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Independence Day

Steve Adams

Some houses are tailor-made for parties. Take Versailles, for example. Or the White House. What slightly sloping lawn would be better for the annual Easter egg roll? In southern Illinois, the place for an Independence Day celebration is, unquestionably, the Meyer Farm.

"This place is built for Fourth of July, because we are on a hill," the host, Mark Meyer, observes. The farmhouse sits at the peak of a long slope, surrounded by fields of grain. The picnic table is constructed out of boards left over from a barn built in the 1860s. The land was first purchased four generations ago, in 1849, by Mr. Meyer’s great-grandparents, George and Anna, who were farmers. They bought it in two pieces: one 160-acre stretch and another 80 acres that are now under Carlyle Lake (built in 1962). Since then, the land has been tended by the Meyer clan—Mr. Meyer’s grandfather, Walter, and then his son (Mr. Meyer’s father), David. During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the farm’s three ponds and terraced the land.

Fifteen years ago, long after his father had moved a few miles away, Mr. Meyer and his wife, Nicole Sheridan, had to decide whether they would refurbish the house or "let it go." Sentimentality ruled. But the condition of their homestead was dubious at best. "We came in one time, and there was a dead raccoon on the top of the stairway," Mr. Meyer recalls. Today, the house is pristine. While the floors are original, the walls have been repainted a soft yellow, the windows are new, and the frames precisely replicate the original design. Mr. Meyer and Ms. Sheridan also added a second bath upstairs and transformed an antiquated kitchen into a gourmand’s dream.

Mr. Meyer and Ms. Sheridan now reside on the farm for five months a year and in Sydney, Australia, for the remaining seven. She runs Australia’s National Tourism Alliance; he is a commodities trader. The farmland is leased to a neighbor who harvests the corn, soybeans, and winter wheat crops.

When the family is back in Illinois, they host parties. "A lot of parties," Mr. Meyer says, adding that he invites neighbors and friends from both Australia and St. Louis. "All of our friends are ‘foodies’ and wine-lovers. Usually the combination has to go together.

"We try to grill," Mr. Meyer says. "We have a garden, and our neighbors have a lot of sweet corn. We also have peach trees." But to fill in any ingredient blanks, he also shops the outdoor markets in both Illinois and St. Louis, having just recently discovered the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market.

The picnic pictured here is just a dry run for the annual Meyer family get-together. The guests at this May fête included some of Mr. Meyer’s oldest friends (Drs. Stan Huels and Nanci Wood-Huels), as well as the Adamses and Carpenters (friends for the past decade) and recent "foodie" acquaintances Something Elegant Catering’s Linda Pilcher and Tom Kennedy, DinnerStyle’s Karen Tedesco, and Sheila and Cory Kleinschmidt. Accompanying the writer were her nieces, 4-year-olds Lily Pilz and Ella Seidel, and Scottish terriers, Lillie and Lucky.

But come the real Fourth, the Meyer/Sheridan farmhouse will be filled with far more friends and more family. "The Fourth of July has been a tradition, but it is only a tradition in the sense that everyone wants to see my wife," Mr. Meyer says. "She’s always here on the Fourth. And that is the only time you can be guaranteed she will be here."
 

Menu

Grilled Pork Loin
Grilled Mushroom and Potato
Salad With Haricots Verts
Roasted Corn Salad With Tomatoes and Basil
Tomato-and-Onion Tart
Marinated Zucchini and Yellow Squash Salad
Rustic Artisanal Breads
Watermelon Lemonade
Homemade Berry Popsicles
Mixed Berry Pudding with Whipped Cream
 

Recipes

Mark Meyer’s Pork Recipe
Adapted from the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook

2 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon fennel seed
4 branches rosemary
4 branches sage
Salt and pepper

The day before, lard pork loin with garlic, making incisions into underside of roast with a small, sharp knife and inserting garlic slices. Season generously with salt and pepper. Crush fennel seeds in a mortar, and sprinkle over meat. Press rosemary and sage branches into meat. Using butcher’s twine, tie up roast, using a simple slipknot finished with a half hitch every 3 inches. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

An hour or so before cooking, remove meat from refrigerator so it can warm to room temperature. Start grill. Indirect heat is used for most of cooking, so have hot coals on only one side of grill. Sear meat above coals for a few minutes on each side, then move to other side of grill. Place grill lid’s vents over meat, and let cook for 20 minutes or so. Then turn meat so other side is facedown to the hot coals.

It should take around 40 minutes to cook—roast should reach 130 to 140 degrees on a meat thermometer. Let rest for 10 to 20 minutes before carving.


Linda Pilcher’s Grilled Mushroom and Potato Salad with Haricots Verts
Serves eight

For sherry vinaigrette:
1 medium shallot, finely minced
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fig preserves (or honey)
2 teaspoons chopped capers
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

For potato salad:
18 medium red potatoes
6 portobello mushrooms, stems removed
1/2 pound haricots verts
1 large red onion, sliced into rings 1/3 inch thick
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat gas or charcoal grill to high.

Brush mushrooms and onion slices with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill mushrooms 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cooked through. Slice thinly and place in a large bowl. Grill onion slices, turning once until tender. Coarsely dice onion and add to bowl. Cover to keep warm.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook potatoes over high heat until done but still firm to the touch, about 10 minutes. Cut cooked potatoes in half. Brush cut sides with olive oil, and grill cut-side-down until golden grill marks appear. Cut each half into two pieces, and add to bowl with mushrooms and onions.

Trim ends of haricots verts, and add to pot of boiling water. Boil until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to stop cooking process. Add to bowl of mushrooms, onions, and potatoes.

Pour sherry vinaigrette over warm potato mixture, and mix gently to combine. Add thyme and parsley and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as desired.

Serve at room temperature over a bed of arugula.


Sheila Kleinschmidt’s Marinated Zucchini and Yellow Squash Salad
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided in half
1/2 cup cider vinegar
3 zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 yellow squash (about 1 pound)
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/2 cup basil leaves, packed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

Combine vinegar, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl until sugar dissolves. Trim ends of zucchini and squash. Cut into thin ribbons with harp-shaped peeler or mandoline. Add to vinegar mixture. Cover and chill 2 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, drain.

For basil oil: Bring a small pan of water to a boil. Add garlic clove. After 1 minute, remove clove with a slotted spoon. Rinse under cold water and set aside. Reserve 1 tablespoon of cooking liquid. Transfer garlic and basil to a food processor; add lemon juice, olive oil, reserved liquid, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Process until smooth.

Toast pine nuts in oven at 325 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside. Arrange squash on platter. Drizzle with basil oil. Top with cheese, pepper and pine nuts.


Karen Tedesco’s Roasted Corn Salad with Tomatoes and Basil
Serves 10 to 12

1 pound fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup prepared basil pesto
2 pints sliced cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup small, fresh basil leaves

Combine corn, oil, salt, and black and cayenne pepper on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Roast in 425-degree oven 15 minutes or until golden brown, stirring once or twice.

Stir in pesto and tomatoes; season with salt and pepper if desired. Transfer to a serving bowl, and garnish with fresh basil.


Linda Pilcher’s Tomato-and-Onion Tart
Serves 12 to 16

Butter pastry dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into bits
6 to 7 tablespoons ice water

Filling:
2 large onions (about 1 1/2 pounds), sliced thin
2 tablespoons olive oil
Butter pastry dough for single-crust 12-inch tart
1/2 pound Jack or Gruyère cheese, shredded
1/2 pound plum tomatoes sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup niçoise or kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half lengthwise

For Pastry Dough: In a large bowl, whisk together flour and salt. With a pastry blender or fingertips, blend in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork to incorporate, until mixture begins to form dough. On a work surface, smear dough in three or four forward motions with heel of hand to slightly develop gluten and make dough easier to work with. Form dough into a ball, and flatten to form a disk. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and chill 1 hour. Pastry dough may be made up to one week ahead and chilled.

For Filling: In a large, covered skillet, cook onions with salt to taste in olive oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes or until softened. Remove lid and cook onions, stirring occasionally, until golden and any liquid has evaporated. Remove skillet from heat to cool onions slightly.

Preheat oven to 375. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough with a rolling pin into a 14-inch round (about 1/8-inch thick). Fold round in half and transfer to a 12- inch tart pan with removable fluted rim. Unfold dough, easing to fit, and trim overhang to 3/4 inch. Fold overhang toward center and press against side of pan to form slightly thicker edge. Spread onion mixture over dough, and top with cheese. Arrange tomato slices in concentric circles over cheese, and arrange olives decoratively among tomato slices. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake tart in middle of oven about 1 hour or until pastry is golden. Cool on a rack. Remove rim of pan to serve. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.


Linda Pilcher’s Berry Summer Pudding
12 1/2-inch-thick egg bread slices
12 ounces strawberries, sliced
1 pint raspberries
1 pint blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Sweetened whipped cream

Start preparations at least one day in advance; this dessert can be made up to two days before serving. Line six 3/4-cup custard cups with plastic wrap, leaving a 3-inch overhang on all sides. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut one round from each bread slice and reserve.

Combine fruit and sugar in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves and syrup forms. Simmer until berries release juices, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice.

Cool to room temperature. Spoon 3 tablespoons of fruit mixture into bottom of each custard cup. Top with one bread round. Top each with remaining fruit mixture, divided equally. Place one bread round atop each; press into fruit mixture to compact. Cover each tightly with plastic-wrap overhang, then place on baking sheet. Top cups with another baking sheet. Place several food cans on top of baking sheet to weigh down. Chill overnight or until time to serve.

Unfold plastic wrap from top of custard cups. Invert each onto a plate. Remove plastic wrap. Spoon whipped cream alongside and serve.


Berry Popsicles
Serves eight

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup each fresh or frozen strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan, and heat over medium-high heat until simmering. Stir to dissolve sugar, then remove from heat and set aside. Pour berries and syrup into a blender or food processor; process until smooth, about 30 seconds. Pour mixture into eight Popsicle molds; freeze at least 6 hours before serving.


Karen Tedesco’s Watermelon Lime Cooler
Makes 12 cups

8 cups seeded, chopped watermelon
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 thinly sliced lime

Blend all ingredients (except for sliced lime) in a blender until smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer or colander to capture any seeds. Serve over ice.

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