Common crackers for common folk

IN New England, no old-time country store was complete without a large wooden barrel full of common crackers. ``It was one of the fixtures of rural Vermont general stores along with a wheel of genuine aged Vermont cheddar cheese,'' says Lyman Orton, owner of the Vermont Country Stores.

The common cracker almost disappeared from sight until Mr. Orton's father, Vrest Orton, revived them in the early 1980s, setting up a bakery in the annex of his Rockingham, Vt., store.

Also called ``biscuit,'' ``chowder cracker,'' ``Boston common cracker,'' and ``Medford cracker,'' this special kind of cracker is plain, round, and white - bland in flavor and dry in texture. Its distinguishing characteristic is that it can easily be split to make two rounds.

Orton has a patent for these crackers, which were first made in Vermont in 1828. He bakes them in a vintage, 60-year-old common cracker machine that kneads the dough, then cuts it into the right size for baking.

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