Mid-Autumn Night’s Dream in the Poconos
Fall invokes a longing for all things primal. Autumnal colors may breed the expansiveness of the soul but it is the season for drawing in. We pull friends close. Curl up. Hunker down. Food takes on new character. July’s heirloom tomatoes, anointed with fruity olive oil, sprinkled with salt and eaten with languish becomes precious commodity in late October. The end is in sight. Moody purple plums, blue grapes and vibrant bunched greens filling farmer’s markets can trick us into thinking the harvest will last forever. But deep within the marrow of our bones, we know that cold, barren January is not so far away.
Fall eating brings both melancholia and urgency to the table. Never again will we taste again the particular combination of sunlight, rain and soil that came together to create this year’s harvest. To counter seasonal existentialism, humans do our imperfect best to cope. We gather, celebrate and feast. One particular feast that our senses should be attuned to occurs on a rotating basis at Cooper’s Farmhouse in Shohola, Pennsylvania.
On Saturday night, October 22nd, twenty-four lucky diners enjoyed a private five-course supper aptly titled “Bounty.” Country music artist, foodie and curator, Cooper Boone hosted the event alongside the charismatic and bubbly Cameron Zinman. His intimate pop up dinner events act as an extension of the eclectic lifestyle offerings at Foundry42, Cooper’s new Port Jervis shop. Along with a retail store, Foundry42 will offer coffee, five signature baked goods and a community space for intellectual salons, classes and events.
Cooper’s suppers always feature a chef, a local artisan and sell out within days. “Bounty” showcased locavore chef Shawn Hubbell. Shawn crafted each dish from scratch and onsite to ensure a dynamic food experience. Cooper, a chef in his own right, conspired with Shawn over menu details. Local artist Cima Bue was invited to create an ephemeral fire and wood sculpture.
Guests sipped Apple Blossom, the evening’s signature cocktail, inside the exquisitely detailed main farmhouse. Blustery wind blew front porch rocking chairs as if the ghosts of the original settlers moved back and forth while chef Shawn worked his magic. He seamlessly melded end of summer produce into a variety of heart-warming appetizers.
Southern comfort reigned supreme. Rich blue cheese hush puppies nestled in tomato compote passed through the room. Shawn’s nostalgic rendering of flash fried green tomatoes, dotted with a cornichon caper relish, brought the haunting south to mind. The tomatoes, cusping on ripening red sweetness, plucked before the season’s first frost, were a juicy burst on the tongue. Pumpkin, fall’s perennially favorite flavor, got a south of the border makeover when Shawn presented his take on Mexican corn with a pumpkin elote sprinkled with chile lime dust.
Can autumn’s essence be tasted in a single bite? It can and was. Flavor abounded in the outstanding Hudson Valley seared duck foie gras. Rich, multi-layered, it tasted of the earth itself. As evocative as a forest floor and as haunting as an October sunset. The silky foie gras met crunchy brioche and mingled with the tang of pickled chilies.
Cima’s illuminated pine sculpture was a beacon in the inky black night guiding guests toward the event barn where the main courses would be revealed. Twenty four place settings sat on a dazzling tablescape. Cooper, never literal in his interpretation of a theme, took his inspiration for a Mid-Autumn Night’s Dream from nature with items foraged from the forest. Gatherings of moss, feathers, nests, and pinecone intermingled with pumpkins and apples. Pomegranates, recalling Persephone’s descent, dotted the table while rosemary sprigs brushed place settings.
Chef Shawn and colleague James Devaney accompanied the group to the barn’s kitchen and got to work on the second course. A homey vegetarian dish of lentil and honey nut squash stuffed savoy cabbage was presented. Shawn explained to everyone that the third course payed homage to his wife’s Romanian grandmother who taught Shawn how to prepare the dish.
Pork belly, richly textured and complex, came next. Pork belly is derived of the flesh from the underside of the pig. It is uncured, unsmoked and unsliced bacon. The pork’s exterior was seared to a crusty perfection. It was glazed with a Kung Pao sauce, dashed with sesame oil and nestled in a puree of sweet Gala apple. A tart sun crisp apple salad sprinkled the top. The apples and evening’s many ingredients were sourced from Soons Orchard, in Orange County, NY.
A plated fall vegetable risotto brimming with roasted root vegetables, cauliflower, parsnip and buttery fingerling potatoes were served as the fourth course. Ham hocks from Pine Island, NY added smokiness. The risotto was topped with a mountain of braised Lowland farm short ribs from Warwick, NY. A dash of snappy green goddess dressing added acidity. Shawn, an avid deep sea fisherman who spent his post CIA graduate work in Spain, expressed that his favorite part of the job is the satisfaction derived from the culmination of watching every element of a meal come together as it did with his hearty risotto.
The party retired to the barn’s loft with the evening’s final touch. Jelly jars filled with calabaza dulce pumpkin cheesecake, a ginger snap crust and candied orange were passed to all. Despite falling temperatures, everyone was cozy. The bank barn, true to its name, is built into an earthen bank on the 1866 property. The earth and basement, acted as insulation for the cattle who once populated the interior. The iconic structure is now a showcase for Cooper’s eclectic design style, including a love of vintage graphic numbers, letters and blocks.
The evening wound down. Cima’s flames transformed his concentric morphing sculpture. It reflected how everyone was transformed by the evening’s offerings. Guests retreated to the comfort of the main farmhouse or the toasty interior of their cars, belly’s full and smiles on their lips. We held onto the knowledge that winter was inevitable. But with our eyes dazzled and bellies full, we were a little stronger to face it.