Dinner in the Field: Where Does Your Food Come From?

by kelly vass in


 Disclosure: I was given one free ticket to this Seasons on the Farm event. However, as always, opinions expressed and soft-shell crabbing tips are entirely my own. 

Seasons on the Farm Vegetable Spread

Do you know where your food comes from?

On Saturday night, mine came from Cindi Filasky, or, at least my collards and kale did. The vibrant mound of greens supporting a lightly breaded softshell crab came from Filasky's Produce in Middletown, Delaware. Because I mostly write about sweets, what you don't know is that when I eat, I try buy almost all of my produce from local farmers. And, more than that, I make it a point to start a conversation at the farmstand with the growers and food artisans to gain a deeper appreciation for my food and how it was grown. I was lucky enough to be sitting next to the grower of the verdant greens beneath my entree, as part of a Seasons on the Farm dinner in the field, an evening to benefit the Food Bank of Delaware and honor the hard work and efforts of Delaware farmers held at the beautiful Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin, DE. 

The venue was a perfect setting for a celebration of agriculture and quality locally-grown ingredients. The event was set up on a hill overlooking the fields below, which were smothered in golden sunshine and an endlessly blue sky, which stopped only at the seams of the white tent, where dinner was held later that evening. It was the kind of bucolic beauty the poets write about; a landscape that leaves you speechless at sunset when it becomes peony pink, cantaloupe orange and amber honey all at once. The tables featured gorgeous colorful bouquets, yet the trays of food served as both decoration and reminder to why we were all out in the first place: to celebrate, appreciate and enjoy the passion, craft & dedication of Delaware farmers.

Shortly after arriving to the dinner, I made my way over to the gorgeous spread of vegetables and piled my gleaming white plate with jewel toned peppers and glistening mushrooms. As I walked over to a bench, Cindi introduced herself and said, "If you're having the crab cake tonight, you'll get a chance to try some of my kale and collards!" I had chatted up plenty of farmers at farmers markets in my lifetime, but it was usually to ask quick questions about when something would become available or what I planned to do with what I was buying. I had never had the chance to spark up a deeper conversation. I didn't know how many children any of the farmers at my market have {Cindi has three--two sons and a daughter}. I never thought to ask if there was ever a year that their corn crop wasn't ready in time for the 4th of July {Cindi can count on one hand}. In fact, I never considered that corn wouldn't be ready in time for the 4th of July because I never thought about how long it took to grow corn or what was involved in corn cultivation. 

Cindi was kind enough to run through the corn-growing process for me, detailing the differences, benefits and challenges to growing corn on a hill vs. growing it "on plastic." Now, being that I've only attempted to grow one stalk of corn in my life {I was 8. It was in my dad's garden. The birds ate every last kernel}, I had no idea what she was talking about. She politely met my blank stare with a smile and an explanation: growing on plastic meant starting the seed under a sheet of plastic to act as a sort of mini-green house. Then, when the weather warms up, they make cuts in the plastic to allow the corn to escape, which also prevents the corn from getting too hot and burning. It struck me in this moment that there was a difference between knowing the name of the farm your food comes from and actually getting to know farmers and understanding what is involved in the process of planting, growing and harvesting food. 

 I had the opportunity to meet and get to know other farmers too. As the group chatted, I met a couple who raise over 120,000 layers for major chicken companies. I met Laura Emerson, the former Delaware Dairy Princess and 2011 National Red and White Queen. We chatted about going away to college, her family's dairy farm and their newly-opened ice cream stand. As everyone shared a bit about themselves, there were reoccurring themes of the farm (naturally), happiness, helping, community and family. Throughout dinner, people initiated conversation as if they were picking it up where it last left off--inquiring thoughtfully about a friend's grandchild or congratulating someone about a contest they had entered and won. All the while there were questions about when crops were coming in or whether the Mitchells were going to package chocolate ripple ice cream with peanut butter swirl. 

