I’ve lived in Vermont since just after World War II and, though I can’t count myself a Vermonter by birth, I know a thing or two about the state – and one thing I do know is that Vermonters congregate in the kitchen.
This was fine when the typical farmhouse had a big kitchen with a Glenwood woodstove in the middle and a cold living room reserved primarily for wakes and visits from the parson. Upstairs the cramped bedrooms got wisps of leftover heat rising through floor vents from a Sam Daniels furnace in the cellar and the Glenwood stove in the kitchen. These vents also unfortunately functioned as an always-on house intercom, making the act of creation a family affair unless performed in monastic silence. The freezing outhouse was usually a good distance away and exerted a chilling effect on one's digestive tract, much as the Russian gulag was known to have diminished political dissent.
But to get back to the problem at hand: my wife and I both love to cook and have long suffered too many guests in our kitchen – like cousin Ned absent mindedly setting his wine glass down in a chafing dish full of melted cheese or Aunt Martha splayed out on the counter like Jabba the Hut blocking the counter towards which my wife is lurching with a sizzling capon fresh from the oven.
Every effort to get guests into our heated living room with comfortable seating, soft lighting and a cheery fireplace has been in vain. Strategically placed hors d'oeuvres, even full liquor and wine bottles have failed to move people out of the kitchen. They simply haul the attractive goodies back into our work space or ignore them.
One Thanksgiving our dog - whom we had seriously considered naming after our garbage disposal until we tried to tried calling "here Insinkerator, here Insinkerator…" - found himself alone in the living room, and consumed a whole tray of costly Vermont artisan cheeses along with a bunch of lovingly labeled little flags indicating their farm of origin, all of which later reappeared on the dining room floor.
Having a kitchen full of guests is fine as long as you don't actually prepare food in your kitchen. The problem is we do – and we do it with intensity.
We’ve tried many tactics and lures, but they all fail. My undereducated cousin from Eden Mills used to say, "It's generic, runs in the genes.” Maybe that’s as good an explanation as any about why Vermonters insist on gathering in the kitchen.
But with the holidays here again, we’re feeling desperate.We’ve even considered moving the wall oven and dishwasher into the living room as end tables and preparing the food in there. It may not solve the problem, but it may at least spread the guests around the house and provide some entertainment for the struggling cooks.