April 17, 2024

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Add Lovely Surprises To Your Food And Travel Pleasures With ‘My Vermont Table’

Add Lovely Surprises To Your Food And Travel Pleasures With ‘My Vermont Table’

Jumpstart visions of lovely Vermont dancing in your head. The bright new My Vermont Table: Recipes for All (Six) Seasons by Gesine Bullock-Prado is foremost a cookbook, expertly layered with remarkable recipes and smart kitchen strategies. Yet that is not all. Bullock-Prado writes engagingly about Vermont itself, as well as how to seek life’s pleasures and unearth its treasures. What if you don’t cook? Consider gifting this 290-page hardcover to someone who does (hint: Mother’s Day is May 14). But first sneak a peek at this love letter to the Green Mountain State. Recently published by Countryman Press, an imprint of W.W. Norton, the book is graced with elegant, evocative photographs by her husband, Raymond Prado, a storyboard artist. Happily, for travel fans, My Vermont Table can be a portal for Vermont vacation dreams. To help pave those plans, I talked with Bullock-Prado about her choicest Vermont destinations. Our conversation is below.

Her own path to Vermont is an inspiring tale of reinvention. Born in Washington, D.C. — with early years spent in Austria and Germany, where her father worked for the U.S. Army and where extended family resided, and then in Arlington, Virginia — Bullock graduated from the University of Virginia and Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. She joined the California production company, Fortis Films, with her sister, Academy Award-winning actor Sandra Bullock. As the firm’s president and attorney, she co-produced movies, including Miss Congeniality 2, and developed many others. A glamorous Hollywood lifestyle swirled, although not always to her liking. She had affection for each lived-in location, but somehow always felt like a visitor. At age 28, Bullock finally landed in what she now calls her forever home. “It wasn’t until I met a man named Ray, we fell in love, and he took me to his alma mater, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, that I found my place in the world,” she writes in the book’s introduction. “A place that when I literally crossed over the Connecticut River…to Vermont soil, I felt aligned. Or as it is sung in my favorite Shaker dance hit, ‘Simple Gifts,’ I’d found myself in ‘the place just right.’”

Bullock-Prado leaned into her fresh beginning in Vermont, a curve that blossomed into an acclaimed career as a chef; book author (a half-dozen cookbooks, plus a memoir); owner-instructor of Sugar Glider Kitchen, a baking school, in Hartford, Vermont; and the popular host of Food Network’s Baked in Vermont, as well as a judge on several Food Network competitions. She and Ray live on a picturesque plot of a former tavern, built in 1793, in White River Junction.

Embracing the wonders of seasonal changes, Bullock-Prado organized the book to highlight six distinct rhythms of Vermont nature — summer, autumn, winter, spring, of course, as well as mud season, when, prior to spring, thawing ice mucks roads and the harvesting of sap from maple trees reaches a cherished crescendo, and stick season, when mighty trees are newly leafless and gourds multiply aplenty, right before winter. Her savory and sweet journeys through these temperature-shifting months are accompanied by stories and recipes.

Among her more than 100 palate-pleasing temptations: Vermont Cheddar Soup, Shaved Asparagus Toasts, Butternut Squash Fritters, Sweet and Tangy Cornbread, Bullock Brown-Butter Banana Bread, Chicken Salad Fry Breads, Roast Turkey á la Helga, Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Creamy Goat Cheese Dip, Beef Wellington (deemed A Brave Little Recipe), Blackberry Cornmeal Cake, Vermont Strawberry Shortcake, Spiced Pumpkin Cake, Cardamom-Almond Cake, Rhubarb Meringue Tart and Oat Crisp Cookies, as well as the photographed dishes shown in this article.

Culinary Conversation

Laura Manske: What struck me about your new cookbook is how writerly it is — helpfully detailed and easy-breezy to peruse. Turning the pages, I felt as though I could be walking through a serene Vermont forest, gently eyeing the surroundings and gleefully stomping leaves at the same time.

Gesine Bullock-Prado: Thank you so much. A lot of people who write cookbooks really don’t like to do the headers [intros] to the recipes. I get joy out of writing headers, because I feel it is important that people know the context of the recipe, the history behind it. Food is memory and if you’re asking people to make culinary memories, then you have to tell them where your memories come from.

Manske: Your devotion to Vermont is palpable.

