The holiday season is rich with tradition, as are many Cabot farms. At Conant’s Riverside Farms, the Conant family proudly claims six generations of tradition celebrated both year-round and at Christmas-time.
Founded in a fertile valley in Richmond, Vermont in 1854, the farm is now run by Dave Conant and his son, Ransom, who work with a team of employees to milk about 400 Holsteins and crop over 900 acres. Dave’s wife, Deb, oversees farm finances and runs an active summer farmstand starring the family’s own sweet corn. Ransom’s wife, Alison, works in agricultural policy and the couple recently welcomed their own contribution to the seventh generation, a baby girl.
“This farm has held us together, as a family, for generations,” Dave says. “It allows us all to be close and to spend time together.”
This year being their daughter’s first Christmas, Ransom and Alison (Kosakowski) Conant have a slightly different perspective than in years past. “The farm is a wonderful place to raise a family, and we are so fortunate to have Ransom’s family so close,” Alison says, “but I also want her to know about her heritage on my side of the family, and to have a strong connection to the Kosakowski crew.”
Alison grew up in New Jersey in a family with deep Polish roots. At Christmas, she remembers eating a traditional, seasonal cookie called kolaczki made from a rich butter and cream cheese-pastry filled with jam; she became interested in making them herself as an adult as a way to reconnect with her heritage. (See recipe below.) She also fondly recalls annual trips to see the elaborate light show at a local destination called Koziar’s Christmas Village, which, she notes, was once a dairy farm.
Now living in Vermont on what is still very much a dairy farm, Alison describes how everything is dressed up for the holidays. Her mother-in-law, Deb, is known for her lovely window boxes year-round. For Christmas, they are filled with pine boughs and white lights and, Alison adds, “One year, I even convinced Ransom to help me decorate a tractor with lights and a wreath.” The barns are hung with giant wreaths crafted as a local church fundraiser. It might be bitterly cold and snowy out, but everything looks beautiful and inside the barn with warm cows and the sweet smell of winter feed, Ransom says, “It’s pretty cozy, a refuge from the elements.”
Get-togethers are also cozy with dozens of relatives, friends and employees gathering to celebrate throughout the holiday season. Dave’s sister, Mary Lynn, always hosts a gingerbread decorating party. “It started when Ransom’s generation were kids,” Alison says, “and now their kids participate.”
The biggest Christmas tradition on the farm—both in impact and in size—is an event called Conant Christmas. “As families have grown, it has become too much to have all of Dave’s siblings and their kids and grandkids together for Christmas dinner,” Alison explains. “So, a few days after Christmas, we always celebrate Conant Christmas. We all get together in the machine shop for a potluck and Yankee swap. It’s usually between 70 and 90 people. At the moment, that’s the biggest indoor space we have; it’s where we fix the tractors so it’s not very fancy but we try to dress it up with a tree and tinsel.”
Along with the extended family, friends, neighbors and some staff join the fun. “There’s a little kid gift swap and a grown-up swap, which is always hilarious and sometimes a bit rowdy,” Alison says. Last year, she continues, “Dave built a giant giraffe for his sister, Mary Lynn, because she always wanted a giraffe for Christmas as a child. He unveiled it with much fanfare and even crafted an elaborate story which he read to the whole group.”
Presiding over the whole event was a portrait of Dave and Mary Lynn’s mother, Gloria Conant, a legendary Vermonter who was named the inaugural inductee to the state’s Agricultural Hall of Fame. It is likely nothing would have made Gloria happier than to know her family is carrying on the tradition of farming and of gathering to celebrate the holiday together.
Adapted from Alison Kosakowski Conant
1 ½ cups Cabot salted butter, softened
1 (8-oz.) package Cabot cream cheese, softened
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup lemon curd or raspberry jam, or ½ cup of each
1 large egg, beaten
Beat butter and cream cheese together at medium speed with a heavy-duty stand mixer until blended. Gradually add flour, beating at low speed until a smooth dough forms. Flatten dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350º. Roll dough into a 14-inch square on a work surface dusted with powdered sugar. Cut dough into 2-inch squares with a knife or fluted pastry wheel. Transfer squares to parchment paper–lined baking sheets.
Place 1/2 tsp. lemon curd or raspberry jam in center of each square of dough. Combine egg and 1 Tbsp. water. Fold 1 corner of each square over filling to center of cookie; brush folded pastry corner with egg mixture. Fold opposite corner over onto it, and pinch the two ends together at center of cookie firmly to seal.
Bake 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar. Makes about 4 dozen.
Personal note from Melissa Pasanen, Cabot blog contributor and #farmlove writer:
My husband and I raised our two boys with a blended holiday tradition including a huge Hanukkah gathering featuring hundreds of potato latkes and games of dreidel from my Russian-Jewish background along with the Christmas tradition of baking Finnish pulla bread scented with cardamom from his family’s heritage. What kinds of holiday traditions have you cultivated in your family that you hope your children might carry to the next generation?
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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).