When I was a kid I thought everyone knew that the first line of defense for a toad is to pee. Toad pee was a part of my life, because I loved to catch toads. Just like I knew that you can’t eat rhubarb leaves because they’re poisonous (but toads love the moist mulch and cool shade of their leaves), and that if you had a bee sting and were out in the field, you could chew the leaf of a plantain and put the pulp on the welt to take the sting away. These are the lessons that I see my children learning on the farm, from people and from nature – the same lessons that I learned as a child here. I tried to explain to my husband recently that although I was open to talk of moving to another place, or to travel, and although we lived together in Portland, Oregon for 12 years – there would never be another place that was home because this land – the taste of the last tiny ripe strawberry, the smell of hay drying, the weight of the wind in August, the itch of peach fuzz – it has been such a tangible part of me that I can’t imagine having that relationship with any other place in the world.
For two years, I’ve been anticipating having a farm dinner – a semi formal affair, hosted on a part of the farm that’s romantic, relatively fly-free, away from the barn, slightly tarnished mostly matching vintage silver plated flatware (I feel like it’s an analogy for the farm), and extremely localized food. The kind of food, that as a chef, I think about making when I’m harvesting at 8am – it’s the most inspiring thing, to walk around a garden, thinking about what I could make with these tiny perfect leeks that you can never buy in the store because they’re usually harvested 2 months later. Or how much more elegant I could make a plate of pasta with this purple basil.
But I’m a farmer! We have a 100 member CSA, which means that we’re growing the vegetables for 100 families. They come to the farm to pick up the vegetables, and we have relationships with all of these people that are passionate enough about farm life, or fresh food, or organic vegetables, that they drive sometimes 45 minutes once a week to see us. So I have crops to plant and harvest and weed – and not a lot of time to plan a party. But I designed the CSA pick ups and schedule this year so that I would have time to have 2 dinners – one in July, and one in September (one before and one after the flies). I collected vintage silver plated flatware. I scoured the local Bibles for Missions for vintage stemware. I made a light fixture out of wild grape wines to hang in the tree above the single long table. I borrowed 3 tablecloths from my grandmother and 3 from my mother.
And I made hay and honey panna cotta – to capture for the diners that intoxicating aroma of a freshly cut field of hay. I steeped together alfalfa, clover and pineapple weed with milk, sweetened with honey (from hives beside the hay field), and served it with wild mulberries, blackcaps, raspberries and whipped cream. Because I want people to taste this place like I do.