Drive north out of Boston on Route 2, and you will eventually reach the refreshing, green-tinted water of Walden Pond, and the heavily wooded town of Concord, MA. Some might say that, for such a small town, Concord has more than its fair share of attractions: the aforementioned celebrity pond, a shady and rambling graveyard filled with the bones of several of the most well-regarded Transcendentalists, the occasional Redcoat wandering the streets in search of a reviving sticky-bun, having exhaustingly starred in a Battle of Lexington and Concord re-enactment that morning. If you ask a Concord native, they may mention some of the town’s more subtle gems – the vintage beauty of the Old North Bridge, for instance, the charm of the old Alcott house, or the beautiful gardens at the Faulkner estate. However, not everything in the town of Concord is older than Mark Twain’s first manuscript.
In fact, If you deliberately avoid quaint downtown Concord with a well-placed left-hand turn, you may be lucky enough to find yourself at one of the town’s newer editions, the exceedingly lovely Saltbox Farm. A mere two years ago, the fields that now house Saltbox Farm’s diverse organic vegetable crops, bee hives, free-ranging chickens, and fleecy sheep were nothing more than ordinary green grass fields, often rented out by neighboring horse farmers as pasture space. Likewise, the beautiful wooden structure that now houses the Farm’s beautifully designed kitchen area and cooking classes space, made unusual by the collection of enormous brass church bells that occupy its backyard, was an ordinary (well, aside from the bells) family home.
Local Pickins visited Saltbox farm on a beautiful mid-August morning, excited to cook with vegetables freshly harvested from Saltbox’s plots and kitchen garden – the very definition of local pickins. We were greeted by the charming Aran, Saltbox’s resident cooking instructor and catering contributor, with a plate of petite lamb meatballs, delicate cheese puffs and an overview of the morning’s activities. First, we would head to the vegetable fields to pluck the best looking edibles right out from the ground. Then, we would return to the cool and pine-y kitchen for a lesson in making a meal out of little more than these veggies and a few other kitchen staples. Finally, we would trade in our aprons for napkins, and dine on our creations.
Satiated by Aran’s hors d’oervs, we headed out to meet and plunder the late-summer vegetable crops. Saltbox’s vegetable fields are so lovely and fit so naturally into the slope of the lawn that it’s hard to believe they’re only a few years old. The braying of horses in the distance and a sprinkling of wooden beehives added to the classic farm vibe, as did the baseball-capped farmer who enthusiastically taught us to harvest kale and (perhaps even more enthusiastically) showed off the hops he had just planted in hopes of taking on some home brewing.He seemed happy for a small distraction from the day’s main task: preparation for the next day’s CSA pick-up, which meant lots of bundling of carrots and swiss chard.
We filled our baskets with kale, radishes, tomatoes, chard, carrots, basil and eggplant, plus a bunch of peaches from a nearby tree. Before heading back to the cool of the kitchen, Aran also introduced us to the farm’s small flock of sheep, who seemed almost obscenely relaxed and content as they grazed about their pasture.
Back in the kitchen, we ate a few more hors d’oeuvre’s and then commenced upon what turned out to be one of the most wonderful cooking experiences we’d ever had with Aran. Good chefs are often compared to good conductors, and in this case the comparison is especially apt. Aran wove together sound instruction with timely task completion and regular progress with a sense of relaxation, all the while maintaining a sense of magic and excitement. Each new cooking lesson learned seemed like a miraculous trick, each set of dish preparations completed like a true accomplishment, and each fresh ingredient used like an exciting gem.
Somehow, we managed to prepare grill-tinged scored eggplant, a raw salad kale salad with anchovie-yogurt vinaigrette, a tart kale pesto to serve over pillow-like ricotta gnudi, and sour cream biscuits to be served with the beautiful fresh peaches for desert, all in little more than an hours time.
When it was time to tuck in to the delicious meal we had just prepared, we were all feeling relaxed, happy, and accomplished, a perfect pre-lunch mood. To add to the seamless magic of the whole affair, Aran had also created gluten-free versions of everything that we’d cooked that day, so that our gluten-free staff member could enjoy the meal too. A truly impressive cooking class.
Although perhaps at this point it need barely be said, the meal that resulted from our wonderful day at Saltbox Farm was almost transcendently delicious. From the raw kale salad start, which was spicy, decadent, and amazingly fresh tasting, to the cloudlike gnudi and not overly saccharine peachy desert, we were more than satisfied. Saltbox Farm is the kind of place you leave with the strange sensation that all is right with the world. How they do it, exactly, we’re still not quite sure.