 

Cindi Filasky

Cindi Filasky, with collards & kale picked from her farm, Filasky's Produce

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hand cut noodles

Hand-cut noodles with sweet pea-pine nut cream, and a grilled vegetable ratatouille kabob. {I did not try this, but it looked like the perfect springtime meal! Everyone at our table remarked at how gorgeous it looked} - Paired with Fordham Brewery's Old Dominion Beach House Golden Pilsner, noted as having a "pleasing herbal hop flavor countering and then outscoring the sweet malt foundation."

mushroom empanada

Crispy masa empanada, oyster and maitake filling, chili creme, avocado brodo. This was delightful. The pastry was the perfect thickness (there is nothing worse than masa that's thick and underdone or too thin and soggy!). The mushrooms added an earthy contrast to the buttery crust of the empanada. The chili creme cut through the buttery richness of the oil and the avocado brodo? Let's just say I tilted my plate to scrape every last drop onto my spoon. {I got permission from my dining guests first!}

This was paired with 16 Mile Brewery's Responder {Georgetown, DE} - "Choice English barley, a touch of wheat and mild bittering provide the foundations for this light-bodied beer whose story is not light on fortitude." 

black cocoa ice cream.jpg

Signature "night under the stars" ice cream from Woodside Farm Creamery featuring black cocoa ice cream with blue and gold edible stars and moons, served with a toasted barley tuile with boubon strawberry compote. HEAVEN. When I was invited to this event, I was told that it would be worth the drive for Woodside Farm Creamery's ice cream alone. {Hana, you weren't kidding!} The ice cream was decadent and silky without being too rich. The bourbon strawberry compote was the perfect balance of sweet with a note of tartness and the barley tuile added a savory crunch to top it off. The edible gold stars? Just plain fun to eat!

crab

Pan seared soft-shell crab cake with beurre l'orange, roasted fingerling potatoes and sauteed kale & collards from Filasky Produce. 

There is a sincere art to cooking collards. Admittedly, it's one I have yet to master. And, having heard Cindi talk about how dedicated her family is to growing quality produce, I am pleased to say that chefs Eric D. Aber and Tom Craft (and their team!) made these greens shine. They were tender and vibrant without being bitter and elevated to new levels of lovely when dipped into the beurre l'orange. As I took each bite, I thought about how well the dish was executed and how, by being intentional about cooking (aka not burning/ruining/rushing through the cooking process) and being thoughtful with ingredient combinations, it was honoring the food that the Filaskys and all the other farmers work so hard to cultivate. 

The entree was the most special part of the evening, as it was a reminder of the power food has to connect--to memory and to each other. The sauteed greens were the impetus for the initial conversation about what the Filaskys have on their farm (one that led to talk about strawberry picking, pumpkin classes, and garden patches) and led to a discussion about family (grandkids staying over, children moving away, families who visit their farm). The soft shell crab allowed me to share pieces of my family with my dinnerguests; as the lightly-battered shellfish brought back memories of my sister and I catching blue shell crabs off the end of a dock at my father's marina. As we ate, I shared this memory with the table, including the tried-and-true method of using a raw chicken drumstick on a stick to catch crabs. We were all eating the same amazing dish, but it stirred up different associations for all of us and yet still allowed us to relate and share with one another.

the Mitchells and Chefs Aber and Craft

I would like to thank Chefs Eric D. Aber of Home Grown Cafe and Tom Craft of 2FatGuys (pictured, right) and their team for their creativity and playfulness in designing the menu for the evening. I also thank them for showing respect to each ingredient and the farmers who grew them by perfectly executing each dish.

An enormous thank you to Jim and Janet Mitchell (pictured, left) for inviting us all to their beautiful creamery and being such attentive, gracious hosts for this wonderful event. I was honored to sit with them at dinner and learn about ice cream production, the creative process behind inventing flavors, the history of Woodside Farm Creamery (it's a 7th generation dairy farm that's been in operation since 1796!) , the insights and challenges of farm life and, most poignantly, the role family plays in their operation. 

This entire experience was as educational as it was enjoyable. I would strongly suggest stopping by Filasky Produce (get some corn if it's in season!) and the Woodside Farm Creamery (try all the flavors and report back!)  if you are passing through Delaware. And if that's not in your neck of the woods, eat local, find out where your food comes from, and get to know the people that work so hard to bring you nutritious, delicious ingredients!