Meal in the Field is an annual dine-out event at the Phillies Bridge Farm Project in New Paltz.
Table to farm
Fresh, nutritious ingredients on the menu at Meal in the Field
By Lisa Ramirez
Photos by Keith Ferris
DINNER IS ABOUT TO BE SERVED AT Phillies Bridge. The linens are crisp and white and flutter in the midsummer air. The carpet beneath is made of grasses and clover, and mason jars filled with garden flowers are the centerpieces. Much has been said about the farm-to-table movement. But tonight, for this particular meal, the tables have been brought to the farm.
The event is the annual Meal in the Field, hosted by Phillies Bridge Farm Project and presented by some of Ulster County's most esteemed chefs. The farm hosts its third Meal in the Field this summer on July 27. If the weather is clear, the tables are in the open air, in a big field framed by sweeping views of the mountains. If rain threatens, as it did last year, a large tent protects the gathering.
Donna Eis, executive director of the Phillies Bridge Farm Project, speaks to patrons at last year's Meal in the Field.Dinner begins with drinks and hors d'oeuvres in the rustic pavilion, then everyone is seated at long, family-style tables. But the food, everyone here is happily aware, began in the soil of Ulster County, from the wines sipped during the cocktail hour to the whipped crème that tops the peach cobbler for dessert.
"Tonight really brings together the community over truly amazing food," said Wendy Rudder, who is a member of the Phillies Bridge board of directors. The Meal in the Field is one of the most anticipated of the many events at the Phillies Bridge Farm Project, and deliciously punctuates the mission of the not-for-profit Phillies Bridge: to demonstrate and promote local agriculture that is ecologically sound, community oriented and economically viable. This, as one looks over the guests as they enjoy platters of ratatouille with grilled sausages, the atmosphere and one another, seems like a very worthwhile mission indeed.
The farm-to-table movement started as a quiet trend in such places as Utah, Washington state and Berkeley, Calif., but in recent years has taken a firm hold, and now menus from SoHo to Saugerties might include notes that the heirloom tomatoes in the bruschetta came from a particular farm in High Falls, or the goat cheese from a micro-creamery in Walker Valley. Eating local, organic and community-supported agriculture, and, more recently, objections to genetically modified foods, all share the farm-to-table philosophy that the food we eat and where it comes from matters. And it not only matters to the food's flavor, it matters to its health benefits, and, perhaps most importantly, it matters to our communities. Relationships are cultivated, farms thrive and everybody eats better.
For some, a visit to Phillies Bridge can be the first time they've tasted a vegetable just out of the ground, says Education Director Amie Baracks, and introducing fresh fruits and vegetables to someone's life is one of her favorite Michael Bernardo from Cafe Mio in Gardiner made two kinds of handmade sausages, served with Swiss chard and squash at last summer's dinner.parts of the job. She remembers in particular one woman who had never eaten a bean that didn't come out of a can.
"I picked one off the bush and I wanted her to try it. But she was scared; it was different and she was scared of dirt, scared that there'd be bugs," Baracks says. "But finally she took a tiny little nibble. "And then she ate it."
Agnes Devereux, chef and owner of the Village Tea Room Restaurant & Bake Shop in New Paltz, is among this year's chefs — she hasn't missed a Meal in the Field yet — and is planning a goat cheese and beet terrine. It's a beautiful dish, she promises, and credits the "most beautiful red beets against the snowy white goat cheese."
And while this year will mark her third Meal in the Field, her relationship with Phillies Bridge began more than 12 years ago, when she joined its Community Supported Agriculture (CAS) program.
"We would go to the farm when my kids were little, and they'd pick peas and green beans and raspberries, eating them right off the bush," the chef says. "We'd go to their festivals, and going to the farm really became part of our family tradition."
When she opened her eatery, produce and eggs from Phillies Bridge as well as from farms across Ulster County made their way to the restaurant's table, and using local ingredients is an integral part of Devereux' food philosophy, elevating, she says, every dish she prepares.
"We only make strawberry shortcake when strawberries are in season, when the farmers bring them to my door and they're still warm from the sun," she says. "Why would you want them any other way?"
So the weather and the calendar will determine, in a very large part, what is on the menu for this year's Meal in the Field. But what is certain is that it will be fresh, it will reflect the richness of the region and it will be nourishing.
"These are the best ingredients, the best chefs, the best volunteers, and the best company," Donna Eis, Phillies Bridge executive director, said to last year's guests. "See the beauty on your plate. And enjoy."
Peach Corn Cobbler with Crème Chantilly
Agnes Devereux of the Village TeaRoom Restaurant & Bake Shop in New Paltz baked this dessert for last year's Meal in the Field, and a year later folks are still talking about it. It showcases fresh local peaches from the Jenkins-Lueken Orchards in New Paltz at their very best, and only a few other ingredients are needed.
"We don't like to mess too much with delicious, fresh fruit," says the chef. Top this with lightly sweetened whipped crème; Devereux always uses Ronnybrook Farm's.
For the filling
6-7 medium peaches, ripe (about 6 cups)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
A pinch of table salt
4 teaspoons corn starch
For the topping
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
2 tablespoons stone-ground cornmeal (Wild Hive Extra Fine Cornmeal)
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus 2 teaspoons for sprinkling
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (½ stick), melted
1/3 cup buttermilk (Kate's Buttermilk)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the filling
1. Bring 3 quarts water to boil in large saucepan, and fill large bowl with 2 quarts cold water and ice cubes.
2. Score a small x at the base of each peach, then lower the peaches into boiling water with a slotted skimmer. Cover and blanch until their skins loosen, about 2 minutes.
3. Use a slotted skimmer to remove the peaches from hot water and place in ice water. Let stand to stop cooking, about 1 minute.
4. Starting from the scored x, peel each peach, halve and pit it and cut into 3/8-inch slices.
5. Toss peach slices, lemon juice, sugar and salt in a bowl and allow to macerate for 30 minutes.
6. Transfer peaches to a colander suspended over a bowl and capture the juices, then boil down the liquid to about 1/3 cup, until syrupy and thickened. Toss peaches in almond extract and cornstarch.
7. Put peaches in a deep, buttered 8-inch square pan and pour over the syrup. It may harden.
Cover dish with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes in an oven set at 350 degrees F.
To make the biscuit topping
1. Whisk flour, cornmeal, ¼ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl to combine. Whisk melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla in small bowl.
2. Put remaining 2 teaspoons sugar in a small bowl and set aside.
3. One minute before peaches come out of the oven, add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir with rubber spatula until just combined and no dry pockets remain.
4. Remove peaches from oven; increase oven temperature to 425 degrees F.
5. Pinch off 8 equal-sized pieces of biscuit dough and place on hot peach filling, spacing them at least a ½ inch apart (they should not touch). Sprinkle each mound of dough with sugar.
6. Bake until filling is bubbling and biscuits are golden brown on top and cooked through, 20 to 22 minutes. Cool cobbler on wire rack and serve with lightly sweetened softly whipped cream.