Going Home Again: They say it can’t be done, and maybe they are right, but this, 2014 is the year that we tried. I love to tie these contests into the heartbeat of the moment, tap into what we are talking about. And right now, I’m dwelling in the past. So time to tune in to the nostalgia. Break out the transistor radio, crank up the old Victrola, listen for the hoof beats of the postman’s pony; lets cozy up to some traditional Americana and this year’s Annual Apple Pie Baking Contest results!
What am I on about? Well, we jumped back in time to a sweeter space this year, with familiar faces all around. So in all honesty, there was a bit of nervousness right off the bat, from judges and contenders alike. Where is Teri? Why isn’t she here? Who is running this? How will they do it?
“Fear not” I told them all, “Dave has it in hand”
“Really?” Incredulously asked many.
“Yes! yes of course,” I continued, ” Dave, well, he is the originator of the pie contest, it is his brainchild”
“That’s right! it’s my baby” Dave chimed in, as he shooed another impatient onlooker/taster away from the yet to be judged pies.
Dave went on to express his fondness, not for the first and not for the last time I’m sure for his beloved apple pie contest. The same great battle that for years which has fallen under the helm of his wonderful, and equally beloved sister, up until her current state of blessed maternity. After a decade of them, this contest is truly a labor of love for the whole Volante family and crew, but Dave has a special fondness for it, and it was good to see him cradle this baby again.
And yes this is one of those years where you are really going to have to read through for the winners, sorry but time is of the essence, specifically a lot of it. Patience is the virtue we saw exhibited today, from the careful handiwork of our participating bakers, to the measured opinions of our fabulous judges, and also our wonderful customers who waited dutifully to be called to the table to partake in the excess.
So first, let me thank our judges. We couldn’t have done this without all of you and your donation of time and talent are graciously appreciated. We had some of Needham’s finest in attendance today, sights for sore eyes in some cases. Our panel of four judges included long-time farm friend, Jeff Kaye, of Fava Restaurant. He was one of the first to put Needham on a dining destination map, and now professor at Le Cordon Bleu College. He strikes an imposing figure in his chef’s whites, but as one of our original judges, we feel confident he grades fairly, and on the curve.
We were also graciously joined by Needham and newly Wellesley, restauranteur Dave Becker, of Sweet Basil and Juniper. Another veteran of our judging circuit, we were so pleased he could join us again this year, especially with the demand of two restaurants on his mind. Always great to have Dave around as he keeps the crowd going as well as any MC, and his general positive attitude for every aspiring home cook really comes across to the contestants.
A new face of our judging panel and one that we were able to snag via a wee bit of nepotism thankfully, is Ruth Armstrong. A woman with a true pastry sensibility, Needhamites have been fans of hers for years as the woman behind Sweet Rues, another Needham institution whose past isn’t so distant. Her talents are now being put to what sounds like a fair amount of use managing at our other friendly neighborhood Italian restaurant, Spiga, whose chef Robert is also a veteran judge of our contest. We are happy and thankful that Ruth could join us and lend an added touch of professional pastry knowledge to the panel.
Rounding out the panel, in the honorary throne of pastrydom, Kelley Heyworth, Apple Pie Champ Emeritus. Kelley’s unique apple pie wowed judges last year and set her on this path of peer review. The question is, will her knowing stature make her a judge of compassion or will she cut to the quick? It certainly must be an emotional roller coaster nonetheless, at once relieving the glory of honors once received, and then finding the courage to pass the torch. Will she be able to quietly fade into obscurity again, with only her blog, HappyHealthyKids, and a life only moderately dependent on events at her local farm market to satisfy her? Time will tell.
