A Farm Dinner at Hancock Shaker Village

September 17, 2013 by

escapes_badge_urbangardensweb

OIF_instagram

As a crisp autumn-like afternoon last week turned settled into a cool evening, three friends and I dined with about 150 others at a long communal table on the farm at Hancock Shaker Village  in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, about 3 hours from New York City and 2 hours from Boston.

outstandin-in-field-farm-dinner-sign-urbangardensweb

Outstanding in the Field, which started in the summer of 1998 in a Santa Cruz, California restaurant as a series of “farmer dinners” straight from the field with a few of their regular producers, has now crossed North America nine times from Alaska to Maine, ventured as far afield as Florence, Italy, and will close this season in Hawaii.

jim-outstanding-in-the-field-urbangardensweb

A crew of nine including Outstanding the Field’s founder, chef and artist Jim Denevan, above, travel field to field together across the country and camp in a bus he bought for $9,000 and took two and a half years to retrofit. “it looks good now,” Denavan remarked, “but you should really spend more on a bus.”

robnhorton-urbangardensweb-outstanding-in-field-bus

The tour, which I’d written about but until now had not experienced, has always been and continues to be about the relationship between the land, the farmers, purveyors, chefs.

little-boy-in-garden-oif-urbangardensweb

Fifteen years and many miles later, Denevan is still doing what he did from the start: featuring dishes whose ingredients come straight from the farm while the folks that grew the food, raised the animals, or caught the fish continue to join everyone for the meal.

outstanding-in-field-table-from-garden-urbangardensweb

Last year OIF served 87 dinners and 86 this year, “We’re slowing down,” quipped Denevan.

hancock-shaker-farm-outsstanding-in-field-urbangardensweb

We arrived a little early at around 3pm, which gave us time to wander around exploring the farm while sipping a peach lemonade made with local Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ice Glen vodka from Great Barrington, MA.

peach-lemonade-on-fence-urbangardensweb

Milling among some of the other early birds, we chatted with the “melon gal” and a woman who called herself “the chicken lady,” two of the local purveyors who were there to partake in the farm dinner experience.

farm-dinner-vignetter-urbangardensweb

Guests may either bring their own plates, the way it was done from the early days of the tour, or they can select from a pile of supplied mismatched plates as we did.

plates-signage-oif-urbangardensweb

plates-stacked-urbangardensweb

As some of the chefs chopped and diced, others grilled, and one stepped into the garden to pick some fresh basil.

sous-chef-oif-scallops-urbangardensweb

sous-chef-oif-urbangardensweb

sous-chefs-hugging-oif-urbangardensweb

bread-outstanding-in-field-urbangardensweb

“A garden is an index of the gardener’s mind,” said Bill Mangiardi, Director of Farm & Facilities. The Shakers, I learned, developed an underground water system for irrigating their farmland, which was donated n the late 1780s by local farmers who had converted to the Shaker movement.

hancock-shaker-village-oif-urbangardensweb

Hancock Shaker Village, in operation until 1960, grew to the 3,000 acres it is today, cultivating medicinal herbs, vegetables, fruits, and other crops, and a thriving dairy industry with its 1826 Round Stone Barn still the focal point of the property.

oif-shaker-village-round-barn-urbangardensweb

The farm operates a CSA and continues the Shaker tradition of seed saving, which they feel allows people to share a bit of history.

words-in-stone-urbangardensweb

tomatoes-grilling-oif-urbangardensweb

Busy observing the behind the scenes food preparations, we didn’t notice the first hour’s reception had started so we missed some of the passed appetizers. I did seek out a server passing Joshua Farm deviled eggs with Indian Line Farm roasted beet relish. Delicious. We never got to sample the Berkshire Valley Beef summer sausage with half-sour pickles and dijon mustard or the Willow Brook Farm sweet corn pancake with Rawson Brook Farm Monterey chevre.

beer-big-elm-brewing-oif-urbangardensweb

I chatted with local craft brewers, Christine and Bill Reaton from Big Elm Brewing who were pouring selections of their handcrafted beers. The couple met in 2003 while employed at Victory Brewing Company in Pennsylvania, where Bill was Christine’s boss. They later opened a brewpub together, but after deciding they enjoyed brewing more than running a restaurant, Big Elm was born. The 401 Farmhouse Ale I sampled contained whole flower chamomile, lemon zest, and Brazilian pink peppercorn from Himala Salt in Sheffield.

big-elm-beer-coaster-in-tree-oif-urbangardensweb

place-setting-oif-urbangardensweb

outstanding-in-field-server-pouring-urbangardensweb

OIF’s staff were meticulous about setting the table so every single glass was aligned from one of the long table to the other.

oif-long-table-to-shaker-barn-urbangardensweb

Up until the very moment we were seated, cutlery was adjusted, a water bottle moved a few millimeters to maintain the table’s symmetry, which was perfectly in line with the center of the Shaker Round Barn.

