There’s a secret coffee ritual that lures resourceful Vermonters out of cozy slumber on 8-degree, dark winter mornings. “You never want to tell anybody because it’s too wonderful,” says Tamara White of Wing and a Prayer Farm. “It’s a whole new world of coffee.” Here’s the trick: stir in a spoonful of maple syrup, maybe with a splash and half-and-half. If this is how Vermont farmers do coffee, how do they do the rest of winter breakfast, when hours of frigid chores require frugal, seasonal fuel? There’s a lot of maple syrup. Just don’t ask if they ever tire of the stuff, which White drinks shots of on New Year’s Eve and sent her kids to college with flasks of.
“Oh my god, no,” White said. “It’s for-real amazing.”
Wing and a Prayer Farm
Hard-Earned Egg “Sandwich”
Count ‘em: 55 sheep, six alpacas, 12 angora goats, three horses, three dogs, four miniature donkeys, nine barn cats, 50 chickens, a peacock, and a turkey named Tallulah May. These are the residents of the farm that Tamara White must care for every day, no matter that it’s 19 degrees out.
“Every other season of the year, I’m not very good about breakfast,” White admitted, but her regular farm work gets tougher this time of year: Hauling buckets across snow-covered fields requires frequent breaks to flop back and form snow angels. Her work uniform is insulated muck boots, wool overalls, and balaclava (think: bank robber).
White relies on a big French press of hot coffee, with a drop of half-and-half in each cup, sourdough or rye bread from Rock Hill Bakehouse in the toaster, slathered with Cabot butter and crowned with a golden egg—plucked from one of her winter-averse hens—and poached with a little sea salt. “The chickens really hate winter,” she said.
Eggs—who knew?—are as seasonal as ramps and rhubarb. Spring’s stretching daylight hours trigger birds to lay eggs, but in the long, dark days of winter, White is lucky to find one or two thin-shelled eggs in her henhouse each morning. “I think that must be why I love my breakfast so much. I’m not trying to be romantic—It’s a very cherished and special and delicious egg to me. It’s not very fancy, but it’s always amazing. The yolk couldn’t be a deeper orange. It’s just so beautiful.”
Breakfast of Champions
About 35 minutes south of Burlington, Footprint Farm’s Taylor Hutchison and Jake Mendell like to play a game sort of like “The Price is Right” with their breakfast. “If you got this thing at a restaurant that was homemade English muffins, organic spinach and organic bacon and organic eggs, can you imagine how much it would cost? That would cost $15! But we just kind of have it. It makes us feel like kings and queens for a day,” Hutchison said.
This winter, their first growing greens in the farm’s hoop houses, they have spinach and kale on-hand, as well as a variety of Asian greens like bok choy and tatsoi—essential ingredients in their go-to breakfast: sauteed onions with bacon or sausage, made from their own pastured pork; add chopped kale and spinach and wilt with chicken stock; serve with two over-easy eggs on top. “That’s something we learned from another farmer,” she said.
Tack on to the imaginary bill homemade sourdough baked with starter from “doughnut homestead” Miss Weinerz, pasture butter from Organic Valley, maybe some homemade lemon curd, and extra-dark roast from Vermont Coffee Company brewed in pour-overs or a French press, and lightened with raw milk from the Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg.
“And maple syrup, of course,” she adds resolutely, as if naming the color of the sky. “People are very particular about what grade they use in their beverage. We use a super-dark, almost cooking grade in our coffee.”
Homespun, Hardscrabble Cereal
Josh Carter, a vegetable grower at 1,400-acre Shelburne Farms, has eaten the same breakfast—out of the same bowl—every morning for the past nine years. He takes a scoop from a 50-pound bag of wholesale rolled oats, douses it with raw milk, and drizzles maple syrup on top. “It’s a super-cheap, super-filling breakfast,” he said. There are slight seasonal variations—the standby is currently being gussied up with frozen applesauce leftover from 2015’s crop and some gifted holiday granola—but Carter doesn’t want to grow too accustomed to little luxuries.
“I guess it’s a New England way of life: You want things to be little harder than they need to be so that when things get tougher, you’re really thankful for what you have. When I do get blueberries, I’m really excited.” The beauty of having access to a bounty of fresh food is not having to fuss with it much. Carter seemed bemused by interest in his morning culinary routine, just as he is nonplussed by inquiries from farmstand customers as to how he will prepare a baby zucchini or bunch of asparagus.
“Is it something you can chop up, and put in a cast iron skillet? Then that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “I don’t do anything extraordinary with it.”
“I can see people going to Whole Foods and finding the newest, freshest thing, and then it’s so special to them, and they want to do something unique with it. For me it’s not that it’s mundane—it’s definitely special—but I don’t have to go out and spend lots of money on it. I just kind of walk out the door and pick it and find a way to get it down the gullet.”