method of soaking original bricks of shredded wheat in water, draining them, and drizzling fancy grade on the cereal, including the obligatory banana, and pouring on the milk. I met Eric’s neighbor who made syrup and the process is truly fascinating. There is a lot of manual labor involved especially if the producer is old school. Galvanized collection buckets are used and the sap is removed when they are full and deposited into a central collection tank for transportation to the sugar shack. The long and the short of it is once the sap is collected, it is boiled in the shack over a log fire and the water evaporates and what is left is the syrup. Eric’s neighbor had a maze of galvanized channel which allowed the introduction of the sap into the top of the maze, and as it made its way down the maze that was heated by the fire, it became more viscous and eventually at the bottom of the maze it was collected as syrup. The fancy grade is the lightly cooked product which has not become carmelized as the process develops in the boiling procedure.

I became a syrup snob. I would take my syrup from Vermont and pour it into a small jar to be used at Len and Peg’s on Rt. 149 in New York state when I visited my friend Mike Smith in Lake George. He laughed at me and said I was nuts but let me tell you, Len and Peg’s pancakes never tasted better than with the fancy grade.

Working in Pennsylvania in later life, I made friends with a guy in Guys Mills, Pa. who made his own syrup. I started to buy his syrup and enjoyed it. My ski buddies and I would go to Meyersdale and eat the local fire hall out of house and home when they had their springtime pancake breakfasts. I can remember the old guys serving us and how they turned up their eyebrows when we ordered another stack. Somerset county supposedly produces more maple syrup than any other region in the country which is an open, festering, maple syrup wound that my friend Eric contests every time I bring it up. But his wife Helen backs me up being a Somerset native and the heated discussion continues every time I bring up the sore subject. I am not sure if it is correct or not but it sure makes for some fun with my pal Eric.

My local grange serves a really good buckwheat pancake breakfast in the spring and I always bring my own jar of fancy grade to the breakfast on my way to the ski slopes. Those old farmers and their wives love it when I bring it and share it with them. I kid them and call it Vermont cocaine. They laugh rather reservedly as farmers do, but when they dig in, they smile at me and tell me to come back for more. That breakfast is a great start to another ski day in the Laurel Highlands.

I have made a habit out of ordering fancy grade from Pauline Couture in Vermont. Her family produces really good syrup and I found them on the internet. She has a great website and her family’s bed and breakfast is very appealing if you happen to be in the North Country of Vermont. All in all, get some of that good Vermont cocaine er ah syrup and enjoy the fancy grade. You will never eat that Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima corn syrup based swill again. Also, check out a maple syrup producer some time. It is interesting to see the different methods of collection and production. Recently, I saw a network of pvc tubing used to interconnect maple trees to a central collection area. This eliminated the use of the collection buckets. But in my mind, I always picture the galvanized buckets and the horse drawn sleigh taking the sap to the sugar shack.

Eric and Helen still get their syrup from Vermont and whenever I visit them in Nevada, their current residence, they always have the good stuff on hand for me to enjoy. Yes, I am a snob but I earned my stripes with Adirondack, Pennsylvania, Canadian and finally Vermont’s finest in my gastronomical experience. Go order some syrup from Pauline. Tell her the 59 year old kid from Pa sent you. Thanks for reading and think snow.

Vehmontahhs( Vermonters)

IMG00332-20110324-2105 Many,many times I have put all of my gear in my vehicle and headed up I-79, accross I-90 in New York, cut the corner at Amsterdam and spit myself out at Ballston Spa, New York, hopped on I-87( the Adirondack Northway), headed east on Rt 149 and into Rt 4 until I crossed the border into Vermont. For those of you who have not been there or those of you who have and appreciate it, Vermont it one of the most beautiful states in the Union. The Green Mountains with all their seasonal glory are a wonder to behold and the little iconic towns like Woodstock, Bethel, Randolph, Stowe, East Burke and a host of others are something out of a Christmas card. The steepled churches, the gazebos in the town squares, the beautiful homes with the steep pitched metal roofs to ward off the heavy snow, and the candles in the windows make you feel like you are driving or walking back in time compared to the hussle and bussle of cities much larger. Vermont has a warmth and a charm that is hard to describe unless you take the time ( and take your time) driving or walking through the towns or hiking the hundreds of miles of trails in the Green Mountains. The skiing is great and can be a challenge because of the weather, but that is what makes Vermont what it is. The challenge earns that hot toddy or Long Trail Ale at the end of the day.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Vermont besides the mountains, towns and dairy farms, are the people themselves. They are a hard working, Ethan Allen like, ready for anything lot, and tend to be your best friend only when they get to know you. Kind of like a dog who sniffs you and snarls a little bit until they know you are their friend and then they will do anything for you. Take these three curmudgeons in the hot tub above. These three Vehmontahhs are my friends who I ski with each year and have about as much business in a hot tub as Atilla the Hun would be at high tea. These guys are hard core skiers and the guy in the middle is the owner of the hot tub out in Nevada. He has enjoyed the laid back lifestyle of the west but still took a 2 month motorcycle trip to the Arctic Ocean this summer. The consumate outdoorsman, he honed his skills back in Vermont.

