Vermont’s Winter activity choices are sometimes V.A.S.T.

The area in Vermont’s Green Mountains near the October Country Inn is a web of scenic roads, highways, and byways.  One such lesser known network is the VAST trails system.  The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) trails is a magical snow highway that suddenly appears every winter. It goes through back country and snow-covered mountains, secluded valleys and friendly villages. It delivers eye-stopping vistas for its travelers, and conveniently stops right at the October Country Inn’s door.

The October Country Inn’s location alongside the VAST trail network.

Since 1967, Vermont has been opening the doors to Winter’s wonders with a remarkable trail system that now totals over 5,000 miles.  These trails provide a wonderful opportunity to snowshoe, cross-country ski, or snowmobile through the woods.  If snowmobiling is your passion, or an activity you might want to explore either by renting a snowmobile or signing up with a local company for a guided tour, the VAST trail network provides almost limitless opportunity for fun.  If your visiting and just want to explore the back-country on snowshoes or cross-country ski’s, the VAST trails provide this opportunity without the worry of getting lost in the woods.

The VAST trails are just another way to enjoy Vermont Winters during the day, and still be close to a relaxing evening while kicking back next to the October Country Inn’s hearth-side woodfire’s warn glow.

This is the time of year for Vermont gold–the liquid kind.

A typical Vermont sugar house busily boiling down maple sap (notice sap bucket hanging in the foreground) to produce maple syrup.

Spring at the October Country Inn is just around the corner.  Although night-time temperatures still drop to below freezing, the March sun has enough power to bring day-time temperatures into the 40s.  The warm days cause the sap to rise in thousands of local Maple trees and signals the start of the maple sugaring season.  The collection of maple sap and the production of maple syrup is a Vermont tradition that predates Vermont itself.

Legend has it that a local Indian chief threw his tomahawk into a maple tree trunk.  The spring sun than warmed the tree and sap ran down the bark from the cut the tomahawk had made and into a container that happened to have been left under the tree.  Thinking the crystal clear liquid in this container was water, the chief’s wife poured it in with some venison she was cooking.  As the liquid boiled away a sticky sweet glaze formed on the meat adding a sweet maple flavor.  Maple syrup was thus discovered.

Whether or not this is how local Indians discovered how to convert maple sap into maple sugar.  They did figure this out somehow because the first European settlers to this region documented this use as well as adopting it.  The settlers came with metal tools, drilled holes in the tree trunks, whittled wooden spouts and hung wooden buckets under the spouts to collect the sap.  The sap was placed in iron kettles suspended over a roaring fire to evaporate the water out of the sap leaving only pure maple syrup.  Although this process has evolved some over the years, it is also still essentially the same–sap is collected, placed in a metal container placed over a flame and boiled until only maple syrup remains.

Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States.  By Vermont law, the maple sap that is used to produce maple syrup must contain at least 66% sugar.  Grades of Vermont maple syrup are divided into A and B, with A grades further subdivided into Fancy, Medium Amber, and Dark Amber.  These grades refer to the color of the syrup, and the color is determined by when in the season the sap is harvested.  Grade A Fancy is syrup from early season sap, and has a subtler flavor.  Conversely, Grade B is syrup from late season sap, and has a more robust flavor.

Maples are usually tapped beginning at about 30 years of age.  Each tree can support between one and four taps depending on its trunk diameter.  The average tree will produce 9 to 13 gallons of sap per season, up to about 3 gallons a day.  This is roughly equal to 7% of a tree’s total sap.  It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.  The sugaring season lasts from 4 to 8 weeks depending on the weather.  During the day, starch stored in the roots for the winter rises through the trunk as sugary sap, allowing it to be tapped.  Maples can continue to be tapped for sap until they are over 100 years old.

Of all the popular varieties of sweetener, maple syrup contains a wide array of various nutrients.  Scientists have also found that maple syrup’s natural phenols, potentially beneficial antioxidant compounds, inhibit two carbohydrate-hydrolyzing enzymes that are relevant to type-2 diabetes.  In the study, 34 new compounds were discovered in pure maple syrup, five of them have never before been seen in nature.

If you like coffee, and you like dessert, try this delicious coffee ice cream pie.

Coffee ice cream pie is a well-matched dessert when we serve our Mexican Country dinner for our October Country Inn guests.  The cinnamon tinged chocolate cookie crumb crust is particularly reminiscent of Mexican chocolate, and the rich coffee ice cream signals dinner’s end much the same way as a post dinner cup of rich coffee.  As a special bonus, this dessert is really easy to prepare.

The ingredients you will need are:

  • 1 package of chocolate wafers (we use Famous),
  • 1/3 cup of sifted confectioners sugar,
  • 3 ounces of melted butter,
  • 1 teaspoon of powdered cinnamon,
  • 1/2 gallon of coffee ice cream (we use Breyers)

This dessert is prepared in two stages, preparing the crust, and adding the ice cream filling.  To prepare the crust, you will need about 1 1/2 cups of finely ground chocolate wafers.  It takes about 2/3 of a package of Famous  chocolate wafers,  finely ground in a food processor, to get this amount.  Place the chocolate wafer crumbs in a bowl, add the sifted confectioners sugar, the cinnamon, and the melted butter and mix it all together into a grainy dough.

Place this chocolate wafer dough in a 9 inch pie pan and spread into an even thickness along the bottom and up the sides with your fingers.  Place a slightly smaller pie pan on top of the dough and press firmly down and along the sides to compress the dough into a more even thickness.  The top edge will be uneven along the top edge of the crust.  Place the crust into the freezer for about an hour.

Take the ice cream out of the freezer and allow to soften enough so that it can be stirred into a thick paste either by hand or with a mixer.  Take the frozen crust out of the freezer and spoon the ice cream filling into the crust and spread around to achieve an even mound of ice cream filling the crust.  Place it back in the freezer for at least 2 more hours before serving.

When ready to serve, remove from freezer and place on a heated surface (like a stove burner on low heat) momentarily so that you can pop the crust free of the pan.  Place the pie on a cutting board and cut into portions with a knife that has been rinsed with hot water.  Garnish portions with a dollop of melted chocolate and a few whole cashews.