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Biting Into Burlington 

click to enlarge Burlington waterfront today - FILE: STEPHEN MEASE
  • File: Stephen mease
  • Burlington waterfront today

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In the mid-19th century, the waters of Lake Champlain lapped much farther east than they do today — right up to the edge of Burlington's Battery Street, which was then called Lake Street.

click to enlarge Burlington waterfront in 1944
  • Burlington waterfront in 1944

At the time, Burlington was the country's third-largest lumber port. During that period of high industry, and over the next 100 years, the edge of the lake was filled in and developed. The newly created waterfront was a bustling hub of activity. Workers lived in tenements and house boats, and the area was jam-packed with the businesses and infrastructure necessary to feed hungry laborers.

click to enlarge Burlington waterfront in the 1870s
  • Burlington waterfront in the 1870s

That makes the waterfront an apropos meeting spot for Burlington Edible History tours. Running three times a week from mid-June to mid-October, these walks are led by guides including tour cofounders Gail Rosenberg and Elise Guyette — both writers and historians who are past presidents of the Chittenden County Historical Society.

click to enlarge Gail Rosenberg and Elise Guyette - SUZANNE PODHAIZER
  • Suzanne podhaizer
  • Gail Rosenberg and Elise Guyette

Their hair blowing in the breeze, the women wait for tour attendees to gather behind the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. Inside, the freshwater aquarium and science center offers an array of exhibits about the history and ecology of the lake — as well as tanks filled with mostly native fish, reptiles and amphibians.

The tour begins, and for the next three hours and 15 minutes, participants stroll the city, learning fascinating tidbits about days gone by. For instance, a tunnel underneath Maple Street used a rolling conveyer belt to move huge blocks of ice from the lake to the nearby icehouse. And, during the Great Depression, grocers would trade food for paper IOUs instead of money and then tear up the IOUs so that impoverished customers wouldn't have to pay.

click to enlarge Sights and bites along the Burlington Edible History tour - PHOTOS COURTESY OF NAOMI LIZ FIGUEROA
  • Photos Courtesy Of Naomi Liz Figueroa
  • Sights and bites along the Burlington Edible History tour

A laminated book of historical photographs brings each story alive: Here is a picture of corn and squash grown by the Abenaki tribe; there is a picture of a German sausage maker who was missing three fingers. Burlington landmarks dot the pages.

Although many participants in Burlington's famed Vermont City Marathon complete the 26.2-mile race in less than three hours, those who are on the Burlington Edible History tour only cover about two miles. That is, in part, because they get to stop and snack.

First, there's a fresh salad in the Waterside Café at ECHO — harking back to the time when farm-to-table was a way of life. Next is a sweet treat at Maglianero — an art gallery and coffee shop not far from the city's railyard. Then comes a slice of French Canadian meat pie at Penny Cluse Café, which has long reigned as the city's hottest brunch spot, and a nibble at the elegant Hotel Vermont's Juniper restaurant. At each of the stops — which together make up a meal — bite-size stories link the food to local history.

click to enlarge bitingintoburlington1-6-404a52de74aad295.jpg

Part of the fun, say Rosenberg and Guyette, is that the tour is different every day, depending on each guide's passions and the group's interests. On rainy days, more time is spent inside, gathered around tables. Sunshine and blue skies, on the other hand, keep the tours mainly outdoors.

Burlington Edible History walks are well suited for out-of-towners looking for a fun and engaging way to learn more about the place they're visiting. But even those who live or work in Burlington can pick up something new. That building you walk by on your way to work? It might have been the city's first Chinese restaurant. Your friend's backyard? It might have been a Lebanese family's subsistence garden.

And the tours serve as a good reminder that when we head to a swinging bench by the bike path, visit the boathouse for a sunset cocktail, or stop in at ECHO to check out the starfish and turtles in its tanks, the ground we're walking on used to be water.

— Burlington Edible History tours run rain or shine Thursday through Saturday, 1 to 4:15 p.m., June 15 through October 14, stopping at five eateries along the way. $53.50; register at least a day in advance. Ten percent of proceeds benefit New Farms for New Americans, a nonprofit providing refugees with resources to help them grow food for their families. burlingtonediblehistory.com

click to enlarge Burlington waterfront today - FILE: STEPHEN MEASE
  • File: Stephen mease
  • Burlington waterfront today

Au milieu du 19e siècle, les eaux du lac Champlain s'étendaient beaucoup plus à l'est qu'aujourd'hui — jusqu'en bordure de Battery Street, à Burlington, qu'on appelait alors Lake Street.

À l'époque, Burlington était le troisième port du pays pour le commerce du bois. Durant cette période de grande industrie, et au cours des 100 années qui allaient suivre, l'extrémité du lac a été comblée, puis aménagée. Ce nouveau secteur riverain bourdonnait d'activité. Les travailleurs y logeaient, dans des immeubles d'habitation ou des maisons flottantes, et les commerces et les infrastructures nécessaires à l'alimentation des ouvriers affamés pullulaient.

click to enlarge Burlington waterfront in 1944
  • Burlington waterfront in 1944

Cette zone constitue donc le point de départ idéal pour les visites Burlington Edible History. Organisées trois fois par semaine, de la mi-juin à la mi-octobre, ces promenades sont animées par des guides chevronnés, dont les cofondatrices de l'entreprise, Gail Rosenberg et Elise Guyette — toutes les deux écrivaines et historiennes, et anciennes présidentes de la Chittenden County Historical Society.

