Down on the Farm
T.S. Smith & Sons in Bridgeville, the oldest commercial apple orchard on Delmarva, has something savvy eaters want more than ever: fresh, local food that will blow your doors off. And few farmers are as good at growing it.
Many of us enjoy the fruits of large-scale monoculture, the practice of growing thousands and thousands of acres of the same crop year after year under strictly controlled conditions. Picture 20,000 acres of corn grown from modified seed in organically rich topsoil that goes 12 feet deep in South Dakota. The crop is fertilized chemically. Pests are controlled chemically. Water is managed to the drop via mechanized irrigation. Every aspect of growing is geared toward raising a product of consistent quality that will survive shipping over long distances and last through long periods in cold storage, or it’s geared toward raising foods for processing.
In Delaware, the typical farm model is different. Most farmers grow corn or soy beans, and though they often use some of the same techniques as large industrial farms, their farms are much smaller—3,000 to 5,000 acres is humongous here. Their product is grown not for human consumption but for poultry feed. Most farmers downstate also raise chickens, and they might have a side line, like a small specialty crop, a roadside market or a you-pick field.
T.S. Smith, typical of neither model, is unique. It doesn’t grow dry field corn for chicken feed, though they are better suited to the organically poor soils of the coastal plain. It grows a limited amount of sweet corn to be eaten off the cob, the kind with plump, juicy kernels that you look forward to buttering all summer long. A more important distinction: it grows fruit, a laborious process that requires constant vigilance, industry and care.
Not only does it grow fruit, but it grows the kind of fruit that you seldom find in the grocery store. A Red Delicious apple from T.S. Smith’s may not be as red as that shiny Red Delicious from the supermarket, but it was picked at its peak, so it’s got a crisp snap and full flavor that a grocery store apple doesn’t always have.
It’s the same with peaches. Those from the grocery store, grown down South and picked long before they’ve ripened and long before the local season peaks, can be green, hard, bland. A peach from Smith’s was picked the day it reached sweet perfection. When you bite in, you’re reminded all over again what summer tastes like.
It’s a point of pride for farm owner Charlie Smith, because as much as he loves farming, he loves turning people on to real food.
“When you hand someone a peach and they’ve got juice running all down their face and through their fingers, they say, ‘Man, I’ve never had anything like that.’” He laughs. “There’s just nothing better than that.”
And that’s not all. Smith grows delicious asparagus, cantaloupes, cherries, persimmons, pawpaws, plums and more. The list goes on and on.
Taste it directly during Enjoy Dinner in the Orchard on Sept. 13. Vist Smith’s at 5:30 p.m. to see what local chefs and students from the Culinary School at the Food Bank of Delaware create with the farm’s produce. There will be live entertainment, wine and beer with your meal, all for a mere $50. Dinner in the Orchard benefits the food bank. See call 292-1305, or click fbd.org. To buy tickets, call 444-8074 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. To see what we wrote about T.S. Smith in the August issue of Delaware Today, click here.
More Farm Freshness
If farm-to-table is your thing, mark your calendar now for The Farmer and the Chef at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington Sept. 20. The name says it all. You’ll enjoy delicious creations prepared by Delebrity chefs with the produce of local farms. (It’s simple: fresh food tastes best.) The fifth annual event is brought to you by the Department of Agriculture and the March of Dimes to promote healthful eating, which fits in with the MOD’s mission to encourage healthy moms and healthy pregnancies. Check in at thefarmerandthechef.com for the latest, or take an occasional peek at facebook.com/TheFarmerandTheChefDE.
The Restaurant Version
Good news for you—more farm-to-table. It happens every Thursday night of the summer at Nage in Rehoboth. The farmers drop off their goods that afternoon, then the chefs go to work. Each week features a different farmer, who you can meet during dinner. The series will end with a dinner at the historic farm store at Fifer Farms on Sept. 14. It includes an outdoor cocktail hour, a tour of the farm and a multi-course dinner al fresco. Register at nagerestaurant.com. On Sundays at Nage, don’t forget the Seafoood Supper, served starting at 3 p.m. Your choices: softshell crab sandwiches for $10, softshell platters for $20, a big ol’ clambake pot for $20 and whole lobsters. How can you go wrong? 226-2037, nagerestaurant.com
Our Favorite Shellfish
Speaking of lobster, Northeast Restaurant in Bethany Beach is gearing up for its last lobster bake of the season on Sept. 2. A mere $38 buys a whole Maine lobster, clams, mussels, roasted potatoes and local corn with dessert, delicious pear crisp with vanilla ice cream. Beer expert Mike Dickenson will discuss the food-beer parings—beer courtesy of Troeggs Brewery in Harrisburg, Pa. Make your rezzie at 537-1785 or email@example.com—or you’ll have to wait till next year.
Freshness on the Go
It’s Labor Day weekend. You most definitely don’t want to cook, but you don’t want to fight the crowds in a restaurant, either. Relax. Root Gourmet in Rehoboth will take care of everything. Located next door to Nage on Coastal Highway, Root offers lovingly homemade food to go, so you can get right to the serious business of eating. A very reasonable $44 buys dinner for four, which includes your choice of meats such as slow-cooked pork loin, ginger-marinated chicken breast, herb-crusted salmon, plus two sides, such as rosemary roasted potatoes, sweet corn on the cob, grilled asparagus, five-cheese and baked macaroni. Your Insider and family recently enjoyed the salmon—delish—grilled asparagus with sea salt and potato salad, which offered a nice touch of tarragon. Did we mention the bread? It’s baked fresh on the premises and is to die for. Root is highly recommended any time. Take it to go, linger in the café or have a seat outside. They’re all fine ways to enjoy Root. We say, welcome to the neighborhood. 727-5664, rootgourmet.com