A pleasant day-hike anytime of year, but especially in November.

View of Woodstock village from Mt. Tom.

View of Woodstock village from Mt. Tom.

Besides serving breakfasts, morning at the October Country Inn usually finds us hauling out the maps and setting our guests up with suggestions for local hikes or bike rides.  Most of the year, there are many opportunities for treks of varying degrees of length and difficulty to choose from.  In November, however, a note of caution comes into play.  November is deer season in Vermont.  Most local deer hunters are very experienced, and very careful about discharging the particular weapon they may hunting with.  However, the prudent hiker would avoid hiking in many areas of the woods during hunting season.  With that caution in mind, there are November hiking opportunities in areas where hunting does not occur.

From the Woodstock green, the Middle Bridge leads to Faulkner Park.

From the Woodstock green, the Middle Bridge leads to Faulkner Park.

Nearby, the diverse trail system of Woodstock’s Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Park is an excellent example.  Although there are many hiking opportunities available in the hundreds of forested acres that comprise this park, one of the most popular is a relatively easy walk to the summits of South Peak and Mt. Tom.  The popularity of this three to four mile hike is largely because you can easily begin the walk from Woodstock village.

Trail map from Woodstock to South Peak and Mt. Tom.

Trail map from Woodstock to South Peak and Mt. Tom.

From the Woodstock green, cross westbound Route 4 where Mountain Ave. leads through the historic covered Middle Bridge.  Proceed about 3 tenths of a mile along Mountain Ave., past River Road, to Faulkner Park, a small grassy square on the right.  Follow any path through Faulkner Park to the back of the park, where you can pick up the trail to Mt. Tom.  Although directly uphill, the trail winds up in a series of switchbacks at a gentle grade.  Benches are periodically located at the side of the trail.  The first  overview is at South Peak.  From here to the summit of Mt. Tom, the trail gets a bit easier.  You can press on for another mile or so to the summit of Mt. Tom, or be satisfied with the view from South Peak.  It’s worth the effort in any case.

Fall is here and heirloom apples–America’s national fruit–abound.

heirloonAn heirloom apple is one that is grown from open pollination (pollinated by natural forces–bees, the wind) from a line of trees that have been in existence at least 100 years.  New England in general, and Vermont in particular, is home to a great many such varieties.  Now is the time of year when the harvest is in, and many small farms encourage visitors to pick their own, or sample an assortment of varities from their farmstand.

The association of apples with romance, beauty, temptation, immortality, and sensuality is a theme in cultures all over the globe.  In Norse, Icelandic, Babylonian, Celtic, and Roman myths, gods eat apples to preserve their immortality (an apple a day keeps the doctor away), suitors use apples to achieve a conquest, women conceive with the help of magical apples, and heroes fall from grace because they couldn’t resist the temptation of a perfect fruit.

A local farmstand displays a selection of heirloom apples.

A local farmstand displays a selection of heirloom apples.

The British puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries held fast to the virtues of thrift and self-sufficiency, so when they left England for America, they took apples with them.  In 1629, Captain John Smith wrote that apples “prospered exceedingly” in Jamestown’s  coastal climate.  The first new American apple variety that emerged from a Boston orchard was called  Blaxton’s Yellow Sweeting.  For early colonists, apples weren’t just a sweet table fruit.  They were the source of cider vinegar, which was used in preserving.  They provided hard apple cider to drink, and from cider came distilled ciderjack, which was used as a spirit, a preservative, and an anesthetic.  With American independence in 1776, the western migration began and apples traveled right along with the early settlers.  In the early 1800’s, a young missionary named John Chapman left Massachusetts and headed west by canoe into the nascent territories of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Illinois, and Indiana to preach the Good Word and spread the gospel of apples.  He planted trees everywhere he went, earning the nickname Johnny Appleseed.

One of OCI's 100 year old apple trees.

One of OCI’s 100-year-old apple trees.

Here at the October Country Inn, heirloom apple trees dot the grounds. Two of our trees are at least 100 years old, and typically shower us with apples.  What we or our neighbors and guests don’t use, the local deer and other wildlife do.   About a month ago, a patch of fallen apples near the road had been sitting on the ground for a week or so when a young racoon showed up one afternoon to sample the freshly fermented fruit.  It must have gotten a bit of a buzz because it ran around in circles, and rolled on the ground for a while, and then curled up for a snooze down by the barn.  Heirloom apples seem to be a favorite with the local wildlife as well.

Dicing onions on the way to a delicious rice pilaf.

Rice pilaf with toasted pine nuts and basil.

Rice pilaf with toasted pine nuts and basil.

All the October Country Inn’s dinners are internationally themed, and a rice pilaf is often a part of many of our meals.  A pilaf is typically rice that is cooked in a seasoned broth, such as chicken broth.  Also, as with many of our dishes, sautéed or uncooked diced onions  play a fundamental part in the list of ingredients.  Consequently, a quick primer on dicing onions seems an appropriate topic before launching into the recipe.

cutonionAs illustrated in the accompanying suite of photos, the efficient dicing of an onion begins with removing the ends in a way that utilizes the onion’s natural layers to create the diced bits.  As indicated in the top left hand photo, slice off just enough of the stem end, and its opposite, to create a small flat area.  This flat area provides a stable platform to slice the onion into two halves, as shown in the top right photo.  As in the bottom left photo, place  one of the halves on its freshly cut side, and cut it into a series of 1/8 to 1/4 inch slices, holding the whole thing together as you slice.  Finally, as the bottom right photo shows, turn the sliced onion a quarter-turn and repeat slicing from the end toward the middle.  Do one side to just before the middle, then turn the onion a half-turn and fining the final slicing from the end toward the middle.  You now have a pile of diced onions ready for the next step.

The beauty of rice pilaf is that the basic dish is especially open to endless additions and variations.  This particular recipe incorporates dried basil and toasted pine nuts.  To make enough to serve 4 to 6 diners, collect the following ingredients:

  • 1 cup of rice (we use Uncle Ben’s)
  • 16 ounces of stock, water, or a mixture of the two
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of dried basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Toasted pine nuts on a cookie sheet fresh out of the oven.

Toasted pine nuts on a cookie sheet fresh out of the oven.

Toast the pine nuts beforehand by placing them on a cookie sheet and putting it in a 350 degree oven for about 6 minutes.  Check on the toasting progress every couple of minutes, and shake the cookie sheet every time you check to loosen the nuts.  Remove it when some of the nuts reach a medium brown color.  Set aside to cool before use.

To prepare the pilaf, saute the onions in the olive oil until translucent.  Add the rice and stir for about a minute to combine with the onions.  Add the broth and/or water and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  When free liquid is absorbed, shut off the heat and allow to stand, covered, about another 5 minutes to allow rice to fully absorb the liquid.  Stir basil, salt, pepper, and toasted pine nuts into the rice and serve while streaming.