Are you wondering what happened after my Halloween post about the Falling Waters trail in the White Mountains? I bet you haven’t given it another thought! But just in case…
After our delicious dinner at Bailiwick’s in Littleton, NH, one of the few places in the entire region with power on that stormy night, we headed to Northeastern Vermont.
It was only when we were leaving the area that we got around to stopping in Sugar Hill itself to stock up on cheese at Harman’s Country Store. While Jon, Lisa and Todd sampled cheese, I walked past the postage-stamp-sized post office to the Sugar Hill Meetinghouse, built in 1830. Though white-frame churches with spires are a dime a dozen in this part of the country, there’s something distinctive — even ominous — about the imposing black clock on the steeple.
Crossing from Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, into Vermont took all of thirty minutes. After stopping in the outskirts of Littleton for some wine at the Co-Op, we proceeded over the Connecticut River on Vermont State Route 18 into St. Johnsbury. The waitress at Dylan’s Café had to leave in twenty minutes to pick her child up at school, but the kitchen staff was nice enough to let us order pear and brie flatbreads, roasted tomato soup and a curried chicken wrap even though we arrived at closing time (for which we are forever grateful – well worth the begging we had to do).
St. Johnsbury – like Littleton – is a town that looks worth spending some time in for its historic architecture. The Athenaeum, for example, is an unusual example of French Second Empire style, a gift in 1871 from the inventor and manufacturer of the world’s first platform scale. Unfortunately, we were in a bit of a hurry to arrive at our next inn at the expected time.
Upon arriving at Emergo Farms in Danville, VT, we were immediately greeted by Olivia, the farm’s pooch. We were also greeted by the smell of cow manure. In the front pasture, a dozen of so black-and-white Holsteins continued to graze on the bright green grass without giving us more than a passing glance.
When we used to complain about the smell of the Weyerhaeuser pulp mill, Mom would always say, “That’s the smell of bread and butter.” Without Washington’s lumber industry, source of our family income, our larder would have been bare.
At Emergo Farms, the honest smell of cow poop is the smell of milk and butter. The dairy farm aims to not only introduce visitors to the green bucolic countryside of Vermont but to remind them that dairy products don’t grow in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. On the hallway wall in the 1858 farmhouse is a Dairy of Distinction certificate that reads: “In recognition of an attractive dairy farm which gives the consumer greater confidence in the wholesomeness of milk and stimulates milk sales and encourages public support for the dairy industry.”
Lori Webster, the wife of the fifth generation owner, Bebo Webster, showed us around the farmhouse (odor-free), which included a parlor where we could watch television and a dining room where we would be served breakfast between 8 and 9:30. Upstairs, we entered the two bedroom apartment that used to be Lori and Bebo’s quarters. Having a separate kitchen, she said, kept the family peace while her mother-in-law still ruled the main kitchen. The apartment also has a comfortable sitting area and bathroom that includes a washer/dryer available for guest use for an extra $5 (on the honor system). We were welcome, Lori assured us, to get the full dairy farm experience by helping out with chores in the barn at milking time. Milking time? 5:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (Somehow we didn’t make it.)
Lori was hospitable but like many locals we met in the region, initially reserved. During our stay, the kitchen door downstairs opened often as workers traipsed in looking for Bebo. No doubt by the time we’d rolled downstairs for breakfast around 9 a.m., she’d already fed the crew.
While Lisa did some work and rested, Jon, Todd and I set out on a backroad route that led to Peacham, a frequently photographed town. Jon’s photography tips article suggested ascending the road to the north of town and parking by the volunteer fire station. Standing in the adjacent pasture afforded us a birds-eye view of the steepled church and a large red barn, where a few trees continued to hold their red and orange foliage. Behind the town, it looked as if someone had taken an orange paint brush and hastily sketched a rough horizontal line.
The shadows were growing long, and soon the town and valley were in shadow, so we headed back to Emergo Farms for some wine and cheese. As we returned, Lori told us that she had closed a window in the kitchen. “That one doesn’t have a screen,” she explained, “so you should keep it closed unless you want pigeons flying around.” Sure enough, just outside to the right, we could see the cupola on the old barn with dozens of pigeons eying the house.
Danville is a small town (population 2,200), just big enough to support three restaurants (although it hopes to attract more tourists with the extension of the Rail Trail, “Vermont’s East-West Adventure”). We opted for The Creamery, where the evening special was a real hit with the locals: lobster mac and cheese made with Cabot Creamery cheddar. The restaurant’s wine list included a half-dozen wines at a very affordable $20 or $25, and a few higher priced wines. We went big and sprung for the $35 Rioja Reserva. Our young waitress showed us the bottle for approval and then excused herself. We smiled when she returned with the wine open and proudly said, “I learn something new everyday, like you let one person taste before you pour the wine for everyone.” Although everything was good, I especially liked the house cream of celery and sweet onion soup. When it came time for dessert, we asked our unusually loquacious server which dessert she recommended. Everything’s good, she said, but her favorite was the maple cream cake. It was delicious. Unfortunately, they had sold out of it but it was really good, definitely what she liked best. We should come back and order it some other time because it was really worth it, she said. I still want that maple cream cake! (We did return our third night and ordered the pumpkin cream pie that the owner’s 90-something mother still makes. Local opinion must have been colored by their love of the matriarch; it was kind of a gooey blob with lumpy pastry.)
The next morning, when I arose around 7:30, the cows still laid in the grass, which was painted white with frost. At 8 a.m. it had warmed up to freezing. One by one the cows arose and let forth a stream of urine that triggered billowing steam. I walked up the hill next to the farm past an old brick house and barn, where fallen apples surrounded a tree. At the top of the hill, past a white paddock fence, a shorn corn field served as a brown foreground beyond which a grove of trees were in varying stages of fall: from green, to yellow and orange, to bare sticks. In the distance, low lying clouds crept in the valleys before a distant blue line of mountains, looking like an ocean.
When I returned, Lori’s table was set with harvest-colored linens and candles. She served coffee, and plenty of it, in one-of-a-kind cups and saucers. Breakfast was a hearty farm breakfast, maybe not something that would earn foodie accolades, but tasty and plentiful. She served omelets stuffed with roasted vegetables, toast made from homemade bread served with homemade chokeberry jam and maple cream. I dream about that maple cream. It’s made by slowly cooking and reducing maple syrup, but instead of becoming syrupy like a balsamic or wine reduction, it becomes opaque, similar to whipped butter in consistency. Spreading it on toast turned bread into an instant maple bar.
Besides Danville having local cooks who have mastered maple everything, it has Bentley’s Bakery and Cafe, which has the best looking bakery goods we saw on our trip, and that’s saying something in a region where people have long winter days to dream up delicacies. Besides the pumpkin cheesecake pictured at upper right in the photo below, the new proprietess was offering pumpkin latte’s (life changing!), four homemade soups (tomato, yellow split pea, pumpkin with cranapple relish and brocolli cheese), quiche, a grilled chicken wrap with choice of cranberry mayo or caesar style, and a bacon ranch wrap.