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Authentic local

(post, Cynthia Lair)

I spent a week last month at the Quillisascut Farm Culinary School in eastern Washington with 15 students from Bastyr University where I teach. Rick and Lora Lea, the owners of the farm, along with chef Karen Jorgenson, offer an enlightening experience to anyone who comes. 
Our work began literally at the crack of dawn. The first morning after our arrival, Rick killed a goat, and we gathered round in the half light to quietly, respectfully skin and gut the goat. Later in the week, after the meat had aged a few days, we had a morning butchering class. Karen set out four hotel pans: one for meat that would be used for dinner, one for meat that would be used to make sausage, one for bones for stock, and one for scraps for the dogs. Nothing was wasted. Soups made from the stocks were heavenly, the roasted meat amazing.
We took turns milking goats at 5:30 each morning. Milking was followed by cheesemaking classes. The cheeses were used in our meals — wood-fired pizza made with goat meat, several types of goat cheese, fresh tomatillos, roasted peppers, and heirloom tomatoes from a neighbor. We had made the dough for the pizzas the night before. Hard work was rewarded by superb nourishment.
[%image reference-image float=left width=400 caption="Handling the harvest at Quillisascut Farm."] Other activities included feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, digging up potatoes, picking peaches, harvesting dill seed, hauling hay for the goats, and, of course, cooking. Four or five students were assigned to help design and prepare each meal. All food for the meals came from the farm or from local farmers with the exception of a short list of staples such as flour, sugar, and salt. 

The feasts were magnificent, largely because Karen is such a talented culinary artist and instructor. But she would be the first to tell you that the farm animals and gardens were to be thanked for the flavor extravaganza. "Fresh" doesn’t begin to describe the tastes. I chewed every bite and every meal with gratitude.
I returned home in a daze. For a while I felt embarrassed to use the word “local” about anything other than the puny (from a cold Seattle summer) foods in my garden. Food from even the best organic market tasted old. I had always thought that my sustainable, organic, local way of eating was about as good as it gets. I was wrong. 
Though this experience, this immediate farm-to-table way of eating, will probably never be duplicated in my daily life, I now know what the real deal is. I will continue to make shifts to get closer to the sources of my food and be a part of a nourishment cycle that is better for all involved.

p(blue).Editor's note: A new book about the Quillisascut Farm has recently been published by Mountaineers Books: Chefs on the Farm includes recipes, stories, and stunning photos from the Quillisascut. Also, to learn more about the farm, check out this story on NPR's Marketplace.

reference-image, l