The Secret Recipe is Family
Our farm fresh meals are no secret. But for our Dinners in the Field, the real draw is good company. Check out the event video!
The very first Dinner in the Field of the season was May 15th and it was an unusual weather day to say the least. Blue sky and sun would appear overhead as Elizabeth McCauleyand helpers moved tables, spread linens and arranged serving ware. These idyllic scenes, though chilly, garnered a sense of hope before the periodic bursts of wind undid their careful work and threw hail, rain and even snow along the edges of the vast pavilion that is the Event Center. Well over 100 guests were due to arrive soon, and there was some cause for concern.
Yet, as one guest and friend of the family, Valerie, appropriately remarked, “They’re farmers. They are not going to cancel because of the weather.” And two hours later, in the throes of the evening, the warmth of the gathering outshone the cold temperature. It may have been the generous portions of hot chicken, ham, and roasted rosemary potatoes and the best asparagus I’ve ever eaten. Perhaps it was the rhubarb crumble and homemade donuts. Maybe it was the hot coffee and the heaters. But personally, I’d say it was the people. It was most definitely the people.
Everyone that I initially interviewed were first-timers. Some had business affiliations. Others found out through a magazine at their dentist’s office. Still others simply frequent our markets. And I was curious as to whether, especially because of the weather, they would care to return. “Oh, most definitely!” said a man wearing a rather wrinkled blanket (most likely pulled from the backseat of his car). “We’ll keep coming all summer,” chimed in a pair of women beside him in puffy jackets and gloves.
I was shaking my head, I’ll admit, in disbelief. But of course, at that time, I had yet to eat. Nor had I sampled the generous variety of wines donated by Mazzotta Winery. I was told by more than one person that the peach wine was the best. Despite the crowds, the line at the big wooden bar was never too long. Beside the beautiful wines were large dispensers of infused water. Farm fresh cucumbers, mint, and orange slices mimicked the greenery of the flowers and ferns here and there throughout the large venue.
Beside the bar, folks could enter a raffle for the Mazzotta gift basket or tune into Laurel Colinello and her soulful renditions of classical rock ballads, modern folk tunes and more. This was entertainment worth the cost of admission alone. Giant hay bales were a cozy tower for the few children who oversaw the gathering from their perch. And folks mingled at the center table laden with farm fresh cheeses, veggies, homemade salamis, bread and mustard.
“I wish they would have had this place when I got married,” said Lauren Roberts of Mazzotta Winery. “This is just what we were looking for,” she said as she gazed over the pond. “You have the freedom to do whatever you want with this place.” And you would be encouraged to do so. I think that is the most impressive takeaway for me, another first time diner with the King family. This family has it together, not just in the way they bring in the hot food at the last minute to keep it hot, or bring large warming ovens for generous replacements. It’s not even that they have the guests sent home satisfied by providing ample boxes for leftovers: self-serve or ready to go. The overwhelming feeling is that their place is your place.
They greet everyone with thanks and welcome. Joe King gives insights into some of their specialties only available at the dinners (not in the stores). “We love sharing the best of our bounty with you,” he tells the crowd before handing it over to his mom, Lisa King, who gives an overview of the menu. “We have prepared our asparagus in our favorite way…to absolute perfection.” I can attest that Lisa King made good on that claim. After the menu redux, she prays. It is brief yet poignant.
The hospitable, plainspoken nature is evident in every member of the King family. These are people, some of whom, are fresher out of the fields, than the food being served. They have put in more hours feeding animals, harvesting or selling produce at the markets that morning than many of our typical, full work days. Yet here they are, all of them lined up and serving the crowd. No guest waits more than a minute for a hot, homemade portion of what upscale restaurants would charge a pretty penny for.
“Sometimes when I’m at the Market, I will just pitch in and help,” says Kim Getz, a frequent customer of Freedom Farms Farmers Market on Route 8 in Butler and a returning patron to Dinners in the Field. “The BBQ is our favorite. Oh, it is sooo good.” Everyone at the table is chiming in now. Some of the guests, like Gladys, came before with a large group, “Our church came out and I just had to bring my daughter.” Her daughter turns to me and smiles, “This was her Mother’s Day gift.”
Others share how they enjoyed the Farm Kings show, or how they frequent the Sandwich Shop. But one sentiment seems to prevail above all others. “I just love the family” say more than one smiling guest. And one can easily see why. These dinners that originated in the field—literally—are not simply about the farm to fork movement. What we eat matters incredibly to our health. This is not news. Way back in Ancient Greece, Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Our physical well-being is certainly no trifling matter. But it’s so much more than that.
Coming to the farm, overlooking the swallows dip into the pond, seeing the chickens meander through the fields, the connection is obvious. It is a connection to the land and our food that our ancestors once shared. And there is something sacred in it, something we should not too readily lose sight of. We give a lot of lip service to sustainability and to good stewardship. But we rarely see the farms where our food is produced or meet the farmers who put in the long days to produce that food.
In their devoted toil, the Kings maintain that stewardship to the land with great effort, knowledge and attention. Moreover, in sharing their harvest, they provide another connection, perhaps just as meaningful. They generously share their authentic fellowship. Joe King can be seen among the crowd throughout the gathering sharing tidbits and insights, answering questions and offering advice. Lisa’s laughter peppers the atmosphere with a real source of warmth. And for their guests, it is as if, even for one evening, they are just another member of the big ole’ King family.