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Issue Date: Fall 2007


Farm Country

As developers create suburbs where once there were just trees and fields, a new breed of specialty farmers is savoring a little slice of country life — and our tables are the better for it.
Marilou Suszko. photography by Barney Taxel
idgeBridge Farm stretches across 36 acres of fertile land. Its namesakes — an ancient ridge that once overlooked Lake Erie, and a footbridge that connects the house and barn — mingle with fields bursting with flowers and vegetables, a farm dog named Stella and the homestead: chicken coop, 100-year-old barn, greenhouse, doghouses, farmhouse.

Karen Konant and her husband, Skip, have spent the past 20 years slowly turning this place into what it is today: a suburban farm specializing in seasonal, heirloom vegetables that manages to coexist peacefully with its disparate surroundings. RidgeBridge isn’t nestled into a bucolic hill out in Amish country; this peaceful, quiet place thrives less than a mile from a busy highway and a bustling shopping center. It’s one of Avon’s last farms, and tonight, it’ll welcome farmers from around Northeast Ohio for a dinner that celebrates some of the best food coming out of our region.

The barn, usually home to Karen’s tractor, tools, market baskets and a family of barn swallows, is filled with color. Great bunches of freshly picked sunflowers, dahlias and zinnias dot the table, amid cotton linens, stoneware dinner plates and crystal wine glasses. Karen has been harvesting her heirloom tomatoes for days now, tomatoes with unusual shapes and funny names, such as Kellogg’s Breakfast, Purple Russian and Persimmon, selling thousands of pounds of them at the North Union Farmers Market at Crocker Park just down the road. But in anticipation of tonight, she’s kept a few, and inside the kitchen her silky, fragrant tomato bisque heats on the stove — just one of the millions of small tasks on the road to this evening’s meal.

Each guest tonight lives their own variation of Karen’s story, and each brings their own particular passion to the table.
 
There’s Arnie Esterer, a 40-year veteran winemaker who runs Markko Vineyard in Conneaut and was one of the first vintners to attempt growing fragile European Vinifera grapes in Northeast Ohio. He’ll present the toast, and the Chardonnay.

There’s David and Deanna McMaken, a farm couple who spent the day running stands at separate farmers’ markets, and who still have almost 100 miles to drive before they reach home — a 450-acre farm in Malvern where they raise horned Hereford cows. Jackie Gammie, who runs Quarry Hill Orchards & Winery in Berlin Heights with her husband, Bill, has arrived solo — Bill and their field-workers are scrambling to pick the fruit that a week of heavy rain and extreme heat has ripened too quickly.

This is an Ohio harvest season: damaging late frost, not enough rain, followed by too much rain and scorching August heat. These farmers are used to nature trumping the best-laid plans. They’re used to the long drives, the flurry of farmers markets, not having enough time to do everything that needs to be done.

Esterer fills the glasses with a honey-colored Chardonnay before raising his to the hosts, the moment and the harvest. “Here’s to us,” he offers.
Yes, here’s to Ohio’s small farmers. Here’s to choosing what’s grown locally. Here’s to Esterer and his field-workers spending the week tenting the vines with bird netting to protect the vineyards’ ripening clusters of Pinot Noir and Riesling. Here’s to Sheila and Denzil St. Clair’s favorite spring blossom honey — light in color, delicate in taste and whipped into creamery butter, the first collected in the season. Here’s to the McMakens, who brought the main course, lean flank steaks rubbed with Italian olive oil and fresh garden herbs. Here’s to Bill Gammie’s pears poached to a ruby hue in pomegranate juice and spicy cinnamon candies. Here’s to a Markko Riesling, poured two-fingers high, to go with it.

Here’s to the sun as it dips behind the greenhouse, as the diners linger, sipping wine and gazing out the massive barn doors to the fields beyond. They chat about the end of this growing season and speculate about the one to come. The group understands that it’s all about the moment: a great meal, a community, a job well done.

Here’s to them.

RidgeBridge Farm Heirloom
Tomato Bisque
Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 pounds heirloom tomatoes, mixed varieties
1 cup heavy cream
12 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a large stockpot. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat. Slowly add the heavy cream and stir until well blended. Add the herbs. Ladle into bowls and top with freshly grated cheese.

Karen Konant, RidgeBridge Farm, Avon; (440) 823-5372
Seasonal produce available at the North Union Farmers
Market at Crocker Park, Westlake
Herbed Flank Steak
Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 2-pound flank steak, lightly scored
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup freshly chopped mixed herbs such as basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley and oregano
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the grill to medium hot.
Season the steak with salt and pepper. Combine the herbs, garlic and olive oil. Rub on both sides of the steak. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
Cook the steak for 7 minutes on each side. Test for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the steak. It should read 130 degrees for medium. Remove from the grill, cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Cut the steak across the grain into thin slices and serve.

David and Deanna McMaken, Rose Ridge Farm,
Malvern; (330) 904-5365
Call for information on where the beef can be purchased.

Honey & Chive Butter
Makes about 1 cup

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2-3 tablespoons freshly snipped chives
2 tablespoons honey, more or less to taste

Place the butter, chives and honey in a small mixing bowl and combine until well blended. Serve with warm, crusty breads.

Denzil and Shelia St. Clair, Queen Right Colonies, Spencer;
(440) 647-2602; www.queenrightcolonies.com. Bread courtesy
of Carmella Fragassi of La Campagna, Westlake.
Pomegranate & Cinnamon Poached Pears
Makes 4 servings

4 medium firm pears, washed and cored
1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
1 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup cinnamon imperials candies
In a large saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the honey and candy. Add the pears. Return to a boil; reduce the heat. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until pears are just tender. Remove from the heat and cool 30 minutes. Transfer pears and liquid to a large bowl. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
When ready to serve, drain the poaching liquid into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered for 40 minutes or until reduced to 1/4 cup. Drizzle over the pears and serve.

Bill and Jackie Gammie, Quarry Hill Orchards & Winery, Berlin Heights; (419) 588-2858; www.quarryhillorchards.com. Wine courtesy of Arnie Esterer, Markko Vineyard, Conneaut;
1-800-252-3197 or www.markko.com


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