As part of an assignment for GRIT Magazine, I was asked to attend what I thought would be an ordinary farm-to-table dinner event at a local farm – well, relatively local, since it was about a three hour drive from where I live in Lawrence down to the Wichita suburbs. Regardless, it was a beautiful October Saturday and a perfect afternoon for a drive through the Kansas Flint Hills. Now I suppose I should explain what I mean by “an ordinary farm-to-table dinner event,” since these things really are great and part of what I live for as a trained chef and local food enthusiast – I told you, I do this stuff for real. What I really mean to say is that this event, and the family who put it on, exceeded my expectations so thoroughly that I feel the need to explain the difference. This wasn’t just another dinner out where local food was served; this was a family welcoming you into their home to enjoy the hard-earned fruits of their labor in an atmosphere, and with a menu, that rivaled some of the finest restaurants out there. Like I said, this was anything but an ordinary farm-to-table dinner experience. This was a dinner at Elderslie Farm.
Elderslie Farm on a beautiful fall afternoon.
Looking back from the blackberry bramble to the farmhouse.
The goats of Elderslie.
When I first walked into the gazebo, which was tented due to unseasonably chilly – and downright frosty – weather from the day before, I was pleasantly welcomed by a scene that can only be described as charming. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, with a small and simply yet elegantly dressed table of h’orderves directly ahead, featuring an assortment of cheeses handcrafted from the farm’s own goats’ milk by family friend, Tony Jacobs. Tony himself dished up his creations to each pair of guests with just enough Date and Dried Cherry Compote, a rich and fitting counterpart created by Katharine Elder, the culinary talent of the Elder clan and the mastermind of the menu we were all about to enjoy. Crisp and hearty Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Bruschetta rounded out the offerings, my first taste of Alexis Elder’s homegrown fare.
The setting was quaint and elegant.
With plate in hand, I took my seat next to a young couple from Wichita at one of the two wooden tables set family style, with long, similarly crafted benches for seating. It turned out that every bit of woodwork in this space was both milled and put together by George Elder, who not only operates the you-pick berry operation on the farm, but also runs a small mill and carpentry shop on the property. Talk about farm to table! As I sat chatting with the pair next to me – a cameraman and news anchor from a local television station, who just happened to hear about the event through a story on the family – I munched happily away on my appetizers while sipping a nicely paired glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, eagerly awaiting what I knew would be a fantastic meal.
And I certainly was not disappointed.
The perfectly portioned appetizers were followed by four additional courses that lived up to the hype created by the first. A slightly tart purée of butternut squash, carrots and apple fulfilled the soup course, garnished with just enough sliced green onions to make the whole dish pop. The main course of Yoder Pork Loin with Blackberry Chipotle Sauce, Garlicky Swiss Chard, and Roasted Potatoes and Garlic was served up family style, the large platters being placed in front of groups of four or five, encouraging even more friendly interaction between guests. The group I was in, however, certainly did not need this incentive for communication; we had been chatting it up on topics ranging from politics, travel, the humanities, religion, you name it, we probably talked about it! Like I said before, this event had all the makings of a truly enjoyable evening. For the vegetarians, there was also the option of Roasted Pecan Stuffed Acorn Squash, which certainly looked delicious and I’ll go out on a limb and say it was – Katharine really knows her stuff. My taste buds were more than satisfied with the pork and accompanying sides, the Blackberry Chipotle Sauce being the true star of the show. (I liked it so much, in fact, that I asked her for the recipe, which you can find here.) Our palates were then cleansed by a delicate salad of baby beet and sunflower greens before the final course made its much awaited debut – Pumpkin Caramel Pot De Crème. This, my friends, was exceptional. Rich, velvety, all the wonderful things pot de crèmes are, but made even better by homegrown pumpkin. A fitting end to a fabulous meal.
Although we're out of focus here, you can still see myself (at center), Mrs. Elder (left) and Kara Sewell (right) enjoying ourselves very much.
I’ll end this post and impromptu review with just one more thing: an honest recommendation. If you ever happen to find yourself in the Wichita, Kansas, area, and would like to enjoy a truly unique time, head on out to Elderslie Farm. If I’ve done my job and gotten you intrigued, stay tuned to the next issue of GRIT for my more formal piece about the family and the refreshingly different farm business they’re creating. You can also check them out at Eldersliefarm.com.