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“Vermont is so much more than covered bridges, ski bunnies, and maple syrup.” This was just one of the many memorable things Sas Stewart (no relation to Martha!) said to me when she visited the test kitchen back in 2014. The co-founder of Stonecutter Spirits, a craft distillery in Middlebury, Vermont, Sas stopped by to share one of her first full-production batches of single-barrel gin. She had experimented with various combinations of botanicals over dozens of trial runs before landing on her award-winning formula. Gin is my jam, and the first sip was a revelation, with a round, smooth mouthfeel, heady aroma, and lingering flavors of cardamom, citrus, and spice. I knew we had a story for the magazine.
I was also lucky enough to attend one of Stonecutter’s Adventure Dinners, a speakeasy-style pop-up dinner series, which served as further inspiration. Sas is a force of nature and a passionate advocate for Vermont and its community of fledgling entrepreneurs. She seems to know just about everybody in the state, not to mention what they make and how they make it, and she counts many of them as friends.
Andrew tends to the many animals on their farm, including horses, ducks, and the most adorable, friendly pigs. It was extra generous of the couple to offer up their farm, considering the fact that Rita was due to give birth to their first child only a week later. Spoiler alert: He was a little early and arrived the day after shooting!
We planned to shoot the meal out in the field, but the weather was a miserable combination of rain and biting cold. This wasn't so unusual for Vermont in mid-July, so we already had a backup plan in place: staging dinner in the small glass greenhouse enclosure instead. Luckily, the dining table built for the shoot by David Rossiter of Imhotep Design was just small enough to fit inside the greenhouse. We were also still able to do some whole-coal cooking, which I love. I cook that way during the holidays at my family’s cabin in Pennsylvania. You build a fire on one side of a fire pit, then push the ashes to the other side and nestle the whole, unpeeled vegetables right into them.
There are innumerable variables on a location shoot, and having a skilled assistant is key. Carey Nershi, another Vermonter and entrepreneur, is an expert baker and prop stylist. Not only did she help to shop and prep all of the food, but she also provided many of the props that were vital to bringing the story to life. She also didn’t bat an eye when we unpacked the fish, only to find them with guts and scales still intact. We didn’t have a fish scaler on hand, so she improvised with the back of a chef’s knife and saved the day!
The annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival at Shelburne Farms happened to be the day after the shoot, so I stuck around to check it out. Wouldn’t you know the weather was 81 degrees with crystal-clear blue skies??! This was of course the weather we’d wanted for the shoot, but in the end, it didn’t matter. Vermont is a beautiful place rain or shine, with a seemingly endless series of quaint villages, winding country roads dotted with rivers and lakes, and sweeping vistas between mountain passes. The beauty of this place will draw you in, and the beauty of its people will call you back.