Culinary Blog: Sweets of Summer

I’m sure the air in Maryland has already begun feeling like a swimming pool of humidity, as it always turns to the thick of summer so quickly around this time. When I think about working at the farm stands for the previous four years, I nostalgically recall that this is when it becomes necessary to bring two water bottles to work because we’ll be moving buckets of watermelons and cantaloupes in the sticky heat. When hydrating wasn’t enough, my coworkers and I usually took to spraying each other with the water mister that we use to quench the delicate greens. I look back on those days and sometimes get shocked that I’m not part of that this summer. I think about the friends holding down the farm stands this season and wish I could bring them ice-cold popsicles in the middle of the day because we always loved when people did that for us.

While I may not be in my original stomping grounds of Mass Ave, the crew I’m with today fills in some of what I’m missing from those days. It’s starting to feel like proper summer here in New England, and after hot hours of picking strawberries, greens, snap and snow peas, beets, and radishes which are all just coming into season for us, we run to the lake to release the tension in our bodies that farm and kitchen work causes. In a sense, and as I’ve mentioned in other posts, this job feels like a continuation of the concepts I was learning at Norman’s. Every Wednesday and Friday, we’re sent out to harvest, clean, and transport the produce, and then we complete the full circle when we break down the food and use them to make our fine-dining meals. This week, I picked several 5-gallon buckets of kale in the field only to find the same kale packed into boxes waiting for me on the prep table when I finished breakfast service. For about an hour, I tediously cut all the stems out and was left with still 10 gallons of uncooked kale that I then needed to steam off to have greens to go along with our eggs benedict dish. My fingers were green from handling the kale, and I had succumbed to putting a fatigue mat underneath my feet to relieve the pain from standing in one place for so long. Once cooked, the 10 gallons shrunk down to a measly 6 quarts, and although I was slightly frustrated by the outcome of long prep work, I couldn’t help but laugh at knowing I would have to do this same process all over again soon enough.

It always pays off though, even in the small delights like how green the kale looks after it is lightly steamed. I must have stood there in awe at the bright color for several minutes before returning back to my kitchen duties, it was just that beautiful. All of our hard work over the past six weeks here definitely paid off when my dad came to visit this past weekend. We enjoyed all that the farm has to offer, like the beautiful bike ride along the farm roads and sitting by the lake for sunsets each night. On his last night, we dined at my restaurant on the farm, which is extra special because the restaurant is currently only accepting reservations from our guests at the inn. We managed to get him a beautiful room at the inn, and both of us got to enjoy the attentive and stylish service and amenities of the Inn at Shelburne Farms. For dinner, we ordered several things off the menu but got complimentary dishes and desserts sent from my friends in the kitchen. To see how impressed my father was, someone who is quite the food critic, made me proud to be a part of the team. My heart was also full of pride from how delicious and well-plated each course was, and this experience gave me a new perspective of our food that I can take with me to the back of the house when I work again. It’s important to enjoy the products of your work from the eyes of the customer to truly understand the vision you’re putting out to the world. I can only hope that the other people who experience our food feel a similar sense of comfort coupled with the sophistication that I felt that night, which would make the whole, long process of our work more than worth it.

Local burrata, homemade focaccia, puffed quinoa, smoked spinach puree, sauteed spring onion tops, chopped Marcona almonds, and edible flowers from our farm.