By Suzanne Parker
On a recent Wednesday night in September, we dined al fresco against the backdrop of fecund fields of vegetables, while being eyed suspiciously by an itinerant chicken and catching the occasional whiff of fresh manure. Did this happen at some bucolic paradise in upstate New York? Uh-uh. It was right here in our own fair borough at the Queens County Farm Museum.
We savored “Farewell to Summer,” which may or may not be the last of the season (we heard rumblings of an upcoming Octoberfest) of the Farm Museum’s Dinner on the Farm series.
Queens County Farm Museum, dating back to 1697, is the oldest continuously farmed tract in New York State. They sustainably grow 40 different crops and raise livestock and poultry. Their fields, vineyard, orchard, pens and coops produce everything needed for a gourmet farm meal. Although not an officially certified organic operation, they avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and their animals have plenty of access to pasture and the opportunity to engage in the activities that nature intended.
Supper-club chef Tamara Reynolds, co-author of “Forking Fantastic! Put the Party Back in Dinner Party” is the one that has been working her magic in the kitchen here. Her culinary style, at least for this event, was more homey than elegant. No gratuitous garnishes or gimmicky squiggles of sauce. She relied on the wonderfulness of the ingredients in thoughtful combinations to achieve results. Just the sort of thing you would expect from a gifted farm wife. Of course, working with ingredients this fresh would give any chef a leg up.
A pork-themed meal was served family-style to about 60 appreciative diners. One of the Farm’s happy pigs gave its life (in the most humane way possible at an agricultural teaching facility) so that we could enjoy. This was an especially welcome opportunity because, although we adore pork, we usually avoid it because of what we know about the way commercially raised hogs are treated, and the concomitant environmental problems they cause. This was a guilt-free pig out!
Cretons with pickled baby fennel, red onions & toast
Farm greens with beets & candied bacon
Watermelon, tomato & basil panzanella
Slow-cooked pork shoulder with rosemary & sage served with kohlrabi and leek remoulade
Bulgur pilaf with herbs
Wilted kale with fried eggs & garlic confit
Honey ricotta cake with plums
Cretons is a Quebecoise pork spread, bland in itself, but jazzed up in this case with the pickled baby red fennel and red onions. Farm greens with beets and candied bacon turned the virtuous greens into delicious decadence. Watermelon, tomato & basil panzanella, a salad emphasizing toasted chunks of crusty bread, was a well executed version of this summer’s food fad of watermelon turning up in salads. The meltingly tender pork shoulder, akin to pulled pork, was well punctuated with large crispy bits of the roast’s exterior, sometimes referred to as “bark” in the world of barbecue.
Although diners were encouraged to bring their own liquid refreshments, and most did, the Farm’s very own Queens County Farm Merlot 2006 flowed.
The diners were attracted from as far as Manhattan and as near as Little Neck by their shared passions for food, sustainable agriculture, and in some cases, their devotion to the Queens County Farm Museum. According to Andrew Pellicone, a diner who also volunteers there, “Everyone is so nice here it keeps you wanting to come back.” Another diner, attorney Hani Khalil, was drawn here from Manhattan because of his devotion to Tamara Reynolds’ cooking. We can’t argue with any of these reasons.
Queens County Farm Museum
73-50 Little Neck Parkway
Floral Park, NY 11004-1129
The Farm Museum is open year-round, Monday—Friday 10 a.m.—5 p.m. (outdoor visiting only) and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m.—5 p.m., when tours of the historic farmhouse and hayrides (weather permitting) are available.
The Farm Stand, where you can purchase produce, eggs, honey, and the Farm’s own wine is open from June through October, Wednesday through Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
Visit their web site for upcoming special events
You can read Tamara Reynolds’ blog at: