VPR Cafe: Vermont Common Crackers
The common cracker was a staple snack in New England during the 1800s. It was found in barrels at country stores and was often paired with cheddar cheese. The crackers were round, pale, hard and indestructible.
Each New England state had its own bakery for making crackers; in Vermont, the Cross Brothers opened their bakery in 1828 and began to deliver crackers to stores in Vermont.
The Cross cracker factory remained in business until 1979 but the Vermont Common Cracker persisted.
"Fortunately, the Vermont Country Store was there to step in," said Candace Page, a contributor to the Savorvore section of the Burlington Free Press. "The country store business was built on reproducing old-time products. So they bought the equipment and moved the manufacturing to Weston where the country store is based and they've been making common crackers ever since."
You can read more about the Vermont Common Cracker in Page' piece Coming to the Rescue of Vermont Common Crackers and find her recipe for fish cakes Vermont Common Crackers below.
Fish cakes with Vermont Common Crackers
(Candace Page note: This serendipitous recipe resulted when a bag of Vermont Common Crackers arrived at about the same time that the New York Times published a recipe that called for using “bread crumbs, or better yet, crushed unsalted saltines” as binder for codfish cakes. Did the recipe cry out for replacing the saltines with common crackers? It did. The result is delicious, and might be better yet with fillets of fresh Lake Champlain whitefish or perch.)
- 1 pound of cod fillets (or yellow perch)
- Aromatics for poaching: 3-4 peppercorns, a bay leaf, slice of lemon
- 1 small to medium onion or the white of a leek, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 small celery stalk, diced
- 1 generous tablespoon Hellman’s mayonnaise, plus more for coating
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 egg
- 1 cup finely crushed Vermont Common Crackers
- Hot sauce – Sriracha or Tabasco
- Salt and pepper
Bring a six cups of water just to the boil. Add peppercorns, bay leaf and lemon. Use a slotted spoon to lower the fillet/fillets into the water. Return water to a boil. Reduce heat to low and poach the fish gently for 3 to 5 minutes, until it has begun to turn white in the center. Remove and let cool.
Sauté the onion, celery and garlic in butter or olive oil until soft. Set aside to cool.
Mix the mayonnaise (of prepared brands, only Hellman’s has the acid bite you need), mustard, egg, a dash of hot sauce, Common Cracker crumbs, chopped parsley, salt, pepper. Stir in the sautéed vegetables. The mixture should be loose; add an egg if it seems stiff. Flake the fish into the mixture. Be gentle – you want the pieces to keep their integrity. Toss all the ingredients, then gather a small handful into a ball and flatten it into a small patty.
When all the patties are formed, chill them in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so. This will firm them up. Then spread a bit of mayonnaise on the exterior of each cake. This will make them crisp up deliciously in the pan.
In a large frying pan, heat butter or a neutral oil like canola until it shimmers. Sauté the fish cakes until golden brown. Serve at once with wedges of lemon. Since there’s never too much of a good thing, Common Crackers split, buttered and broiled would provide a crisp counterpoint to the fish cakes.
*With thanks to Sam Sifton of the New York Times.
The VPR Café is made possible by Otter Creek Kitchenware in downtown Middlebury, offering over 70 lines of kitchenware.