Cooks

Marian Burros

By Maria Buteux Reade / Photography By Brent Harrewyn | Last Updated November 21, 2016
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The comforting aroma of butter, cinnamon and fruit fill Marian Burros’s kitchen as she eases a warm torte from the oven.

The comforting aroma of butter, cinnamon and fruit fill Marian Burros’s kitchen as she eases a warm torte from the oven. “I’ve made this recipe a thousand times yet I never tire of it,” she says, reaching for a pint of vanilla ice cream (local, of course). With all that Vermont has to offer, no wonder this venerable cookbook author and cosmopolitan food journalist calls this state home. 

The comforting aroma of butter, cinnamon and fruit fill Marian Burros’s kitchen as she eases a warm torte from the oven. “I’ve made this recipe a thousand times yet I never tire of it,” she says, reaching for a pint of vanilla ice cream (local, of course). With all that Vermont has to offer, no wonder this venerable cookbook author and cosmopolitan food journalist calls this state home. 

Burros has been a devoted denizen of the Northeast Kingdom since the mid-1990s when she and her partner had a home in Glover. After he died, Burros knew she wanted to maintain roots in the Green Mountains and had good friends who lived in the area. “I spent the summer of 2009 searching for real estate. I’d take different groups of friends with me on house visits and get their input. I must have come to examine this house 11 times. Thankfully I had a very patient realtor....” Everyone agreed on the yellow clapboard home perched on a wooded hillside in Craftsbury Common with an expansive view to the east. “Sunrise comes early and strong here,” Burros laughs, perhaps ruefully.

Burros’s life in Craftsbury revolves around a calendar full of meals, events and outings with a wide circle of friends. This stylish woman, gifted at quietly connecting luminaries within the food world, splits her time between Bethesda, Maryland, and northern Vermont. Her home is immaculate and tastefully decorated. She loves antiquing, and though she restrains herself now, she admits she’s always on the hunt for “that one treasure that can still fit.” A full 95% of her furnishings come from Vermont, and she delights in her collection of blue and white china and spongeware that see active use. 

Not surprisingly, her open kitchen is ideal for entertaining, one of her hallmarks. The wide pine floorboards, dark wood cabinets and low ceilings create a cozy ambience, while the black polished-stone countertops provide ample space for food prep or buffet-style service. In the adjacent dining room, 13 guests in antique chairs can sit com- fortably around the long table. Assorted couches and armchairs arranged in conversation klatches fill the living room. A screened porch offers respite from summer heat, as do padded chaises longues placed under shade trees. Well-tended gardens and an array of stone crocks burst with colorful perennials, and Burros maintains a raised bed full of tomatoes, cukes, greens and herbs, including four types of basil.

So how did this catalyst find her way to Vermont?

While skiing (“for the first time in my life!”) at Bromley Mountain in the 1960s, Burros met the man whom she would later marry. “He must have loved my baggy wool ski pants,” she jokes with characteristic wryness. The couple moved to Washington, DC, where Burros began her career in journalism, working for local papers before as- suming her role as food editor of the Washington Post. In 1981, Burros moved to New York and served as a food reporter and columnist for the New York Times, a 27-year career that paved the way for generations of food writers. “Early on, I realized that food writing wasn’t just about the food itself. It naturally involved politics, food safety, health issues. All the topics that now fall under the umbrella of sustainability.” She retired in 2008 yet still remains active in the world of food politics and journalism.

In October, Burros received an alumnae achievement award from Wellesley College for her contributions as a “Transformational Food and Lifestyle Journalist.” Other Wellesley alumnae honored for excellence in their respective fields include Hillary Rodham Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Nora Ephron and broadcasters Linda Wertheimer, Cokie Roberts and Diane Sawyer. “No one really wrote about food politics before,” Burros explains. “In fact, that phrase didn’t exist when I started. I have always been fascinated by the people and politics behind food.”

Burros’s entry into the world of food began with an index card box filled with recipes. “Back in the 1950s, people gave engagement gifts, and a fellow Wellesley alum, Lois Levine, and I couldn’t afford anything fancy.” So they compiled a set of their favorite recipes and shared it with their friends, who naturally encouraged the women to write a cookbook. “We ran around Lois’s bed collating all the pages by hand, a friend down the street made the cover, and we sold the cookbook in local bookstores.” They eventually offered Elegant but Easy as a fundraiser for the Wellesley Club of Washington. Other clubs around the country wanted it, and the book took off. Burros credits that cookbook, which arose from a humble set of recipe cards, as the debut of her career. She has since written 13 cookbooks, including Cooking for Comfort, published in 2003. Elegant but Easy remains her favorite. The book has sold more than 500,000 copies.

Burros praises Julia Child, Marion Cunningham and Alice Waters for their impeccable standards and for awakening people’s sensibilities to higher-quality food. She also acknowledges the Joy of Cooking as her Bible. “I got a copy when I first married and that’s how I learned to cook. It’s still my resource for technique. I’ve never had a failure with any of those recipes.” Burros recalls that tapioca pudding was the first dish she made from scratch as a child. “I knew no bounds when it came to consuming tapioca,” she chortles.

Today Burros describes herself as an omnivore, though she eats scant red meat and less pork than she used to. “Fish, chicken, lots of veggies and fruit, good bread and cheese—all of which are plentiful here in Vermont,” she adds.

A gracious host who banters easily, Burros believes in cooperative entertaining, or the orchestrated potluck. “A friend will volunteer to roast or grill something, someone else offers a salad or bread, and I’ll fill in the gaps with soup, dessert or whatever. When you only have to prepare one dish, you tend to bring something glorious,” she observes.

And the holidays? “We used to have Thanksgiving in Vermont. We always invited a cast of characters, and we would do turkey on the grill, even in snow and sleet! My partner oversaw that, not I.” Standard dishes included both white and sweet potatoes (mashed), Craig Claiborne’s corn bread stuffing, roasted baby carrots with dried cranberries, pine nuts and basil.

This vibrant maverick has no intention of slowing down and continues to serve as a trustee of Craftsbury’s Sterling College. “The college is focused on food, sustainability, health, saving the planet—all the things I care deeply about,” she says simply. Sure sounds like a Vermonter. 

Maria Reade can’t stop thinking about the pimento cheese spread she devoured at Marian’s house last summer... 

Original Plum Torte

This recipe for Plum Torte is one of Marian Burros' favorites.
This recipe for Plum Torte is one of Marian Burros' favorites. But since plum season is so short, you can easily swap out blueberries, apples or peaches.

Apple-Cranberry Torte

Marian Burros creates a winter version of her classic Plum Torte with apples and cranberries.
Marian Burros creates a winter version of her classic Plum Torte with apples and cranberries.

Pimiento Cheese Spread, Vermont Style

For her Pimiento Cheese Spread, Vermont Style, Marian Burros uses a combination of Cabot Clothbound cheddar cheese and Jasper Hill’s Landaff or Alpha Tolman.
For her Pimiento Cheese Spread, Vermont Style, Marian Burros uses a combination of Cabot Clothbound cheddar cheese and Jasper Hill’s Landaff or Alpha Tolman. She often roasts her own sweet red...
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