Memorial Day in Vermont: Burgers, Parades & Memories
I laid there, beneath my layered down-feathered blankets listening to the sound of the coffee maker begin to perk. Without my glasses the room radiated a copper-amber hue. The house was church-mouse quiet, unlit fire, no one was up yet. No one was on the bench waiting for the bathroom, not even my grandmother. I rolled onto my left side, burrowing my chin into my goose pillow while looking up into the sky, a familiar Vermont gray-blue. “Coffee still has a bit to go,” I thought, knowing clearly it would be precisely 15 minutes more to percolate a mere 10 cups. To say it was an older model would be an understatement. In fact, most things around my bed, and in the cabin itself, were older yet worn with memories and each told a story. I slept each night under a row of antique oil lanterns and the record player behind my head that clutched stacks of Jim Reeves & Charlie Pride 12″s (and usually a random Polka record that jokingly played from the night before). The bear skin over the fading black player piano told a story and even the piano bench cushion – perpetually crooked – reminded me of when my mother struggled to fit on a new cover after the stains from the hunters. The old cabin stood on bricks but most importantly our memories. It’s Saturday and there I was on my corner, spring mattress bed. It’s Memorial Day weekend in the southern Vermont mountains and that coffee still had a way to go.
“Good morning, kiddo,” my grandmother whispered from the kitchen as she shuffled in her slippers (in a sound much comparable to the rhythm of a carpenter’s sandpaper) to take her routine morning shower. We were the only two up as the rest of the family, plus or minus 16, were still asleep or lying in bed at rest (most likely figuring the coffee probably wasn’t ready yet). I went outside onto the breezeway and could smell the leftover beer still in the cans and a metallic balm in the breeze; ah, the dew on the metal chairs finding me. You know that feeling you get when you are standing in the brisk morning air but it signals that today is going to be “a hot one?” You just feel it. Vermont is famous for that. My thoughts on jeans versus shorts were soon interrupted as the stairs began to clatter signing that someone was coming down to join Gram and I. Now having a group of us awake only meant one thing; it was at last time for a coffee, a fire, and a plump jelly donut.
Our annual Memorial Day weekends together as a family, four generations to be precise, brim with memories of town parades and book fairs, homemade pies and flea markets, fudge, sloppy joes with a side of watermelon, fresh-cut grass from the tractor, the damp smell of the smoke residue from the night’s fireworks, chopped wood and birch bark, ice-cold beer and cold mountain water, and the winding long Vermont roads. What a holiday weekend it was, even if you did have to wait thirty minutes for a lukewarm shower. It was a family weekend and time stopped. It was just us on top of that mountain. It was special and I was fortunate to relish in more than 20 Memorial Day weekends there.
It’s now 2015, Memorial Day weekend, and Saturday morning. I didn’t awake today in that corner, spring mattress bed. My grandmother wasn’t there, either. I wish I could be writing some idyllic mountain-top entry noting how the wild turkeys woke me up this morning or that the bathroom still isn’t free but I am here in Prague. There’s a Latin Food & Music Festival in the neighboring park today but somehow that doesn’t quite compare with a dusty, hotter-than-hell mountain flea market with $1 parking half-mile down the road. Things have changed since those weekends as a boy and up into adulthood; some of us have moved away and some of us have passed over to a more beautiful, peaceful place. This Memorial Day I am not only thanking those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans but also remembering some other dear ones; the jelly donut and coffee ones. The nappers, the card players, the screamers, the breezeway drinkers, the readers, the flea market divers, and the tractor riders.
This weekend I am taking the spirit from my Vermont memories and creating a hell-of-a-burger and sharing it with you. I’ll be damned if I don’t have some good, homestyle American classics whether I’m in Prague, Portland, or Peking. As an extra, find a foolproof recipe below on how to learn how to make your own homemade mayonnaise – which is light years away from the store-bought stuff. Add it to potato salads, spread over your burger bun, or beat in a little pesto for a colorful, tasty springtime pesto mayo for fries.
Happy Memorial Day to all! Have an enjoyable, safe weekend ...and someone hit a flea market for me, will ya?
- 1 pound ground beef, 20% fat
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- 1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- Salt, pepper, & Provencal herbs for flavoring
- 1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 - 3/4 cup Burgundy or similar wine for the reduction
- 1 tbsp butter
- A slice of Swiss cheese to top (optional)
- Saute your onions in butter/oil until they become translucent and soft. Add garlic. While the onions are cooking, combine meat, egg, breadcrumbs, paste, salt/pepper, and spices in a large bowl. Add sautéed onions to the mix, combine thoroughly, and begin to form equal-sized hamburger patties
- Using the same sauté pan, heat 2 tbsp with a drop of oil. Pat the patties in flour, covering the meat entirely and add to the pan. Cook on each side on medium-high heat, only flipping once, appx 4 minutes on each side. Set aside and cover while you prepare the reduction
- Immediately turn your heat source to high and add the wine, stirring rapidly until it boils down into a thick syrup, scraping all the bits of meat and onions from the sides. Swirl in 1 tbsp of butter and melt
- Drizzle over the meat patties and serve hot on a toasted bun, a thin spread of mayo, lettuce/tomato, and pair with a fresh garden salad or other vegetable sides like homemade coleslaw
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup oil
- 1 tsp French or Dijon mustard or similiar
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of white pepper
- Dash of wine vinegar (optional)
- In a large, rounded bowl whisk egg yolks thoroughly (appx 1 minute). Add salt, white pepper, and mustard, (vinegar, too, if using)
- Using a balloon whisk, begin to slowly beat in your oil, one drop at a time -- this should take time. By adding your oil too fast you risk your mayo either splitting or thinning. Continually whisk and continue to add oil by drops.
- Once the mayonnaise reaches the desired consistency, taste and correct seasoning.
- Storing: Homemade mayonnaise can last a week under refrigeration.
- Make your own! Add some pesto or some cayenne to give your mayonnaise additional depth!