Monday, September 17, 2007

Dining in the Vines

We arrived at the vineyard about noon to begin setting up for the dinner. As we are used to setting up dinners for 130 to 140 people these days, we forgot that setting up for a 64 person dinner takes much less time. Our help arrived soon afterwards: Kelly and Elizabeth from Lexington, Kentucky, who were interested in Outstanding in the Field. When staffing for our dinners across the country, we network through friends, the restaurants/wineries or post ads on Craigslist. Today, we were fortunate for these two girls to reply to the craigslist ad and for them to make the hour plus drive up to join us for the afternoon/evening.

Chuck and Mary host concert picnics at the vineyard throughout the summer so, needless to say, they are used to having guests. They have the equipment for it too: a 16 foot, homemade grill that hitches up to the tractor to be moved. Chuck towed it out to the field where we had chosen the table site between the rows of Norton, Chardonel and Seyval grapes for Kathy to use later on. With more than enough time to spare for set up, the entire OitF team was happy to join the guests up at the barn and first wine/appetizer area to mingle and enjoy the welcome speeches. Here Kathy had some eggplant and tomato jam bruschetta and Judy Schad from Capriole Goat Farm shared a number of different cheeses.

Once all of the guests had arrived, Jim and Katy welcomed the crowd, then passed the attention over to Chuck. He spoke of how there have been eight generations of Smith farmers in Henry County and how Mary and himself had purchased their farm over 25 years ago. Originally, they grew tobacco and milked cows. Since then, they have grown organic vegetables and raised free range chickens, turkeys and beef cattle. Now, they have replaced tobacco with the vineyard and continue to raise sheep, cattle while making wine.

Digesting that information, guests wandered down to the table and meandered through the vines for a short while before seating at the table to feast, Wendell Berry’s sheep grazing closeby between the vines.

Click here to see a copy of Kathy’s beautifully crafted menu.

Guests enjoyed Earth Promises Farm chicken from Sandy Corlett, who may win the prize for telling the most entertaining story at the table this season. She shared with us an experience of waking up during the night to hear a rain storm and it pouring down on her new, young birds, not yet aware of their shelter. In the storm, she went out to the coop to find them all fast asleep and getting soaked. Shoo-ing proved futile, as the sleepy birds would only stand up, walk a couple of feet and plop back down again, narcoleptically. Sandy acted this out, as well as her next best option, which was to individually pick up and move each chicken under shelter. She performed her scooping up the chicken and jogging a few feet to put the oblivious birds down under shelter while reminding herself “three dollars a dozen, three dollars a dozen”. Hours later, she had moved over three hundred chickens and completed just in time to go into the house, get dressed and take the kids to school.

Ivor Chodkowski was well-featured on the menu, including his butternut squash, garlic and potatoes. Lamb came from Wendy Price of Shadowland Farm who was unfortunately unable to join us at the table. Overall, Kathy created an almost exclusively local meal, aside from the apples in the crisp, which were from Michigan, but not without reason: a harsh freeze in April had wiped out Kentucky’s entire apple crop. Even still, the crisp was delicious and nicely complimented Judy’s goat cheese ice cream. Upon tasting, guests were asking where they could buy the ice cream, which is unavailable commercially. Someone suggested Kathy start packing and distributing it, potentially a nice retirement plan? Hope to see Capriole Farm Goat Cheese Ice Cream in stores in the future…

Once again, by the end of the evening guests were leaving satiated and happy, having enjoyed a meal with their new friends at the table, including their local purveyors. They heard the stories of the vegetable farmer, the goat and chicken farmers and the winemakers and dined right next to the source – in the field.

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