True Vermonters don’t drive Land Rovers with” I Love Vermont” stickers on the bumper. They tend to drive old F-150s or perhaps an old Impala with concrete blocks or cement bags in the trunk with big honker snow tires. Weather means nothing to these guys as evidenced by the re-build they did after the recent hurricane last year. They silently rebuilt their homes and roads without all the hoopala from the media. This is what they do. They eat nails for breakfast and tend to be the masters of the understatement. “Yea- it is a little bit scratchy on the trails today.” Translated that means you can see last years dandylions under the black ice that you are skiing. “Well we got a little dusting overnight.” That means a foot of new snow. The first time I went skiing with Eric Durfee( the guy in the middle up above), we went to Mad River Glen which is a tyrant of a hill with no snowmaking, single chair and blankets, and conditions that can generate sparks coming from your skis as you make your way down the glades or icy sometimes rocky trails. The temperature was 15 below and the guy at the ticket booth was selling single ride tickets. Eric came to the booth and said,” Two day tickets please.” To which his fellow Vermonter replied,” Did you hear what I said, we are selling single ride tickets because of the cold.” Eric said,” Yeah- I heard you, two day tickets please.” Fast forward to about 2:00 PM, my wips wah fwozen and I couldn’t get any wohdds out of my wips. My feet were numb, the hands were numb, and I finally requested that we go in. The guy who eats nails for breakfast said, don’t stay in too long, you will sweat. I would have given my right toe for some sweat at that point.

Vermonters don’t tend to be recreational types. In fact there is a movement in the state to encourage Vermonters to ski more. Most of the skiers are tourists like myself and want to be like the locals. But we are a dead give away to any true Vermonter but not as bad as New Yorkers who think they are locals because they rent a ski house for the winter and step all over your skis. When they say,” What are you lookin at?”,it tends to give them away but all the same, they enjoy the slopes as much as anyone. I just give them some room.

My buddy Hutch on the right in the picture, is a native and loves to ski. His enthusiasm is brought to light in his comments to this blog and if anyone enjoys his home state and slopes and trails -it is Hutch. We skied together earlier this year at Killington which he lovingly calls “The Beast”. The snow guns were blasting, the trails were icy and only about half the mountain was open. But Hutch was excited to ski and so was I and we had a ball. We will see each other in a few weeks as the group gathers again at the Durfees out in Nevada. The guy on the left, Proctor Reid, was an ex-Dartmouth ski racer and still can turn them today like he did 40 years ago. Vermonters are an interesting breed. Once they get to know you,again,they are your friend for life.

Before I close, if you want to get a taste of Vermont, try these three web sites. Vermont maple syrup is the best in the world and don’t let the Somerset County folks in Pa. tell you any different. If you log on to, the Couytures will set you up with some fine and tasty maple products. If you log on to, you can order some of the most beautiful hand blown glasswhere anywhere in the counntry. If you are in Vermont, the Quechee Mills are the home to Simon Pearce restaurant and factory. Don’t miss it. Finally, if you want to have some Vermont in your living room, look up . Woody Jackson is the artist that made Ben and Jerry’s famous artwork on their ice cream pints and quarts. Cool stuff and worth the look. Go visit Vermont, ski and hike there, ride your road or mountain bike there, but most of all, get to know a Vehmontahh. They are great people who know how to live, work hard and play hard. Thanks for reading.