Back to the Garden

Cape Cod Life  /  July 2022 /

Writer: Chris White

If it’s true, as poet T.S. Eliot famously wrote, “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain,” then June is the remedy to nature’s malice, when colors bloom and the first harvests fill our tables with the sweet fruits—and vegetables—born of weeks-long gestation. At Chatham Bars Inn Farm in Brewster, just over ten miles north of the resort, June represents the culmination of renewal, and the first Farm-to-Table Dinner of the year, held most appropriately in 2022 on the 22nd, signals the start of summer. Not only did this gastronomic celebration coincide with the solstice, it both showcased the farm’s bounty and foreshadowed the abundance to come as the season ripens. 

Photos provided by Chatham Bars Inn Farm

Farm Dinners began four years ago with long-table dinners and continued through COVID restrictions with adjustments for social distancing, and this year the farm dinners have returned stronger than ever with 12 dinners open to the public throughout the season. The Inn is the farm’s largest client, but it’s one thing to enjoy fresh vegetables elegantly plated in a fine restaurant and quite another experience to eating them at their very source. While the dinners have always been open to the public as well as to guests, this year individual reservations are also available. In the past, the Farm required reservations by party of six, but as COVID restrictions have relaxed, a couple can now reserve seats at a shared table. All of these feasts are served family style, and the setting and menus provide plenty of conversation topics. Farm Dinners are all inclusive at $200 per person by reservation through CBI’s website.

The Farm Dinner on June 22nd began at 5:00 with watermelon margaritas as guests mingled and wandered about the vegetable gardens or visited with Executive Chef Anthony Cole and his team. At 5:30, the host and servers asked people to take their seats. Chef Cole and Assistant Farm Manager Kevin Nadeau then asked for a moment to introduce the meal. Chef Cole invited guests to enjoy the “beautiful homemade breads, the honey wheat loaf and whipped Vermont Creamery butter infused with honey from our own bees.” He noted that the centerpieces of beets and turnips were all edible and freshly picked, and described the day’s crudite of fresh vegetables, including kohlrabi, bite-sized Japanese turnips, cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, and a homemade green goddess dip. “Turn around or look this way,” he said, opening his arms. “That’s where your salad comes from. And tonight’s cioppino is made with Chatham seafood, local monkfish, mussels, and clams.” Murmurs of anticipation rose from the crowd, and Nadeau introduced himself saying, “It makes our job pleasurable to see people enjoy the food that we grow. Our farm’s principles are rooted in sustainability and growing food we ourselves to eat.” 

The Chatham Bars Inn Farm Dinners are billed as four courses, but really this was more like six. While crudite hardly qualifies as a course in most settings, here it most definitely was a highlight. The cherry tomatoes were like candy, the goddess dip sharp and garlicky, and the little turnips exotically sweet. The yellow-flowered choy sum—Asian mustard greens—popped and sang with refreshing summer flavor. And one could have made an entire meal from the homemade bread and honey butter. A salad of shaved summer vegetables, including fennel root, followed in a light buttermilk dressing. The Chatham cioppino came next, then the main course of grilled strip loin from Northeast Family Farms with agastache chimichurri. The side dish of grilled zucchini and charred tomatoes also could have stood alone as an entree.  

This year’s inaugural Farm-to-Table Dinner took place in the most optimal of conditions as a gentle breeze whispered through the rows of lettuces and flowers under a bluebird sky in a balmy 70 degree temperatures. Birds and butterflies darted, swooped, and chirped through the hours of twilight. By the time the servers delivered the dessert—an upside-down cake made scrumptiously gooey with fresh strawberries and rhubarb from the farm, garnished with edible flowers and dollops of whipped cream—many of the guests were lazily reaching for light jackets, and the sun was finally beginning to sink, concluding one of the longest days of the year. On an evening like this one could feel as Crosby Stills & Nash did in Woodstock, about which they sang, “We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

Chris White

Chris White is a frequent writer for Cape Cod Life Publications and has written on topics ranging from the history of Smith’s Tavern on Wellfleet Island to the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria off Nantucket. Chris also teaches English at Tabor Academy in Marion.