Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Stone Soup Meals at the Poetry Farm

Dinner meals were a collective, creative effort at the Poetry Farm, a writer's colony and organic fruit and vegetable farm in Orfordville, Wis, at which I was a resident for two weeks.

Both residents and full-time farmer Henry would trade off cooking, assisting and clean-up duties. It almost became a game to try to come up with elegant meals using mostly what was on hand, fresh from the farm.

In one version of the children's story Stone Soup, a traveler came to a woman's door with a stone and added it to a pot of water she placed on the hearth. He kept telling the woman the soup was good just as is but if she just added a bit of carrot, then butter, turnip and one thing after the other, it would taste so much better. In the end, it was a full, delicious soup.

Being mid-September, pears and many vegetables were in profusion, and the hens had reached a stage of maturity to begin laying eggs on a regular basis.

Resident Ariana (pictured above) created a simple, though luscious fresh pear salad, dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and gorgonzola cheese. Henry graced us twice with a gratin, one vegetarian, one not, using home-grown onions, garlic, carrots, Russian kale, tomatoes and red pepper over penne pasta. I tried whipping up a tomato egg curry from the Moosewood Cookbook, handily available on the kitchen shelf. It included fresh tomatoes, red pepper, garlic and eggs from the farm, with a curry sauce made from a combination of pantry items and served over brown rice.

A taco buffet included many fresh chopped vegetables and a stone soup contained no stone, but used chicken broth as a base continuously heaped with whatever available items we could chop and throw into the pot, including carrots, bell peppers, fresh thyme and basil, onion, garlic, small cut potatoes, shucked corn, a can of black beans and the secret seasonings of white wine, olive oil and butter.

It was particularly fun to make stuffed bell peppers, to find the largest ones from the gardens, clean and blanche them in boiling water for a minute, then see how many layers of ingredients could fit in before each overflowed. I managed to place a small slice of tomato on the floor of each pepper and then continue with sections devoted to brown rice, grated parmesan cheese, and ground beef loaded with chopped onion, garlic, and fresh rosemary and basil. On the larger peppers, I tried to slip a peeled soft-cooked egg in the midst of the beef without breaking.

On the last night, Henry also churned up some homemade ice cream, flavoring with grape syrup made from vineyard grapes which had been previously boiled down and cooled. I never had grape ice cream before. The wine of ice creams!

Although I had brought along an assortment of snacks from home -- goji berries, almonds and cherry pie Larabars -- in case I was hungry, I rarely ate them since the meals were so hearty and satisfying, even when doing four hours of farm work everyday. ◦

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