"A waffle is like a pancake with a syrup trap"
State 42: Vermont - June 16, 2018
We woke up at a Walmart in Littletown, NH well rested and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, we payed our respects at Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard, and could not wait to see what adventures lie ahead. Today we drive 58 miles West to Montpelier to tour the Vermont Statehouse. Named after its sister city in France, Montpelier has a population of 7,885 earning it the distinction of being the least populated state capitol in America. The current capitol building is Vermont’s 3rd statehouse. Built in 1808, the 1st statehouse quickly became too small to govern the growing state. 1838, the 2nd statehouse was constructed across town on the current capitol grounds. In 1857, a fire destroyed the dome and interior of the 2nd statehouse leaving only the granite external facade standing. Construction on the 3rd and current statehouse was completed in 1859, and utilized the surviving granite facade from the 2nd statehouse. Very clever, and very frugal! Good Job Vermont!
Perched upon the apex of the statehouse’s 57-foot-tall gold gilded dome, is a statue called “Agriculture” paying homage to the state's rich farming history. While visiting previous state capitols, I have encountered many gold gilded external rotunda’s, and I still have yet to understand the rationale for their design. Gold leafing provides no structural or functional purpose when applied to any roof. Albeit pretty to view, the cost to mine, mill and apply the 23.7k gold leafing to the dome can exceed 1 million dollars; a high price tag for mere aesthetics! Even more disturbing, the gold leafing typically lasts between 15-30 years depending on exposure to the elements! Repetitively replacing gold leafing to the rotunda of a statehouse epitomizes wasteful government spending. There must be better uses for taxpayer’s money than watching one million dollars slowly chip off the roof of the capitol building!
Upon ascending the statehouse’s grand external staircase, I encountered six massive Corinthian columns indicative of the 2nd statehouse’s Greek Revival architecture. Upon closer examination of the columns, I made a fascinating discovery! Marring from the 1857 fire was still visible on the massive granite columns even to this day! Greeting us at the front doors of the statehouse was a 12-foot-tall marble statue of Ethan Allen. Allen led Vermont's Green Mountain Boys to the first rebel victory of the Revolutionary War when they sacked Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775. Across from Allen’s statue, was a Revolutionary War cannon mounted on a carriage from the American Civil War. Please see the pictures below.
After passing through security, we were disappointed to discover the statehouse does not offer guided tours, but fortunately self guided booklets were available. The floors of the foyer consisted of an alternating pattern of black and white 12-inch marble tiles laid in a diamond pattern, and you can actually see fossils embedded in the tiles if you look close enough. Please see the pictures below.
We continued down a corridor on the first floor known as the Hall of Inscriptions. Poetic and patriotic quotes about Vermont prestigiously hung in these hallowed halls. What great state pride! Please see the pictures below!
At the far end of the corridor stood the Vermont Statehouse’s Crown Jewel: Bust of Abraham Lincoln (cir. 1872). Created by world renowned sculptor Larkin Goldsmith Mead, the bust was used as a study piece for his larger commission at Lincoln’s Tomb. I previously had the privilege of viewing Mead’s work when visiting Lincoln’s Springfield, IL grave site, which you can read more about by clicking here. Upon Mead's death in 1910, his widow donated Lincoln's bust to Vermont. I was pleasantly surprised to see an example of the famed sculptor's work on display in Vermont, and his depiction of Lincoln was both provoking and powerful. Please see the pictures below!
As you may have noticed in the pictures above, Mead’s sculpture is precariously perched upon a narrow 8-foot-tall pedestal. All it would take is one oblivious visitor or a rambunctious child, and an irreplaceable example of one of America’s premier neoclassical works of art would be lost! Vermont needs to redesign the display with either a smaller pedestal, a glass enclosure or at the very least a roped off area. This is an accident waiting to happen!
Upon ascending the grand internal staircase to the second floor, I visited the Representatives Hall and Senate restored to their 1859 appearance. While both chambers were beautiful, they were otherwise unremarkable. Please see the pictures below.
Please see additional pictures below of our visit to the Vermont Capitol Building.
After departing the Vermont Statehouse, we drove 58 miles South to Woodstock for the Cross Country Couple's “Made in the USA” tour for Vermont; Sugarbush Farm. Founded in 1945 by Jack and Marion Ayres with a dream to make a go of country living, Sugarbush Farm is a 4th generation 550 acre hillside farm home to 8500 sugar maple trees. Today the farm is operated by the Ayres daughter Betsy, her husband Larry, their sons Ralph and Jeff, and 7 grandchildren, who are learning about good working habits on an active farm.
Sugarbush Farms sounds like a fun place to visit, but first I had to get there! While enroute, I suddenly ran out of paved road, and jammed on the brakes! Both Lori and my seat belts engaged, and we were thrusted forward as Rosie came to screeching stop. Rosie is a large cargo van, and not made for off-roading! We try to avoid taking Rosie on dirt roads unless absolutely necessary. While the Cross Country Couple typically does not mind taking the road less traveled, AAA does and they do not perform service calls on dirt roads. Should we find ourselves stuck on a lonely Vermont back road, we are on our own!
