A farm turned my weekend around. Really. I was in the far western reaches of the Chicago suburbs last weekend for a wedding and thought I’d visit a nearby orchard bright and early Saturday morning. I’d pick some apples, maybe grab a few cider donuts and head home to make a pie or two. Instead, what I found was my personal vision of hell. The signs in caps and excess exclamation points should have tipped me off that this would not be one of the bucolic orchard experiences I’ve had in the past. PUMPKIN PATCH!!! APPLE PICKING!!! CORN MAZE!!! God help me.
Giant complexes on either side of the road housed all sorts of supposed entertainment, the Disney of fall activities. After parking in the enormous lot and following the line of people to the “picking shed”, I learned that my $9 fee came with a ¼ peck limit. Having no idea what exactly a ¼ peck translates to, I asked. Six apples, I was told. Maybe seven. I kid you not … seven stupid apples. People were lining up by the dozens to be carted out to “the orchard” to pick subpar apples at $1.30 a pop? Seriously? I wanted to tell the steadily increasing crowds to run away as fast as they could. What are you doing? This place sucks! Find a real farmer to support! Go! Save yourselves! I took my $9 back and saved myself. It starts with one.
As I pulled out of obnoxious fake harvest land, slightly depressed, I thought about the real farmers I know. Farmers that don’t have corn mazes and big garishly painted signs and fake hay-rides. Farmers that grow real fruit – fantastic tasting fruit – with a minumum of fuss or pomp and circumstance. And then I remembered Chef Mark Bernard’s farm, Rustic Road Farm, wasn’t too far away. I perked up. If I remembered correctly from the Facebook page, there was a little farmstand every Saturday morning. It was worth a shot. I cranked up the radio, unrolled the windows and gunned it through farm roads I love so dearly.
Pulling into the driveway less than 30 minutes later, I could barely contain my widening grin. There was a little tent set up next to the barn, not far from the display of giant pumpkins. As I parked and approached the tent, Chef Mark came from the house holding a colander full of fat, ruby red raspberries he had just picked from the bushes alongside the farmhouse. With his encouragement, I popped one in my mouth and my grin grew. You can bet I bought some.
The tables were heaped with gorgeous produce and into my bag went fat stalks of rainbow chard, fresh garlic, beautiful baby beets with the greens attached. Inside the barn, we started talking about the honey, harvested from the farms bees. A taste was offered and into the bag went a jar. Gotta support the bees, you know. On the table was a baking dish of delicious, moist cornbread made from Hazzard Free Farm cornmeal and oh, you must have a taste. Into the bag went a bag of red flint cornmeal with the recipe on the back. There was also a dish of roasted potatoes, carrots and delicata squash. Yep, potatoes, carrots and squash went into the bag.
Wait are those … eggs? Gorgeous, beautiful farm eggs, from the chickens out back? Into the bag. Then Chef Mark said “Oh! I almost forgot! We got the pork back this week and it’s amazing!” I had attended a dinner event at this very farm earlier in the summer (and had an amazing salad) and I met those happy black pigs rolling around and snorting in their pen. I know they were well cared for and led a good life, roaming freely in their pen, splashing about in the summer heat in big mud puddles, rooting about for little treats. I was told they feasted on great bushels of apples in the last days which made them happy and gave the meat a sweet tinge. But on a working farm, food is food and when they were appropriately fattened and ready for slaughter, off they went. I can respect that. Of the cuts on offer – roasts and chops and sausage among other things – I opted for a shoulder roast and brats. They will make for some delicious meals and I will offer a toast in honor of those pigs.
After the disappointment of the orchard earlier, this place was such a welcome find and Chef Mark could not have been more delightful. I drove home happy – happy that I had two big bags of beautiful, hand raised goods and happy that I was able to support a real farmer who’s doing great things. And you should too – head out to Elburn and give Chef Mark a visit. Throw in a visit to the Kane County Flea Market too as that’s just down the road.
- Rustic Road Farm
- 1N292 Brundige Road, Elburn, Illinois 60119
All this beautiful, just picked food showed up in my kitchen just in time for the annual Unprocessed October challenge which involves avoiding processed food for the month. I’ve done this for the last few years in an attempt to direct my eating habits into a healthier direction and have been mostly successful in my efforts. I go in thinking it’ll be a piece of cake and then, suddenly halfway through eating something, I’ll pause and think … damn. That’s not good. My perception of the amount of processed food I eat and the reality don’t always jive 100% but I’m hoping to fix that.
The definition of “unprocessed food” is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients. There’s also the “Kitchen Test”: If you pick up something with a label (if it doesn’t have a label, it’s probably unprocessed), and find an ingredient you’d never use in your kitchen and couldn’t possibly make yourself from the whole form, it’s processed. The goal is to avoid these things and eat more real food.
As I’ve said in years past, I didn’t think I ate a lot of processed food. My freezer is full of frozen ingredients rather than frozen meals. The pantry is the same – mostly raw ingredients waiting to be made into something else. But it’s the sneaky stuff that gets me; the daytime snacking, the evil drive thru, things I eat out of boredom, stress, exhaustion or lack of time. These are the things that creep up on me and I know I should cut back. So what’s 31 days in the grand scheme of things? I can do this.
I’m also going to pledge not to be overly critical of my slip-ups, because they will happen. I’m not going to beat myself up on the 5 Doritos I ate on the first day of the challenge before I realized what I was doing. The absent minded eating has got to stop. It may take me a while but I’ll get there. I’m also not going to worry overly much about the packaged bagel I ate yesterday morning. At 6:15am my goal is to simply function, even on a low level, even with compromised decision making skills. And that’s ok. Baby steps. Little by little. But damn, do I ever love those stupid sausage biscuits at that evil drive thru. I can do this. Twenty-seven days to go and then we’ll talk. In the meantime, maybe I’ll figure out how to make that stupid biscuit. And maybe it’ll be with Chef Mark’s perfect breakfast sausage from those happy fat pigs. There are ways to do things better. This much is true.
past Unprocessed October challenges: 2012 Challenge, 2011 Challenge
on this blog four years ago: ChocoFlan, Sour Cream Coffeecake, Apple Pear Crisp, Peach Crostada
on this blog three years ago: Blueberry Raspberry Cobbler, Chocolate Raspberry Cream Cheese Turnovers
on this blog two years ago: Plum Kuchen
on this blog one year ago: Raw Kale & Roasted Squash Salad