When I set out to write the individual stories – perhaps they are more like mini-biographies – that form the backbone of
Farm to Table, I guess I thought I knew what “farm to table” meant. It seemed to me that it was a straightforward concept, unified and harmonious. There are parts of it that are shared and unified, but I learned it’s a much more complex and nuanced thing. It’s more random and disparate. It was really eye-opening to be able to talk with the chefs and farmers in the book and learn more about the realities of food and the restaurant industry. What’s happening in Perth County and the areas around Stratford is very cool and exciting if you love to eat, that’s for sure. It’s happening elsewhere too, but I think we can say that Stratford, with the Stratford Chefs School and the theatre scene, is special.
It’s hard to pick out just one example when there are so many, but a small farmer like Andrew Courtney, who operates A Still, Small Farm and focuses less on restaurants and more on the home dining table, is a producer who stood out to me. I walked through his fields and rows of vegetables one day. He described how he studies the soil on his farm and that he still has a lot to learn. Courtney told me that he believes he’s doing good for his community and that he’s carrying on a tradition of humans working in the fields for much of our history. Part of what motivates him is that it feels good doing something in the community that people need. His is a fairly typical story I heard.
I’m always in awe of people who dedicate themselves to a cause, so when I heard Pam Rogers’ story of how she’s an organic farmer and a social justice activist I thought, wow! For Rogers, the soil on Kawthoolei, her organic farm, offers her solace after her work with refugees on the Thai-Burma border. She will spend months and months helping vulnerable displaced people there, and then she returns home to her farming. “It’s therapeutic,” she told me about working the soil, “and at the same time it carries on the creativity as a way to express myself.” I think of how busy farmers are and the hard work they do and then add to that helping impoverished people in terrible and dangerous conditions—well, that’s just amazing.
You can sense some frustration when the relationships don’t work perfectly, too, as TNT Farms noted. They sell a lot of blueberries in and around Stratford, but another crop, unique sea buckthorn berries, is problematic: they are tart, and Nadia Walch says, “People don’t tend to gravitate toward tart things. But everybody knows blueberries and loves them.” She laughed when saying that. I also think about Max Lass at Church Hill Farm or Erin McIntosh at McIntosh Farms—they both really, really care about their animals and what they do as farmers. That’s something I think we need more of.
On the chef and recipe side, the range in this book is pretty wide, from complex techniques for confident home cooks and professionals to basic sandwiches and dishes to make for the family—like the "Father 'N' Son Rainy Afternoon Blyth Farm Mac 'N' Cheese" from Devin Tabor. And it’s funny how the recipes mean so much more when you can visualize who the farmer is and how he or she raised the chicken or grew the radishes. I think when you hear the cliché that the food “was prepared with love,” it goes back to the basic ingredients, where they came from, and how the cook used them. There’s a deep, “loving” connection there. And isn’t that what food is supposed to do—connect us just as much as it sustains us?
I think so.
Recipe: Father n' Son Rainy Afternoon Blyth Farm Mac n' Cheese by Chef Devin Tabor
You can use any of the Blyth Farm cheeses to satisfy your craving for the love and comfort that is the classic mac ‘n’ cheese. You could try Blyth’s Smoked cheese for smoky mac, a spicy mac using Blyth’s Jalapeno, velvety Golden Blyth or Blyth’s Cumin. In the recipe below, you can skip the roasted garlic and use Blyth’s Garlic cheese instead.
6 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups macaroni noodles
85 g (3 oz) unsalted butter
85 g (3 oz) flour
4 cups milk (2%)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg
8 strips good quality bacon cooked, cooled and diced
Roast the garlic cloves for about 20 minutes or until soft. Cut into small pieces and reserve.
Cook the macaroni noodles in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain and reserve.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter and slowly stir in the flour. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes then reduce heat and slowly whisk in the milk. (Optional: add the cheese rind in large pieces that can later be removed.)
Cook mixture, over medium-low heat, stirring gently, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Reduce the heat and whisk in salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove the cheese rinds (if you’ve added them) and stir in the roasted garlic, bacon, grated cheese, and cook until the cheese is melted.
Add the reserved noodles to the sauce and mix to combine. Pour into an oven-safe pan or casserole dish and bake until hot in the centre (test temperature by inserting a knife into the middle).
Sprinkle the mac ‘n’ cheese with the panko and return dish to the oven to bake until golden brown on top.
Chef Devin Tabor, Bon Vivant Catering.
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Thanks so much to Talia at Blue Moon for connecting Andrew's writing (and Devin's fantastic recipe), and for the beautiful photos from Terry Manzo. Farm to Tableis available now.
For more mouthwatering Test Kitchen cookbook recipes,
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