Rural communities all over the world experience excitement during the arrival of certain crops. These are special times of the year, and Vermont’s short growing season makes the arrivals even more dramatic. Radishes, asparagus, tomatoes, chanterelles, and corn make countless menu appearances, and if you aren’t a fan of particular veggies, eating at the restaurant can be challenging since they seem to make their way into every dish!
While those seasonal treats are exciting and evoke all sorts of emotion or memories, nothing is as prolific or offers such a sense of place as when the maple sap starts running. Modern-day technology may take away some of the romance, but evaporating sap steaming out of our local sugarhouses is a powerful sight. It is sign of what’s to come, along with yearly traditions like maple on snow and chubby dudes in flannels drinking Utica Club.
Winters in Vermont are fantastic. But after 20 years in Vermont, this particular one finally got to me. We started the winter with fairytale-like snow that stuck around and kept the trees heavy and holidays gorgeous. That was followed by a warm streak that had sap running in February! Follow that with several exciting Nor’easters. Now it’s mid-April and there is still a ton of snow in the mountains. This was our first Easter hiding eggs in snow. Opening day for trout and ‘catch and release’ bass season starts this weekend and my local reservoir is still frozen. It was 21 degrees this morning. We are heading to Florida for a week to see the grandparents!
Am I a proud Vermonter transplant? Definitely. Do my Floridian childhood roots peek through? Obviously. But these seasonal ups and downs help develop and define our character, understand our past, give us something to share with our children, and send us beaming into the rebirth of spring. This winter took a little toll on me but I will only appreciate what’s to come even more.
Be it drizzled, spun, glazed, or reduced, we use maple everywhere. Pretty much all palm sugar gets replaced with maple sugar at the start of the season. Even fresh sap makes several quick appearances in cocktails and braises. That burst of all things must pass helps get our minds tuned up for the upcoming season and daily menu rewrites and the reawakening is tangible.
Duck Egg, Dandelion Greens & Polenta
Best case scenario: do this on a charcoal grill with a small saucepan and a non-stick skillet or cast iron. I would rather cook outside.
Rinse a large handful of dandelion greens. Drizzle equal parts maple syrup and cider vinegar over the greens, then work some salt and pepper into them and allow to marinate and naturally wilt while preparing the rest.
Make your polenta with quality stone-ground cornmeal. We use Nitty Gritty Grain Co. from our neighbors: 1 part cornmeal, 3 parts water, 1 part cream, a fat knob of butter, and salt. The liquid should taste like rich ocean water.
When the polenta is done set it on the slow side of the grill. Place the greens on the slow side of the grill as well. They will slowly wilt and get crisp but try not to burn the maple sugar. In the nonstick, cook the duck egg, sunny side up, in a pat of butter. Season with salt and good pepper.
In a serving bowl or platter add some polenta and then the duck egg. Rough chop the dandelion greens and scatter around the egg white. Drizzle a scant bit of maple syrup on top.