I took a few moments to survey my surroundings! Sugar maples towered high on either side of us forming a shaded canopy over a narrow dirt road. Although the view was quite breathtaking, wisdom attained from 50,000 miles of cross country travel reminded me of the potential dangers lurking ahead. I had no way of knowing if Rosie could clear the low tree branches, or if a car was coming in the opposite direction! Prior to entering Vermont, Michelle, our GPS, died, and we are anxiously waiting for her replacement to arrive. In the meantime, we were relying on spotty cell signal from google maps as our primary means of navigation. At moments like this, I REALLY miss Michelle!!
On our cross country trip, we have learned time and time again the most amazing places are often the most difficult to reach. The dirt road to Devil's Well in the Missouri Ozarks and the VERY rough dirt roads in New Mexico’s Chaco Culture were well worth the bumpy ride, which you can read more about by clicking here, and here. Without saying a word, Lori and I looked at each other and simultaneously nodded our heads in agreement. I hit the gas hard! Rosie took off down the narrow windy canopy covered Vermont dirt road in a plume of dust! It was Sugarbush or bust!
After enduring three miles of narrow and windy but well signed and meticulously maintained Vermont dirt roads, we finally arrived at Sugarbush Farms! We opted to begin our day by touring the sugar house where maple syrup is made. A series of weathered signs guided me along a dirt path, around the rear of the farm store, and down a set of steep stairs to a nearby barn containing the sugar house. I began my exploration by watching a brief movie highlighting life on Sugarbush Farm throughout the four seasons. Albeit an interesting and well made film, the movie provided little insight into how maple syrup was made, and unfortunately production was not occurring during my visit. There was no one was present to explain the process, and the displays on the walls of the sugar shack were dated, difficult to understand and in desperate need of a redesign. However, one display depicting maple tree sap was of particular interest. Unlike its syrup, sugar maple tree sap is clear, thin and resembles the appearance of water. The average sugar maple tree produces between 9-13 gallons of sap per season, and it takes between 40- 50 gallons of tree sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup! Sugarbush Farms’ sugar shack was a fascinating place to visit, and I would love to one-day return when maple syrup is actively being produced. Please see the pictures below.
After departing the sugar shack, we walked back up the path enroute to the farm store. From fresh made award winning smoked cheddar to their signature gourmet dips and sauces, I spent the next hour sampling a smorgasbord of farm fresh delicacies. Please see the pictures below.
I had come to Sugarbush Farms for one reason and one reason only, and it was not to gnaw on a huge hunk of cheddar! I came to partake in THE BEST farm fresh Vermont 100% maple syrup! First, we must discuss the International Maple Syrup Institute or IMS. Founded in 1975, the IMS's mission is to: protect the integrity of pure maple syrup, encourage industry cooperation, and to improve communication within the international maple syrup industry. In 2014, the IMS created a universal classification for pure maple syrup, and the highest "Grade A" falls into four categories:
Very dark color with strong taste
Dark color with robust taste
Amber color with rich taste
Golden color with delicate taste.
The exact science behind the differentiating factors for each category is a bit over my head. Generally speaking, the darker grades of syrup are used primarily for cooking and baking, and have a intense maple flavor. The lighter maple syrup grades are most commonly used for breakfast and offer a decedent, and pleasant maple syrup experience. I could not wait taste all four varieties.
Well smack me with a flap jack and call me sticky! This is some damn delectable maple syrup! The two dark varieties were a tad too intense for my palate, and the golden color was a bit weak. The amber color with rich taste was pure perfection, and unsurprisingly the #1 selling variety!
From single serving sized containers, to one gallon jugs of the sweet stuff, I was entirely surrounded by Vermont liquid gold! I would have loved to purchase a 1-gallon jug, but unfortunately Sugarbush Farms does not sell Organic Maple Syrup. Please see the pictures below!
While mesmerized by the maple syrup before me, I was approached by the owner of the farm named Betsy who shared some tips on storing maple syrup. In a sealed container, maple syrup is shelf stable for two years. Once opened, maple syrup must be refrigerated, and will last for an additional two years. Be forewarned, bringing a bottle of maple syrup on an airplane may land you in a sticky situation. Terrorist built maple syrup bombs have struck fear in the hearts humanity the world over! Fortunately, Sugarbush Farms ships maple syrup throughout the continental US!
Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Buttersworth, Vermont Maid and Log Cabin is the average Americans exposure to maple syrup, but you will not find maple syrup on the ingredient list! What you will find in each of the imposters is high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners! Yuck! How in the world can maple syrup be advertised as such when it contains ZERO maple syrup? The answer lies with the Food and Drug Administration or FDA. Instead of looking out for the health and welfare of the American people, the actions of the FDA are guided by the lobbyists of powerful international food conglomerates! Bottom line! If you want to buy maple syrup, the ingredients list should read as follows: 100% Maple Syrup! Once you have tasted real Maple Syrup, no other substitute will suffice.
I encourage all my readers to support local family owned farms, and to always nourish your bodies with the highest quality foods! Healthy food is not an expense! Healthy food is an investment! Banish fake sticky chemical concoctions from your diet, and only partake in the highest quality food you can find. 100% Vermont Real Maple Syrup is simply as good as it gets, and don’t both you and your pancake deserve the very best?
After departing Sugar Bush Farms, we drove 12 miles East to the Border town of West Lebanon, NH where we found a Walmart to spend the night.