Nicole’s pie, had it not won on flavor a would have taken home the prize for presentation as well. Prepared and presented in a petite cast iron skillet and adorned with spiced whipped cream curls, it practically proclaimed itself as a tasty homemade dessert before fork touched mouth. In our brief interview session afterward, Nicole mentioned that she had entered the contest in the past to no success. Moreover, this year she baked a pie crust and couldn’t stand behind it. There just wasn’t enough to it to deserve her name or the luscious Ruby Macs she was going to fill it with. So she made a last minute run to her recipe stash and found this winner. The risk paid off, and the judges loved it. The crust was a hit, seemingly a classic ice water crust that we’re familiar with, but this pie cranked it up with a streusel topping, the saltiness and nuttiness of which won over more than one judge.
Nicole, for her valiant last minute save and wise decision to take the time to do it right was handsomely rewarded. A $100 Volante Farms gift card, a Sweet Basil Cook Book and gift card complements of Dave Becker, an amazing trophy, and of course the opportunity to stand safely on the judges side of things next year should she desire the limelight a little longer. Her recipe is found below.
Rudy has become a cooking contest regular of late, and honestly it is a shock that this is his first win by my records. Always near the top, consistency paid off again. It may just be that he is always smiling win or lose that I never realized he had yet to win. In any case, those days are done and now only first place eludes him.
His perfect pie hewed close to traditional mores. Crust on bottom, crust on top. Golden Delicious Apples in the middle. His trick to tenderness is to precook the apples a bit in boiling water. A $75 gift card to Volante Farms was his reward for persistence. His recipe below:
First time ever competitor, Joanne, arrived not knowing what to expect and lo-and-behold, she brought with her an outstanding pie. It too had a pedigree attached, one of some tradition. Named Grandma Rampe’s Apple Pie, well it’s certain someone would fight for its honor among the greats. A mix of Granny Smith and Macs lent this pie it’s unique taste, oddly one of the few top placing pies to shoot for the complex blending of apples flavors this year.
Joanne was thrilled enough with the title, but also happy to receive a $35 gift card to Volante Farms for her win. Hopefully we have her and the rest of you hooked on our contests now and ready to show up next time. Grandma Rampe’s Recipe is below:
One last bit of history I have to bring up is Lauren Murphy, our $20 Gift Card winner for Best Presentation for her apple pie with whipped cream and cinnamon sticks on the side. She is a veteran of many of our customer cooking contests, having placed in several. By her own admittance, apple pie is not a strong suit. So for her to turn around last year’s performance of what I will only say was a memorable pie in appearance to win for best presentation this year, is really perhaps the coup of the day. Congratulations Lauren and hopefully you don’t mind being called out on this, having such a rebound in such a short time.
A few overall notes on the year:
Don’t forget about our 2nd annual Pumpkin Fest this weekend, we are trying to carve 500 Jack-O-Lanterns to light along the walkways and sidewalks of the farm, $5 Donation gets you a hollowed out pumpkin to do your own artistry with!
Thank you again for all your participation in this and all our events, keeping the community strong! Next up for customer contests is our Chili Contest, date to be announced in late December, and held right in time for your Superbowl Party this winter. If all these pie recipes don’t speak to you, or you aren’t convinced you can replicate the best this coming Holiday season, don’t forget we offer apple and a lot of other types of pies from a variety of local bakeries!
And to close my favorite Pie By the Numbers Charts, first the ever popular Pie Chart, describing which apples were most popular this year, and the second showing changes in apple demographics over time. Thanks for reading through all of this yet again!
Bring in your home-cooked apple pie and our local celebrity judges will taste and evaluate it! Please provide your recipe and most importantly, which varieties of apples are included. Pre-registration (required) and pay attention to the very few rules below!
Apple Pie Contest Rules:
Each participant will receive a discount coupon for 10% off that day.
To enter register here or with any of our cashiers in the farmstand:
Please note, you will NOT get a confirmation email once you register, just be here by 10:45AM on the 18th! Thanks!
For inspiration look at the recaps and recipes from previous years:
We are pleased to present the first in a series of seasonal design events at Volante Farms. Join us for a fun and relaxing evening of wine and snacks while we lead you through the process of making your own beautiful fresh field flower arrangement. We do the cutting and prep work, you just show up with your friends, grab a glass, and choose your flowers.
We will lead you through the steps to make a professional quality arrangement of our homegrown summer field flowers for you to take home and be the centerpiece of your summer table.
Our party starts at 6 pm in the greenhouse with a quick look at the field where we grow our flowers. Then back inside to your tables, where design bowls ready to accept the professionally prepared stems you choose from our selection. While you snack and sip wine Dianne and Linda and a team of design helpers will lead you through the steps of creating a long lasting arrangement full of fresh flowers for you to take home.
Along the way you will get ideas on how to create arrangements like the one pictured above on your own from flowers you find around your own home and garden. The evening will be lively and fun with a focus on chatting and wine with helpful instruction as a nice addendum.
Tickets are $50 and include the class, snacks (cookies, cheese, etc), and the flowers and container to arrange them in. For $15 additional you will receive vouchers for two glasses of wine that we can pour for you from a selection suited to the event. Must have valid ID to enjoy the wine option.
The evening will be held in our greenhouse and so can take place rain or shine.
Click HERE to Register.
Jungle Jim Balloon Show from 12-2pm
Jungle Jim will entertain kids of all ages with
his fabulous balloon-twisting show!
The Field Tour will start around noon. We will begin at the greenhouse where we grow our baby arugula and start our seedlings and then head out to look at the cutting flowers, rhubarb, mint, beets, beans, cabbage, corn, blueberries and whatever else we can find! Bring kids of all ages and plenty of questions, we love to share our fields, tips and tricks with you.
You may notice a lack of info about our Customer Cooking Contest that was previously here. Unfortunately due to an overwhelming lack of interest in participating we have been forced to cancel the event this year. Hopefully you will be able to join us for the field tour and Jungle Jim and his balloon art, which are going forward as planned.
Minus a few cool nights here and there we are back on track for some fabulous spring produce. Surely you’ve seen some of our purple and green Asparagus over the past few weeks, that season is actually waning already for us, so be sure to grab it when you see it!
We have a whole bunch of other fresh spring tastes rolling in now. We have been picking our head and leaf Lettuce in the field for about a week, the varieties you love! Green and Red Boston, Green and Red Leaf, Buttercrunch, and probably even Romaine by this weekend. We have a beautiful crop of Spinach right now as well, really thriving at these temperatures.
Radishes in all shapes and colors are popping up, and are staying spicy but mild in the cool weather. There was a great piece in this week’s Food Section in the Boston Globe about one of our favorites, the French Breakfast Radish “D’Avignon” which we usually have available.
Just today we started pulling our early ‘spring onions’ as Scallions, some lovely red and white Salad Turnips, some young Beet Greens for salad and braising, as well as cutting ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard. We have fresh Mint for your summer patio cocktails and will probably start having homegrown Rhubarb by the weekend as well.
With all this coming in daily, much more on the way, it looks like it’s shaping up to be a great season out in the fields. We even have a few new things up our sleeves for the coming season, with another trial of Fennel, and taking a shot at Artichokes and Kohlrabi as well. Peas and Strawberries are right around the bend too, we’ll be sure you know as soon as they arrive. as always check us out on the web at volantefarms.com where you can see what we are picking now!
Our Annual Spring Greenhouse Workshop Series is on again this year and bigger than ever before. Workshops are free start at 10 am Saturdays beginning March 22 and continuing through May 3. No registration is required, just show up! Attendees to most workshops will receive a coupon to put toward their next gardening purchase. New this year, for every workshop you attend, you can be entered into a drawing for a Door Prize to be given out at our last Spring Workshop on May 3. The more times you attend the better your chances for winning!
Volante’s has jumped aboard one of the newest gardening trends, Fairy Gardening. Toadstool cottages, tiny wheelbarrows, stone patios, and fairy dust complement a selection of miniature plants. Join Michelle as she shows you what we have to offer the pint-sized dwellers in your garden and get some ideas for the magical spaces you might create in your own yard.
