Chemicals, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, genetically modified seeds, preservatives, and cheap oil relegated local and farm fresh to the dusty, outmoded bin. In 2010, farm-to-table eating is important all over again—advancing even over organics because organic food has been co-opted by large-scale companies.
Farm-to-table means local food and eating with the seasons, essentially eating what is available at farm stands, in resurrected general stores, and at farm markets. Farm-to-table supports culinary creativity—an overabundance of garlic scapes right now means eating them raw like scallions, sautéing them, or pureeing them into pesto. Farm-to-table supports nutritious eating—nature grows seasonally what our bodies seasonally require—heavier, more fibrous foods (squash, potatoes) in winter and foods with higher water content (cucumbers, tomatoes, melons) in summer. Farm-to-table eating supports local economy, keeps farmers on farmland, and keeps the scenery pastoral. Farm-to-table eating is also a taste of place, a gastronomic tour de terroir.
No Fairy Tale
Fable at Stone and Thistle Farm in East Meredith combines farm and table and—romantic as it may sound—Fable is no fairy tale. Fourteen years ago, Tom and Denise Warren chose to raise animals on pasture because “we were broke and grass was free.” The Warrens raise cows, pigs, rabbits, lambs and goats, chickens and turkeys on organic meadows without pesticides or artificial fertilizers. The animals’ diets are supplemented with certified organic grain. No antibiotics or growth hormones are used. “We were a decade ahead of the grass-fed movement only because we were financially strapped,” says Denise. The reality at the core of Stone and Thistle Farm—the name is a play on Tom’s Irish optimism, “stones and thistles are two things farmers don’t want”—is also the beauty and importance of Fable.
Yes, the herbs—basil, sage, thyme, rosemary—are fresh snipped, onions freshly dug, ramps foraged, goat milk from the goats afield churned into goat milk ice cream, and basil transformed into syrup for drizzling over raspberry pavlovas—a meringue-based dessert named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. All very gourmet in the back-to-the-land sort of way heralded today. Yet there exists the certain actuality that the goat milk for the ice cream (or the yogurt for the rhubarb yogurt cream cake) was milked by Tom the night before. There is also the fact that the roast loin of pork came from a pig that was slaughtered three days before a Fable’s weekly dinner on Saturday. “I do not fork food into my mouth without thinking about where it came from or what ingredients are in it,” says Denise.
Fable embodies conscious eating. Guests are dining at a working farm in Delaware County and are reminded via panes of floor-to-ceiling windows framing views of cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep that are, for today, in the field. The aforementioned pig that supplied the roast loin of pork (served with rhubarb-orange-mint chutney) also comprised part of the pâté de Campagne appetizer presented with a side of dandelion jelly and a pickle. The week prior, several chickens were harvested and served up—roasted with herbs, dandelion preserves, and spring turnips with browned butter. Livers from those chickens were set aside and made into the chicken liver mousse appetizer for the next week’s dinner. Snout-to-tail eating for the Warrens is customary—they’ve been eating the ears and head and neck and trotters and livers for years. While ingesting the unusual bits of pigs and cows is au currant for foodies, it is intimidating for everyone else. This year, Fable will offer a snout-to-tail dinner with the intent of demystifying the off-bits of animals.
In 2007 an architect’s error of scale transformed the kitchen of the Warrens’ 1860 Greek Revival farmhouse from modest cooking space to soaring aerie. Years of recipe inquiries from friends and neighbors helped prompt the Warrens to take the step from farmers to chefs. “We collect old agriculture books and especially enjoy the manuscripts on agriculture from Thomas Jefferson.” Denise proffers her copy of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s tome The River Cottage Cookbook Meat Book, where she finds inspiration for many of her dinners. “I feel like I’m reading my life,” she says, due to the combination of farm stories with recipes for offal and other off-cuts.
Wild forageables are frequently featured on the menu—ubiquitous perennial plants like lambs quarters, sorrel, and dandelion. Nasturtiums and borage regularly grace salads. Lemon balm and lemon verbena re-create the citrus flavor of decidedly unlocal lemons and oranges. An orange-scented mint was used in the aforementioned rhubarb-orange-mint chutney. Honey ricotta cheesecake arrives with a lemon balm coulis one night. Another night, lemon verbena panna cotta is the featured dessert. Fable is a reflection of the Warrens’ personal eating habits—seasonal and local—with the few exceptions of coffee, olive oil, and sugar. “If we can’t eat local, organic food, we choose local over organic food,” Denise says. “We have relationships with the local farmers and can have conversations about the how the asparagus is raised or how the strawberries are raised. We always choose a local nonorganic strawberry over an organic strawberry from California.”