Farm Dinners Serve Up Local Food, Ambiance

Farm dinners happen at St. Brigid's Farm in Maryland rain or shine. They serve multicourse meals in the field.

Farm dinners happen at St. Brigid's Farm in Maryland rain or shine. They serve multicourse meals in the field. Courtesy St. Brigid's Farm hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy St. Brigid's Farm

The locavore movement, which favors locally produced food, has inspired many people to get in touch with their inner farmer. That's easy during the harvest season, when farms across the country invite their neighbors over for dinner.

"Farm to fork" takes on a whole new meaning during dinner in the middle of a pasture, with cows.

From spring through fall, there are numerous neighborhood farms where a professional chef will serve an elegant multicourse meal of local foods grown by the farmer, who sits at the table alongside the guests.

One New Hampshire farm features a dinner with meat from pigs, pasture-fed and raised under pure sunshine. There's a hayride, too.

In Minnesota, a family-friendly farm dinner includes live bluegrass music, a bonfire and overnight camping. All of the tableware is compostable. Midwest farmland is also celebrated at dinner among the fruits and vegetables in the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Most dinners start with cocktails and a farm tour. Then the chefs and farmers talk about each course as it's served. Dinners are organized by the farmers or put together by farm dinner companies.

Meals in the Meadows, organized by the Farm Institute, started about 10 years ago, before "sustainable" was a common vocabulary word. The idea is to connect eaters with the people who cook and grow their food. Now that even bean sprouts can be contaminated, people want to go to the source.

One pioneer is surfer/artist/chef Jim Denevan. His company, called Outstanding in the Field, served 10,000 diners across North America in 2010. Outstanding sets up its signature single, long, white cloth-covered table at sites like a natural cave on a Bay Area beach below a soaring cliff, serving fish from local waters. At the other extreme? Dinner at a rooftop farm in Queens.

Some farm dinners are under tents, but most are under the sky. Judy Gifford of St. Brigid's Farm in Maryland says sitting out in the open at one long table is part of the magic. Of course, there is always weather. For the first St. Brigid's Farm dinner, it poured. So they moved into the new barn and used tiki torches as lights and empty water troughs for wine and beer. Gifford says it was great.

These experiences do not come cheap. Outstanding in the Field charges at least $200 per person for a seat at the communal table. Most farm dinners are $100 and up. Many farms donate all or a portion of their proceeds, while the companies are run for profit.

Why do people go? Well, if you grow it, cook it and serve it, they will come.

Chard Tart Recipe

With its stems of vibrant red, orange, yellow, pink and deep to palest green, rainbow chard is a beautiful leafy green. The abundance of fresh chard and the olive oil in the crust give this rustic tart an earthy, nutty flavor. The pat-in-pan crust makes it easy to put together. Recipe courtesy of Outstanding in the Field.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 to 3 tablespoons ice water

1 large bunch rainbow chard (about 3/4 pound)

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 large egg yolk

1 onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

3 large eggs

1/3 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil and pulse a few more times. Add the ice water a little at a time and pulse just until the dough begins to come together. Use your fingers to press it into the base and up the sides of a 10-inch tart pan with a removable base. Wrap loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Clean chard leaves and remove the stems, reserving them. Trim ends off the stems and discard. Cut the stems into small dice, about the same size as the onion. Cut the chard leaves in half lengthwise and then into 1-inch wide strips. Strip the rosemary leaves from their stem and coarsely chop.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the crust from refrigerator. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. While crust is baking, mix the egg yolk with a pinch of salt. Remove crust from the oven and brush with egg yolk. Bake until the glaze is set, about 2 minutes. Remove crust from oven and set aside.

Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

While the crust is baking, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the chard stems and chopped rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 to 10 minutes, until stems are tender. Clear a small space in the pan and add garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then stir the garlic into the onion and chard stems. Raise the heat to medium. Stir in the chard leaves and season with salt. Cook until leaves are wilted and soft and any liquid has evaporated, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.

Beat together the eggs and cream and season with salt and pepper. Add the chard mixture and grated cheese and mix well. Scrape the filling into the prepared shell.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until just set. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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