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The henhouse at Winslow's Farm looks like something out of a little kids' storybook, complete with chicken ramp. It houses a band of Dominique hens (and a rooster), who slide down into the yard to peck at bugs and weed seeds and drink water out of tiny tin silos. Dominiques, a black-and-white ruffled breed that came to America with the Pilgrims, don't cluck—their call is more like a worried-sounding little purr. Friendly, they will come right up and stand on your foot if you let them. They're also surprisingly heavy—the thump they make when they bypass the gangplank and just leap out the coop door sounds like a cat jumping down from a counter.
"These guys," Ann Sheehan Lipton says, climbing out of the henhouse, both hands filled with brown eggs, "I keep for the eggs, and they also eat compost." Dominiques are a dual-purpose breed—they're layers and fryers—but these are more like companion chickens. In fact, Lipton expresses sadness at having lost a clutch of guinea fowl to some marauding creature one night last summer. The sole survivor perches on the roof of the tiny Quonset hut in the hen yard, because "she's been bullied a bit," Mrs. Lipton says, without the rest of her flock.
"There's something about chickens that's just extraordinary," she says. "When you collect eggs, they're very friendly and gentle...you just reach in there. It's just such a miracle, the whole thing. If you let them outside to breathe fresh air and run around—I don't deal with the same things that confined birds do, you know? I don't know why this seems like such a radical idea to everybody. People believe what they want to believe and then try to get nature to fall in line."
Tonight, Mrs. Lipton's eggs will be served as part of a "Free Range Fête," a farm-to-table dinner benefiting Food Outreach, a St. Louis organization that provides nutritional support for those living with HIV/AIDS and cancer. Mrs. Lipton and her husband, Randy, are proprietors of Winslow's Home, an offbeat, modern general store on Delmar Boulevard that carries everything from "mixing bowls to tiddlywinks," but also serves food, much of it grown on this tiny farmstead near Augusta. As Mrs. Lipton carries the eggs to the farmhouse, Winslow's chef, Cary McDowell, is over near the grill prepping garlic and a whole pig; soon the motor coach (which left University City earlier in the afternoon) will be pulling up to drop off the guests, each of whom has paid $225—the cost of feeding a Food Outreach client for one month—to attend.
After the bus arrives, the night begins with guests ambling down from the farmhouse to the growing field, where a white linen–covered table is set up with a variety of "tastes," including flatbread with summer squash, ricotta, and honey. The woman who raised the bees that made that honey, Clayton resident Joy Stinger (yes, that's her real name), is here, rubbing elbows with people like the Contemporary Art Museum's Paul Ha, whose vocation rarely lands him near beehives or barns, and the head of Food Outreach, Greg Lukeman.
"It was clearly Ann's idea to do this type of event," Mr. Lukeman says. "She has such an artistic talent and just a great spirit, and it's all about natural food and organic food and sustainable harvesting, so it was the perfect combination of raising awareness about how we should better manage food production and buy local and at the same time raising funds for Food Outreach. These farm-to-table events are quite the rage on the East Coast and in the Hamptons and on the Cape, but this is the first one here locally that we were able to do."
During cocktail hour, as fiddler Matt Wyatt and guitarist Justin Brennan play hot Paris jazz, guests stand at the edge of long crop rows planted with haricots verts, 'Black Beauty' eggplants, wonder peppers (a sweet bell variety), rhubarb, Brandywine tomatoes, and huge sunflowers, all grown from seed by herbalist and master gardener Joanna Kaslow. Though it's mid-September, the warm weather and the still-abundant vegetables (harvests were delayed in 2009 due to a cool and rainy growing season) make it feel a bit like late summer.
Dinner is served in the barn. Though the hay bales and farm implements remain, the space is dressed up with red and yellow sunflowers, placed in glass vases mounted to the walls; Tord Boontje's cascading "Midsummer Light" paper chandeliers hang from the rafters. The place settings, like the food, are simple but lovely: white porcelain café dishes, white tea lights, and lavender nosegays wrapped in muslin and tied with twine. And it's just one long table: a family-style dinner for 50. Wine is poured and people dig in to the appetizers already on the table, including those eggs, now boiled, sliced in half, and deviled, that Mrs. Lipton plucked from the henhouse. And though she might never eat one of her chummy, purring Dominickers, chicken is on the menu tonight, in addition to pork, lamb, and beef, all raised by local growers. There are also mysterious tiny greens, Brussels sprouts, delicate fingerling potatoes, and—wonder of wonders, despite all the rain this year—deep-red heirloom tomatoes, which need nothing more than to be sliced and put on a plate. The food's served up like it is at any family dinner table: The bowls get passed up and down the table (though of course these serving dishes are on the large side).
"It's great to do it in this setting, to bring people together to enjoy great food and support an organization that supplies food to people in need in the city," Mr. Lipton mused later that night, after dessert had been served and people were slipping out to the bonfire to make s'mores. "I'm also very excited about Cary McDowell, because he and Ann are kindred spirits, with their love of farming and food and sustainability and the whole farm-totable movement. We've owned the property for 10 years, but we didn't start farming it organically until three years ago. One of these days we'd like to have a place out here and spend all of our time here. It's so beautiful, when you come out here—you're completely removed from the city."
Concrete and smog were definitely the last thoughts on people's minds as they moved from the barn to the fire, passing under a sky with a clear spread of stars, the chirring of crickets and cicadas— the Dominiques had since gone to sleep—providing the incidental music.
Ann and Randy Lipton, owners of Winslow's Home
Winslow's Farm, Augusta
Cary and Holly McDowell
Mark and Lisa Thompson
Mike and Carole Brabbo
Peter and Anna DeRosa
Kathy and Terry Bader
Lou Bopp and Joanna Kaslow
David Brown and Michael
Bunny and Charles Burson
Marilyn Firestone and Leslie Katz
Paul Ha and Eva Lundsager
Anika and Daniel Hawks
Lisa and Jon Klorer
Barbi and Bill Macon
Sue McCollum and Todd Epsten
Betsy and Harry Orchard
Marni and Joel Rebmann
William and Julie Shearburn
Pam and Greg Trapp
Ben and Amy Trujillo
Susan and Rob Werremeyer
Tastes on the Field
Wood-Grilled Flatbread With Zephyr Squash, Fresh Ricotta, and Honey
Oyster Mushrooms, Amish Cheese, and Thyme
Smoked Trout and Horseradish
Grass-Fed Beef on Farm Toast
Dinner on the Shed
Deviled, Farm-Fresh Eggs
Tarts With Shiitake Mushroom, Tomato, and Goat Cheese
Figs With Peppered Farm Cheese
Zephyr Squash Gazpacho
Fresh-Cut Arugula Salad With Cucumbers, Heirloom Tomatoes, and Buttermilk
Roasted and Slow-Stewed Lamb
Grilled Amish Chicken
Berkshire Pork Belly
Beef Shoulder Roast
Chilled Wax Beans With Crème Fraîche and Sea Salt
Buttered Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and C rookneck Squash
(From Marcia's Pies)
Small Gooey Chocolate Cakes
Blueberry–Sour Cream Cake
Courtesy of Cary McDowell, Winslow's Home
Wood-Grilled Flatbread with Zephyr Squash, Fresh Ricotta, and Honey
For the flatbread, a Weber Kettle charcoal grill served as a wood-fired pizza oven by using a pizza stone over a very hot hardwood fire.
The easy way is to buy a premade, artisanal flatbread or pizza shell. Mr. McDowell likes the one available at Breadsmith (10031 Manchester, 314-822-8200, breadsmith.com), which works like a charm and has a good balance of crispiness and chewiness.
2 pizza shells
2 Zephyr or other fresh-picked sweet summer squashes
8 ounces ricotta cheese (the dryer, the better)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat stone as mentioned above, or in a hot household oven to 425.
Drizzle olive oil on each prebaked shell. Smear half of the ricotta on the shells, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Slice the squash lengthwise, paper-thin. Arrange with cheese layer on each shell, and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. On top, place irregular spoonfuls of remaining ricotta cheese, and season them with salt and pepper. This will "protect" the squash, and melt the same way traditional pizza cheese does.