Cheveux au vent, elles attendent les participants à leur prochaine visite derrière l'ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. À l'intérieur, cet aquarium d'eau douce et centre des sciences offre diverses expositions sur l'histoire et l'écologie du lac — ainsi que des bassins peuplés de poissons, de reptiles et d'amphibiens, surtout d'espèces indigènes.

click to enlarge Burlington waterfront in the 1870s
  • Burlington waterfront in the 1870s

La visite commence, et durant les trois prochaines heures et quinze minutes, les participants déambuleront dans la ville et entendront des histoires fascinantes témoignant d'un passé révolu. Par exemple, saviez-vous qu'on se servait à l'époque d'un convoyeur à rouleaux, dans un tunnel sous Maple Street, pour transporter d'énormes blocs de glace depuis le lac jusqu'au dépôt de glace non loin? Ou encore, que durant la Grande Crise, les épiciers échangeaient de la nourriture contre des billets de reconnaissance de dette au lieu d'argent, puis déchiraient ces billets devant les clients sans le sou pour qu'ils n'aient pas à payer?

Un livre plastifié rempli de photos historiques donne vie à chacune de ces histoires : ici, des courges et du maïs cultivés par la tribu des Abénakis, là, un fabricant de saucisses d'origine allemande ayant trois doigts en moins. Au fil des pages, les attraits de Burlington sont mis en valeur.

Si de nombreux participants au célèbre Vermont City Marathon franchissent les 42 km du parcours, ceux qui effectuent la visite Burlington Edible History n'en avalent que trois environ. Mais il faut dire qu'ils s'arrêtent souvent pour manger.

click to enlarge Gail Rosenberg and Elise Guyette - SUZANNE PODHAIZER
  • Suzanne podhaizer
  • Gail Rosenberg and Elise Guyette

Pour commencer, salade fraîche au Waterside Café du centre ECHO — clin d'œil à l'époque où l'alimentation « de la ferme à la table » était un mode de vie. Ensuite, friandise à Maglianero — galerie d'art et café à deux pas de la gare de triage de la ville. Puis, pointe de tourtière « canadienne-française » au Penny Cluse Café, qui a longtemps été le lieu le plus couru en ville pour le brunch, et amuse-gueule au chic restaurant Juniper de l'Hôtel Vermont. À chacun des arrêts — qui forment ensemble un repas complet — des récits assortis de bouchées font le lien entre gastronomie et histoire locale.

Selon Mmes Rosenberg et Guyette, ce qui ajoute au plaisir, c'est que la visite change tous les jours, au gré des passions de chaque guide et des intérêts du groupe. Lorsqu'il pleut, on passe plus de temps à l'intérieur, autour d'une table. Par contre, quand le soleil est de la partie, la visite se déroule surtout dehors.

click to enlarge Sights and bites along the Burlington Edible History tour - PHOTOS COURTESY OF NAOMI LIZ FIGUEROA
  • Photos Courtesy Of Naomi Liz Figueroa
  • Sights and bites along the Burlington Edible History tour

Les promenades Burlington Edible History sont idéales pour les gens qui ne sont pas du coin et qui cherchent une façon amusante et conviviale d'en apprendre davantage sur les lieux qu'ils visitent. Cela dit, même ceux qui vivent et travaillent à Burlington pourraient apprendre une chose ou deux! Cet immeuble que vous longez tous les matins en allant au travail? C'était peut-être le premier restaurant chinois de la ville. La cour arrière chez votre ami? Peut-être le premier jardin de subsistance d'une famille libanaise.

click to enlarge bitingintoburlington1-6-404a52de74aad295.jpg

En outre, ces visites nous rappellent que lorsqu'on s'assoit dans une balançoire près de la piste cyclable, qu'on visite le hangar à bateaux pour un cocktail au coucher du soleil ou qu'on s'arrête au centre ECHO pour admirer les étoiles de mer et les tortues dans leurs bassins, on se trouve là où autrefois, il n'y avait que de l'eau!

— Les visites Burlington Edible History ont lieu beau temps, mauvais temps, du jeudi au samedi, de 13 h à 16 h 15, du 15 juin au 14 octobre. Arrêts dans cinq restaurants le long du trajet. Coût de 53,50 $; s'inscrire au moins une journée à l'avance. Dix pour cent des recettes sont versées à New Farms for New Americans, un organisme sans but lucratif qui offre des ressources aux réfugiés pour les aider à cultiver des aliments pour leur familles. burlingtonediblehistory.com

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Suzanne Podhaizer

Suzanne Podhaizer

Bio:
Former contributor Suzanne Podhaizer is an award-winning food writer (and the first Seven Days food editor) as well as a chef, farmer, and food-systems consultant. She has given talks at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture's "Poultry School" and its flagship "Young Farmers' Conference." She can slaughter a... more

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