Saturday, July 26, 2014
The day was nondescript, utterly unremarkable. It was neither too warm nor too cool (both of which we have experienced this summer), neither sunny nor overcast. But it was special nonetheless because our evening plans included a farm dinner.
Not my “farm,” (for a dinner there would not be so special), we are going to a place called Willoway Farm to eat dinner outside in the big garden from whence will come all our food (minus the steak), cooked for us by the chef and owner of Braise, David Swanson.
The drive there was through gorgeous Wisconsin countryside, dotted by red barns and white houses separated by immense fields of corn or soy beans, here and there a pasture of black and white cows and even chunky little calves. I was just imagining a blue sky in this idyllic picture because when we arrived at the farm, the sky was still hazy white, as it had been all day.
Willoway Farm is an organic, family farm run by Dan Bertram and Jacqui Fulcomer, with help from Dan’s parents (especially babysitting a toddler and an infant). Living here since 2006, the Bertram-Fulcomer team has fashioned this farm into their own creation. Rows of vegetables and flowers stretch behind the house in a merry confusion of colors and shapes.
Hedges are elderberry and hazelnut bushes, or (would you believe?) perhaps 6 foot high asparagus. Jacqui took us for a walk around the farm, explaining the crop rotation, what is blooming now, what is coming up for fall and what has already been “plowed” under for next season. Thinking out loud, she described the changes she has seen as well as the changes she may make.
We ended up at the top of a hill, overlooking the farm and the valley beyond. The hilltop is dotted with young apple trees. Dan has grafted heritage varieties of apples onto the basic stock. Some of the young trees have tiny fruits, but they are still not ready for production. As we scan the valley beyond the farm, we can see the damage a wet spring and summer has wrecked upon the field of corn from the adjoining farm. Large patches are barren, even muddy-looking from this vantage.
Our cava in hand and Spanish egg tortilla-based appetizer (made from eggs collected on this farm today) tasted, ooh-ed and aah-ed over, we were ready for dinner. The sun was now shining, heating up the evening but promising an uninterrupted dinner al fresco.
We made our way to the big long table – set for 30. Dan and Jacqui and their family joined 24 paying guests for dinner. Wild flowers danced gaily from mason jars spaced along the center, while colorful, mismatched napkins laid at the ready along the sides of the long, white tablecloth.
At this point Chef Dave came out to welcome us and to talk about the Spanish-themed dinner he has created. First up is a cucumber-almond-white grape gazpacho. Second is a tiny salad of fresh mixed greens and a grilled leek. The main course is beef tenderloin with a Romesco sauce and last but not least, a small cake with whipped crème fraiche and berries (no sugar added. Everything was divinely good.
Good, too, and fun (!) were our varied dinner companions. Lively conversation, interesting new people, excellent food, all al fresco on a summer evening in late July: What could be closer to Heaven?
Click on the links provided in the text above or here for more information on Willoway Farm and Braise restaurant. Be sure to get on the email list for Braise restaurant if you live anywhere within range. If you get the opportunity to participate in a dinner like this, you will enjoy it immensely!