bottle-table-outstanding-in-field-urbangardensweb

oif-urbangardensweb-charcoal-for-farm-dinner

little-boy-in-vgetable-patch-oif-urbangardensweb

oif-view-from-barn-urbangardensweb

jim-outstanding-in-field-shaker-village-urbangardensweb

Outstanding in the Field Founder Delavan attends most of each season’s dinners. He shared a bit of the tour’s history, peppered with a few humorous anecdotes, then introduced the host farmers and guest chef, Brian Alberg, below, from The Red Lion Inn in nearby Stockbridge, MA.

chef-at-table-outstanding-in-field-urbangardensweb

 

table-horiz-oif-urbangardensweb

A short farm tour culminated at the table where five courses with wine pairings made three hours pass quickly.

sausages-oustanding-in-field-urbangardensweb

sabina_oif-urbangardensweb

sweet-corn-tomato-arugula-salad-farm-girl-urbangardensweb

mason-jar-candle-urbangardensweb

Desert was served by candle-lit mason jars as the late summer sun had already begun to set.

outstanding-in-field-menu-place-setting-urbangardensweb

The Farm Table Menu
Saturday, September 8, 2013

Chilled and smoked Berry Patch tomato soup with olive oil-poached Markisto Farm hakursi turnips, garnished with Lila’s Mountain mutton jerky.

Howden Farm sweet corn and Farm Girl gumball tomato salad, Equinox Farm arugula, BBQ Meat Market bacon.
NV Pere Ventura, Tresor, Brut Rosé, Cava

Wannabea Farm rabbit bratwurst, Raven & Boar pork shoulder choucroute with lacto-fermented kraut, mirepoix, toasted caraway.
2008 Sipp Mac “Rosacker” Riesling Grand Cru

Grilled Hudson duck breast, Thompson-Finch adirondack reds buttered Indian Line Farm celeriac, Farm Girl kale.
2011 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso

Dave’s melons with Cricket Creek Farm Feta, Hancock Shaker Village herbs and honey.

All images © Robin Plaskoff Horton for Urban Gardens. Please request permission before republishing.

 

 

Summary
  • Susan

    What a great night it was! it was also fun meeting so many interesting people that share a passion for good food. Maybe we’ll see you again next year. You’ll recognize me…your fellow curly girl diner.

  • http://www.urbangardensweb.com/ Robin Horton

    It was indeed and I so much enjoyed meeting and having you as a communal table mate! Yes, it’s a must for next year! See you there…

  • Laura Geiger

    Wow. Fantastic display of food and community.

  • http://www.urbangardensweb.com/ Robin Horton

    Laura, I really recommend experiencing one of Outstanding’s farm dinners. Think of it as more than a dinner, which it is. I’m so ready for the next one!

  • Lisa Jason

    Wow Robin! What an amazing experience! Thanks for documenting and sharing it.

  • Lindsey

    I represent the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and I would love to have copies of your images to use in promoting the region. We would most definitely always give you appropriate photo credit. Would this be something you would be interested in?

  • Judy Maier

    This looks and sounds so awesome Robin. I still look forward to visiting you, and it would be so amazing to share something like this with you. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Elizabeth

    I’ve always wanted to attend, but the price is a little steep for me. I follow along their blog and photo album on their website. What an extraordinary affaire!! Your photos are just stunning. Thank you.

  • Artizen Magazine

    Outstanding in the Field is such an amazing Experience (with a capital E!) We did an article on them in Artizen in one of our first issues and Jim, the founder, is also an amazing artist. Would highly recommend one of their events to anyone!

  • http://www.urbangardensweb.com/ Robin Horton

    Cindy, I am heading right over to Artizen to read your post. It was an honor for me in the past to be contributor to your quality publication.

  • http://www.urbangardensweb.com/ Robin Horton

    It is not inexpensive, but I guess you need to think of it as paying for a 4-5 hour experience that is more than a meal. You get to interact with the chefs and purveyors, the OIF staff and Jim are outstanding themselves, and the whole thing happens in a fabulous outdoor setting that you’d want to be in even without a meal. Hope you get a chance to experience it some time!

  • http://www.urbangardensweb.com/ Robin Horton

    Hi Judy! It was as great as it looked in the photos. Let me know when you are in NYC area, would love to reconnect!

  • http://www.urbangardensweb.com/ Robin Horton

    Hi Lindsey, can you please email me? robin (at) urbangardensweb.com, thanks!

  • http://www.urbangardensweb.com/ Robin Horton

    Hi Lisa! Yes, it was indeed a memorable experience. there are some good ones in the Denver area too–look for next season’s schedule.

  • http://www.urbangardensweb.com/ Robin Horton

    Thank you Laura, hope you get a chance to experience one of these.

The freshest innovative and eco-friendly designs, trends, and ideas for urban gardens and stylish small places.

Visit Robin Horton @UrbanGardens's profile on Pinterest.