Put pizza in oven. Assuming it's as hot as discussed earlier, it will take 2 to 3 minutes, or until the edges are crispy. It's important that the flatbread cools for a minute, to allow the cheese to relax.
Cut the flatbread, then pull fresh thyme leaves directly from stems onto the pie. Residual heat will activate its sweet oils.
Crack fresh black pepper from a pepper mill on top, and drizzle with your favorite honey.
Note: The pizza may be preassembled up to 4 hours ahead of time, which is nice for a party.
Fresh-Cut Arugula Salad with Cucumbers, Heriloom Tomatoes, and Buttermilk
The peppery flavor of fresh arugula is accentuated by the refreshing tartness of buttermilk. Sweet and tart heirloom tomatoes add depth to this farm salad.
4 large handfuls fresh-cut arugula
1 medium-sized, fresh-picked cucumber
Heirloom tomatoes (size and shape to taste)
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup buttermilk
Wash fresh-cut arugula by plunging down into ice-cold water, agitating firmly, and letting stand in the water for 1 minute. Transfer to a second bowl and repeat. Remove, and spin dry. Store cold until ready to use.
In two small mixing bowls, separate one large egg (reserve white for other dishes). Add a drop of water and 4 tablespoons red-wine vinegar to the yolk. Whisk until yolk becomes opaque in color, then slowly add 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and whisk until mixture is thick. Add 1/4 cup buttermilk to thin out, and adjust taste with salt and pepper.
Mix salad with buttermilk dressing. Serve immediately.
Roasted and Slow-Stewed Lamb
Mr. McDowell buys a whole lamb, preferring an animal between 50 to 80 pounds, which serves 40 people. (You can also use a combination of lamb cuts.) He suggests taking a trip to a St. Louis–area farmer's market, to which a couple of farmers of merit provide wonderful, fresh, mindfully raised lamb.
6 pounds lamb (maybe a mixture of shoulder and leg), bone-in
1 onion, large
2 stalks celery
1 parsnip (if available)
1 fennel bulb
12 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 tomatoes, large
Red wine (something cheap and balanced)
Preheat oven to 300. Put cast-iron or enameled-covered casserole dish on stove to preheat as well. (These retain heat and humidity; any covered pot will do fine.)
Season lamb surface aggressively with salt and pepper. Let stand.
Cut onion, celery, carrot, parsnip, and fennel into dime-sized pieces, to be puréed later to serve as the sauce's thickening agent.
Add oil to preheated casserole and sear lamb on all sides, creating a browned crust. Remove, and set aside.
While casserole is still hot, add all cut vegetables, including garlic, and stir. Place lid on casserole and cook, covered, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and slightly browned.
Add red wine and cook until it is reduced by 75 percent.
Add tomatoes. (Always add these after wine for more control of the acid and quicker cook time.)
Return meat to casserole atop the vegetable mixture, and cover with chicken broth. Replace lid, and place in oven for 3 to 4 hours, or until meat is tender. (Time varies depending on the size of the cuts of meat used.)
Remove and cool to room temperature. When cool, remove meat from bone, and place in suitable casserole dish. Make sure no bones or connective tissues remain.
Pour cooking liquid through a large strainer, then a small one, making sure to press enough pulp through to thicken sauce.
Pour over meat and let chill fully, as the meat will absorb all the juice it can. Remember: Pot roast tastes better the next day, so for best results, prepare dish a day in advance.
Mixed Berry Pie
Courtesy of Marcia's Pies
2 9-inch pie crusts, unbaked
5 cups mixed berries (blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries when possible, though any combination works)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
Gently mix berries in bowl with sugar, flour, cinnamon, and lemon juice.
Roll out one crust and place in pie pan, leaving about 3/4 inch hanging over edge.
Pour berries into dough-lined pie pan.
Cut butter into small pieces, and dot top of berries with them.
Roll out second crust and cut decorative slits in it. Place crust over berries in pie pan, again leaving about 3/4 inch of dough hanging over the edge. Fold top dough over bottom dough, tuck both under together, and press fold against pie pan's edge. Flute crust's edge with your fingers.
Bake at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes, or until crust is golden and berry juice bubbles up through slits.