Bullock-Prado: I love Vermont. I love baking. I love food. I want the book to be truly thoughtful and sincere. For the photographs, we used only items already in our house, such as dishes that I inherited from my mom and those we’ve collected in Vermont.

Manske: What one thing will surprise readers most about your book?

Bullock-Prado: You should be able to sit and read it through. It is not a mechanical cookbook. It is a sensory cookbook that gives readers a sense of place and feeling. Vermont is very much a feeling. When people hear the word Vermont, they immediately assign values to it, such as comfort and beauty and relaxation. I want people to feel that when they read the book.

Manske: Some people may be astonished by the range of ingredients available in Vermont.

Bullock-Prado: It’s shocking, even to some Vermonters, about the foods growing in our backyard. For example, sumac is identified as a Middle Eastern spice, yet it grows unbidden near our roadways — a beautiful citrusy spice. I grow fall-blooming saffron crocus. It is the most expensive spice. People might say: ‘Wait a second, this is Vermont, what are you doing with this very fancy thing?’ The saffron crocus, however, can deliciously infuse dishes that one might think of as more traditional here: dairy and cheese, potato and starch-rich recipes. There are also flavors native to Vermont, such as spring ephemerals: morels, ramps and fiddleheads — the punchiest and most redolent of flavors that you find in the wild here.

Manske: You are making me hungry. Your book is a labor of love. Which two recipes are closest to your heart and why?

Bullock-Prado: The recipe that I just love, love, love is a simple morel omelet. It incorporates two key ingredients. One, morels, which I’m not going to tell you where they are in my backyard, because I would be inundated with foragers! The other is adding just a bit of starch water to the eggs themselves; it makes them creamier. Lighter. More delightful. It’s one of those crazy, fun cooking techniques. You harvest your own starch water from boiling potatoes or pasta, keep it in your fridge and add it to recipes like omelets, scrambled eggs or bread dough to give them a beautiful softness. The omelet recipe is simple, but impactful in flavor and texture. The other recipe: Dog Team Tavern Sticky Buns. Vermonters have written to me that they cried when seeing its recipe in my book. A legendary, historic tavern in Middlebury, Vermont, once served sticky buns as an appetizer. They were famous throughout Vermont. When the tavern burnt down, the recipe was lost. So I developed a recipe that would be doable for those who know and love these buns to make at home. To resurrect that memory. They are so good. Food is memory and this one holds a place that is dear to Vermonters, an honored place in Vermont’s culinary history.

Travel Recommendations

Manske: Zero in on your top spots to stay and play and eat.

Bullock-Prado: Drive here or rent a car after arriving at the airport. Meandering is one of our favorite things to do when we have a few open hours on a beautiful day. In Quechee, visit the [165-foot-deep] Quechee Gorge, the Quechee State Park, Simon Pearce Glassblowing and Andrew Pearce Bowls [for artisanal woodworking]. There are gorgeous nature hikes and amazing craftsmen. In the town of Woodstock: The Woodstock Inn and its restaurants are fantastic. Go to Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park and, for kids and kids at heart, Billings Farm and Museum to see a working dairy farm and experience its culture.

Manske: Vermont is highly praised for its maple syrup, craft beers and dairy products. There is a growing emergence of creative, energetic chefs.

Bullock-Prado: In Montpelier, the state capital, stop at Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, where, during the sugaring period, you can watch the workers tap the trees, boil and prepare the syrup. In the Waterbury area, James Beard Award-winning Chef Eric Warnstedt is soon opening a new Hen of the Wood Restaurant, across from his other restaurant Prohibition Pig. Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea is one of the best roasters in America. And, of course, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream in Burlington is renowned. In the Stowe area is The Alchemist Brewery [particularly known for its Heady Topper beer, which is only sold in Vermont]. The Trapp Family Lodge, of Sound of Music fame, is fabulous. [All over the state] get a Maple Creemee [unique to Vermont, it’s slightly creamier than a soft-serve ice cream, spiraled and sweetened with maple syrup].

Manske: Let’s drive even more, Gesine. A worthy foodie find off the beaten path?

Bullock-Prado: Go up, as well, to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom near Canada, for the best pizza at The Parker Pie Company [in West Glover]. In Greensboro, Hill Farmstead Brewery is touted as one of the best breweries in the world, where you can enjoy beer and cheese tastings, while sitting outside and viewing nature. I travel for food!

This interview was edited for length and clarity.