Monday, October 13, 2008

Blandy Farm Demonstration

Yesterday, I made my annual visit to Blandy Farm, home of the State Arboretum of Virginia, located just outside Winchester in Clarke County, to help entertain guests visiting Arborfest, an annual fundraising event for the benefit of the Arboretum. I've been doing this for five years now and it's become a fall ritual for me. We were blessed with very warm weather, maybe a few degrees too warm standing in the sun, but with almost no wind. Finally, my poor little butane burner didn't have to battle the wind.

As every year, I brought along a helper; this year, daughter number one Lillian, who, as you can plainly see in the photo, is in full-on teenager ("I am so bored; I would rather die than stand here.") mode. Imagine her reaction when she reads this! She is a loyal One Blog West reader. If you know the grounds at Blandy at all, you can see that we are in the courtyard of the Quarters, the only place that I can get a good windbreak against the prevailing westerlies.

This year, we were blessed with four snaggle-toothed devils and color commentators right in the front row! I think these four young gentlemen kept us all entertained for about an hour. I know that I couldn't get a word in edgewise. I'm pretty certain that they ate the vast majority of the samples!

In years past, I've done demonstrations with various themes. This year, I decided to highlight some of the October dishes from our menu this past weekend. I wanted to show that October is a month of real contrasts: while we have abundant winter squash and apples, we are also still blessed with great tomatoes, squashes, peppers, and eggplants.

The first dish I demonstrated was one that I devised for our Saturday menu from items that I scavenged at the local farmers market, a dish that I called, for lack of imagination, Fall Salad. It consists of roasted diced butternut squash, diced Asian pear, and Cajun-spiced pecans, all tossed in a dressing of highly reduced apple cider, honey, maple syrup, membrillo, roasted shallots, Port, rice vinegar, and canola oil. Pardon the photography: the sunlight was brutal.

I also demonstrated a salad that the food editor at Northern Virginia magazine really likes, so much so that it was featured in their September edition. The salad consists of bias-sliced Surry sausages, walnuts, bias-sliced celery, micro-celery, dried cranberries, roasted local apples, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Back to the more summery aspects of October, I demonstrated a dish that I call Swordfish Sauce Vierge, after the sauce popularized in the 1980s by Michel Guérard. Vierge means virgin, in this case referring to a raw uncooked sauce. Doing my own thing with it, I have converted the sauce to almost a chopped salad to serve as a base for my swordfish.

After tasting the mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, olives, capers, basil, garlic, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice, one of the attendees commented "It's like a raw puttanesca." and in a sense, it is. And it was certainly a perfect vehicle to showcase the beautiful heirloom German Howard tomatoes and Corno di Toro peppers that I brought.

To quote Amishland Heirloom Seeds about these tomatoes:

The locals here in Amish country also call them "Pepper Tomatoes". I have never seen these exact same tomatoes grown anywhere else. Prolific harvests of 5-1/2 inch long, weirdly pointed paste tomatoes that weigh about 5-8 ounces (although this year they were huge and averaged more like 10-14 ounces). These are very meaty with a good, rich flavor. They have virtually no seeds, maybe 6 or so per fruit. An old scarce variety great for canning, paste, or sauces. Also delicious right off the vine in salads. Just the best all purpose tomato I have ever grown. Very resistant to disease and bugs, as well. Still seen here in Amish country, but elsewhere it is a really rare tomato.

Sorry for that digression on tomatoes, but they are so good that they merit digression. The final dish that I demonstrated was what I call Prosciutto-Wrapped Medallions of Rabbit. I boned out a rabbit loin (to remove the backbone and ribcage), sprinkled the loin with thyme, salt, and pepper, then wrapped it in prosciutto. After searing it on all sides, I roast it at the restaurant, but for the demo without an oven, I sliced it into medallions and cooked them in a pan. I served the medallions of rabbit over a bed of chiffonaded Swiss chard and topped with a Surry sausage jus.

Photos that I didn't take courtesy of Sharon Mesa. Thank you, Sharon.


  1. That Surry Sausage recipe is online at

  2. Thanks! I forgot that they sent a photographer out and all that. This is actually the recipe for my Surry Sausage Bread Pudding that I made for my wife on Mother's Day. I've hyperlinked the URL here