Tuesday, February 28, 2006

In Praise of Cross-Border Grocery Shopping

Vermont bounty

Growing up in Canada, cross-border shopping meant going to huge big-box stores and stocking up on the latest cereals and snacks. People always came back from those trips proud of how much money they'd saved, and how many things they'd bought. My family never once took such a trip, though. Must have been something having to do with the fact that my parents grew up on the other side of the Iron Curtain. That and a certain distrust they had for the ways of our neighbors to the south. This weekend, though, found me crossing the border to go out for brunch, stroll around, and, yes, pick up a few groceries in Burlington, Vermont. I have to say, it was not without a pang of guilt that I did so. And I certainly didn't tell my parents. So what do they have that we don't have? What would prompt someone like myself to give in to this most Canadian of pastimes?

For one, an amazing selection of Anglo-American-style cheeses. Milk in glass bottles. Artisanal flour. Butter. And, yes, a few snacks that we can't get up here. (Peanut-butter flavoured Chex anyone?)

When it came to cheese, I stocked up on two tried and true brands: Jasper Hill Farm's Bayley Hazen Blue, and Grafton Village's 5-Star Cheddar. In addition to these, I threw in another Jasper Hill cheese, their Constant Bliss [which, contrary to what you might think, is not named after a state of being, but rather after a soldier who guarded the Bayley Hazen road in 1781 and died there alongside his compatriot, Moses Sleeper], and Shelburne Farm's 3-Year Cheddar. All of these cheeses have blown our minds. The cheddars especially are unlike anything we can find up here. Anthony says he hasn't tasted such cheeses since living in England.

When I saw a shelf of milk in glass bottles, I knew I had to bring some home. I chose the whole milk, thinking it was the most versatile, and we've enjoyed it solo, as well as with our tea and coffee. I regret not picking up some cream, though. And maybe even some chocolate milk. Next time.

One of my missions on this trip down to America was to find some King Arthur flour. And find it I did. Every store seemed to have their entire line of flours. (Vermont being King Arthur's home state, I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised.) I chose the traditional whole wheat, as I had no whole wheat flour at home. Thank God I did, because on the back of the package they'd printed a recipe for whole wheat bread, which looked so good that I made it less than 24 hours after returning. I can't tell you how glad I am that I did. It's the best loaf of whole wheat bread I've ever had. It's also easy to make: start to finish in less than 3 hours (!). Perfect for a Saturday afternoon. Even perfect for a Monday afternoon. This bread is so good, so naturally sweet (partly from the honey, but also partly from the flour itself), all you need on it (all you want on it) is some butter. Vermont butter, if possible.

classic whole wheat bread

King Arthur Flour's Classic Whole Wheat Bread

3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/3 cups water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey, molasses or maple syrup (I used honey)
1/4 cup nonfat dried milk
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast

Mix all of your ingredients together until the dough forms a ball. Turn out onto an oiled surface and knead with oiled hands until dough is smooth. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise 1 hour. Place on an oiled surface and shape into a loaf. Cover and let rise 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the loaf for 20 min. then tent with foil and bake another 20 min. Let it cool on a rack and enjoy with butter and honey.

In one of Burlington's used book stores, I found a re-issue of Wallace Nutting's 1922 classic Vermont Beautiful. A picture book with prose, it is one in a series he did on the American East which includes New Hampshire Beautiful, Maine Beautiful, Connecticut Beautiful, Virginia Beautiful, Massachusetts Beautiful, Pennsylvania Beautiful, and New York Beautiful that I have slowly been collecting for a number of years now. I snatched it up, of course, and came across a passage in it which I thought fitting somehow and which is worth quoting at length.

man and oxen, page 236

...the farmer, more than eighty years old, has drawn off to one side, waiting for the "auto" to pass. The old and the new generations have clashed very sharply in our age. The patient oxen, long the willing helpers of the farmer, useful all their lives and useful in their deaths, must now stand to one side... Perhaps the "auto" will pass for good. The demand for fuel in all forms is beginning to sharpen until we may all take to the woods and chop our own and let the "auto" go. The sources of coal and oil supply have only to become a little less, and civilization's wheel will take another turn; the rural life will be a necessity, the oxen will come back.

I haven't seen any oxen teams on any of my recent trips to Vermont, and "civilization's wheel" may not have taken the turn Nutting expected, but all across The Green Mountain State you find signs that people haven't completely let go of the old world. Let's hope they hold on a little bit longer.



Anonymous said...

Where in Burlington did you go for all these delicacies?

aj kinik said...

hi there UW,
sorry for taking so long to reply--we both thought the other had responded--Michelle tells me she hit City Market/Onion River Co-op at 82 S. Winooski Ave. on that particular trip

hope this facilitates your own cross-border shopping escapades