It was a brisk Saturday morning at the end of November. We pulled up in front of the heritage farmhouse on Burr Road – just 10 minutes north of Bloomfield in Prince Edward County – and parked in the circular driveway. Approaching the front door, I noticed a plaque describing the history of “Willow Hill”. The original frame house was built in the 1830s by an early Loyalist settler, Benjamin Pearsall. His son, Lemuel, completed the brick residence in the 1850′s - “Known for their kindness, this home was always welcoming to those in need.”
Cynthia Peters, a personal chef and food writer and owner of From the Farm Cooking School, greeted us warmly at the door and ushered us into the cozy and rustic dining room, where the other students had already gathered around the old wooden table. Steaming cups of fresh coffee were placed before us, and with a few brief introductions and words of welcome, we launched into our day’s adventure – appetizers.
We were 9 pupils in total – and were quickly divided into working teams. The 4 friends on a girls’ weekend joined Trish in the kitchen to prepare Mushrooms with Sausages and Herbs; while two sisters and their mother (away for a belated birthday weekend of fun in the County) and my own mother-in-law and I, followed Cynthia into the summer kitchen to embark on puff and phyllo pastry delights.
The cooking commenced immediately – first item up: Chèvre, Apple and Carmelized Onion Pinwheels. My mother-in-law sautéed chopped apples and onions with a taste of maple syrup, while I rolled out sheets of puff pastry and lay a line of fresh basil leaves along the outer edge. With a generous sprinkling of fresh goat cheese along with the apple and onion mixture, the pastry was rolled into a tight a log and cut into pinwheels. Who knew that puff pastry could be so easy to work with…
Cynthia flitted about the summer kitchen between ourselves and our mother-daughter team-mates, dolling out helpful advice, demystifying the art of appetizers and diving in where needed. From our vantage point at the baker’s table, we observed our classmates expertly rolling a strips of phyllo around tiny mounds of ground lamb, spices and herbs to form a perfect “Moroccan Cigar” – seemingly complex, yet easily replicable for entertaining at home.
Moving to the main kitchen, our next task was “Shu Mai” (a type of dim sum). We chopped shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, fresh ginger, ground pork and crisp water chestnuts and seasoned the mixture with soya sauce, sesame oil and other seasonings. Once complete, we cut won ton wrappers in circles, and using our thumb and index finger, pushed the wrappers down to form tiny cups which we stuffed with the pork/shrimp mixture. Topped with a single green pea, the dim sum was ready for steaming.
Beside us, the mother-daughters team worked on Cashew-Coconut Patties, and in the summer kitchen the girls’ weekend team was busy crafting phyllo around Cynthia’s version of Asian empanadas and Three Cheese and Herb Bites.
Before we knew it, lunch was served – a veritable feast of appetizers, rounded out with a fresh spinach salad made from produce grown at Vicky’s Veggies. We sat down where our morning had begun, at the large wooden table in the dining room. Coffee cups were replaced with wine glasses filled with Prince Edward County wines. We passed the platters, feasted and chuckled over our culinary successes, sharing tales of the County and plans for the rest of the weekend – a fantastic morning shared by new friends in a delightful and welcoming environment.
From the Farm Cooking School is the ultimate field to table culinary experience. Owner Cynthia Peters conducts classes that highlight the art of seasonal cooking from around the world. Culinary Tours of local farms, producers and wineries can also be part of your day’s adventure. From meeting farmers to preparing traditional favorites in a chef’s home kitchen— the day will capture your heart and senses. The 2014 class schedule will be posted in January!