SOUTH SHORE – The fields are green and the fall garden is abundant on the banks of the Tygart River at Bennett’s Mill Farm where I have enjoyed this past week.
With fall approaching, it is time to reap the rewards of second plantings and bushels of beans, tomatoes, squash and peppers are begging to be picked and canned.
The opportunity to visit with friends, be here in the solace of the farm and help Fran Roberts put her second garden up are my reasons for being here.
Did I say solace? To be miles from any town, this may be the busiest place I have been to. I always say I live in the middle of a neighborhood on a busy corner, but the people in and out of here make me seem a hermit at home.
There have been trail rides led by Charlie Frasure, Fran’s son-in-law. I have to say the beautiful horses that were brought in on Saturday made me sorry I am not a rider. When the group returned late that evening, the soft whinnying of the horses was sweet music to my ears.
The smell of hickory from the smoker down at the barn wafted through the air. Kim Frasure, Fran’s stepdaughter, was busy preparing meat for a catering event she did on Saturday. Slabs of ribs and brisket, cooked low and slow beginning on Friday, came off the racks to be met with a swab of thick sauce and the beans baked absorbing the hickory smoke.
The aromas from dishes of fresh sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, and the flavors of vinegar and fresh herbs for the salads filled the huge catering kitchen built by the late Bill Roberts and dubbed the Dry Bean by him from his favorite book, “Lonesome Dove.”
This visit was truly an experience for the senses – eyes, ears, nose and taste.
And to fill my soul are the beautiful people who are both a part of and surround this farm.
The farm’s manager Ovie Fyffe and his wife Wilma come and go on a daily basis with Ovie working and Wilma bringing news from the community. As we work in the kitchen Wilma sings hymns as Fran and I rattle pots and pans. The old songs harkens back to another day and sometimes when Ovie shows up in the kitchen, he joins Wilma in a duet. After all, he is the song leader of his church.
IT'S HONEYCRSIP TIME
A trip to Portsmouth on Friday landed me an exciting find – my favorite apple was in a grocery. Honeycrisp lives up to its name – sweet, but not overly so just like honey, and crispy crunchy. Although a bit pricier than other apples, these delicacies are only available for a few months and only grown in cooler climates.
It’s the one apple I won’t cook with, because for me I just want to sit and enjoy every juicy bite. There are plenty of other apples that lend themselves to pies, cakes, baking or frying.
Shirley Barber, the sweet face that greets you in person at The State Journal or answers your questions by phone, shares my love for Honeycrisp. Hopefully, she too has already found them, but if not I have some for her.
Toward the end of their season, I always stock my refrigerator with them. They keep well and allow me a few more weeks of their deliciousness.
DINNER ON THE GROUNDS
Sunday brought Fran’s sister and farm co-owner Kathy Penkava and her husband Bob to the farm. Dawn Secrest who lives on the hill above the farm and her daughter Wendy who was visiting from Pittsburgh joined us.
It was such a beautiful afternoon, temperatures in the 70s and although by late afternoon clouds were rolling in, we decided it was perfect for dining picnic-style outside or as Kathy said, “al fresco.”
Dawn is a marvelous cook and provided us spanakopita and fresh cheese for appetizers. The flaky thin phylo-dough, her daughter Wendy had made on Saturday. The Honeycrisp apple provided the perfect accompaniment for the cheese.
Kathy had completed a quart mason jar of spiced-apple infused bourbon - it takes five days to cure. Once ready it is then added to sweet tea. The drink immediately brings the taste of fall. We served it in half pint Mason jars.
On our menu Fran and I had oven fried chicken breast, a slab of Kim’s ribs, and lots of garden vegetables – kale, fresh tomatoes and yellow squash which we roasted and from Dawn beets cooked with their greens.
For some reason unknown to Fran, she has an abundance of pattypan squash this season. For those of you unfamiliar, they are green, somewhat flat and scalloped around the edges.
I did a bit of digging on the Internet and found several recipes and decided to use suggestions from several to create an escalloped pattypan casserole.
Wash squash and slice lengthwise; depending on size, one may be all you need.
Butter a 9x13 casserole.
Put squash in the casserole and cover with dots of butter.
Sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper.
Crush crackers, I used saltines. Sprinkle over the squash.
Sprinkle crackers lightly with crushed sage (can omit or thyme would work well too) and generously with paprika and more black pepper.
Pour one and a half cups milk over all and add a few more dots of butter.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until crackers appear crispy on top and squash is fork tender.
It was dark with only the sound of crickets and occasionally a horse whinny from the field, when it came time for dessert. But we lingered in the cool air in candlelight, talking, eating dessert and sipping hot coffee.
I had decided our healthy farm dinner merited rich creamy dessert and made both pot de crème and a French silk walnut pie along with freshly whipped cream.
Years ago, Western Hills French teacher Claudette Delk gave me a recipe for pot de crème, similar to a soft pudding. I seldom make it but decided this dinner warranted it. In keeping with our country dinner theme, I used pimento jars instead of demitasse cups to serve it in. Its richness requires small servings, plus there was the French silk pie to try.
For you true chocolate lovers, this is a must-have recipe.
POT DE CREME
One 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate morsels; I used the dark chocolate ones and they come in a 10-ounce bag.
4 pasteurized eggs at room temperature.
Note: I know many people are afraid of raw eggs. But I have learned to coddle them in a bowl of very hot (not boiling) water for 5 to 7 minutes.
2 teaspoons vanilla or brandy. I used two tablespoons of Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream Liqueur.
Pinch of salt, about 1/8 teaspoon
8 ounces of strong, very hot coffee
To make: In a blender or food processor, put chocolate chips, flavorings, eggs, and salt. Blend for about two minutes until chips are melted. I scrape the sides and bottom (if using a blender) before I add the coffee. Add coffee and blend until everything is incorporated, about two minutes.
Pour into small dishes or cups. This recipe made exactly six full pimento jars. Refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight.
Serve with a topping of whipped cream.
As I have encouraged so many times, bring your family and friends together around the table, whether it’s inside or outside. Our pleasant September afternoon was filled with conversation, laughter, good food and loving friends. What a great recipe for Sunday dinner!