Want a garden in your yard but not sure about the soil quality? Maybe the sunny side of your house is mostly paved. Maybe you just like the clean architecture of a framed and defined space. Raised Bed Gardening might be right for you. Join Mike, who constructed many of the large wooden planters around the farmstand, as he takes you through the basic benefits and limitations of raised bed planting, how to construct and maintain them and how to efficiently use the space you create by choosing plants and spacing that works in a confined area.
Join Michelle in the greenhouse for a special all day Kid’s Gardening Workshop. Stop in between 10 and 4 to see what flowers are ready to go in the greenhouse and have your children work with Michelle as she talks to them about basic gardening techniques and what it takes to make a plant grow and then has them plant a seed to take home and grow into their own flower or vegetable.
Free Soil Testing for your garden and lawn. Come by with one or two dry samples of soil from areas of your garden you would like tested. John Howell of the New England Vegetable and Berry Association will be here to analyze your samples and help point you in a growing direction, and we will be here to help you pick up the lime, bone-meal, acidic fertilizer or whatever he suggests to you.
By popular demand, Billy will go over the steps to growing a perfect tomato, start to finish. He will cover everything: from heirloom to hybrid and grafted plants, and how to choose the right one for you, garden preparation and proper soil amendments, planting, pruning, disease prevention and harvest tips. Billy is one of our field growers with a deep knowledge of farm practices and many years in the business. bring him your toughest questions.
Providing for our pollinators is a critical role for the home garden. A successful landscape depends on the health of the insects and other animals that help to carry out the process of pollination, and it doesn’t hurt that so many of these pollinators are beautiful to behold as well. Join Linda for a discussion of how to prep and plant your garden to attract and nourish the fastest of birds and fairest of butterflies and other nectar loving beauties.
Many customers want to know what plants will endure and flourish in their garden, sparking a renewed interest in not just locally grown but native perennials in the market. Native Perennials are those found naturally all around New England and depending on the type of environment your garden has to offer, Beth will help you choose the best plants with the natural ability to make it in our harsh climate year after year and throughout the season.
Still our most popular workshop every spring, Dianne walks you through the steps of choosing a container and the basic pieces of creating a mobile beauty for your deck or patio garden. A container is a great way to showcase a favorite plant or draw attention to an overlooked part of your garden. Stop in to learn about pot size and shape, soil and fertilizer requirements, and the general artistic element and theory behind creating a world-class container. Plus since it’s in May it will be just about the right time to get to work on your own summer spectacular.
During this final workshop of the spring we will draw names in our Door Prize Raffle, and you will go home with a wonderful prize from our greenhouse crew.
We had a great time last Thursday night with the gang from Jack’s Abby Brewery. And we were celebrating with a full house, 109 all told at the end of the evening. Chef Todd’s menu was beer inspired beginning to end and with the recent addition of John Dewar’s Meats to the farm, and a hefty Brambly Pig earlier that week, there was plenty of meaty goodness to go around. His menu was certainly elevated from standard beer hall fare, but the casual fun atmosphere permeated and everyone was able to relax while fine dining at the same time.
We cleared the floor of the farmstand and lined up the tables, and were seated and having fun in no time. It was a nice winter holdover til we can host more Dinners in the Field this summer, which we will definitely be doing, probably deciding on dates by early May. If you missed this and still want a great farm-to-table experience in the meantime, consider joining us this Saturday night for Todd’s Vegetarian Cooking Class, still a few seats available, and you’ll set up in the same area, just a lot more intimate. Click HERE for More info.
But on to the menu and photos, the things that will make you wish you were there:
The pastry crew whipped up some soft pretzels to pair with Smoked Local Apple Mustard, Jack’s Abby Sunny Ridge & Babymaker Beer Jelly, and a Spicy Pimento Cheese Spread. Guests also found a Bacon Jam and Local Spelt Linzer Cookie awaiting them at their seats.This was paired with Jack’s Abby Sunny Ridge Pilsner.
The kitchen sent out a salad that was a marvel of vegetable and fruit engineering. The number of components is in the dozens, but the basic is a mix of fresh and bitter greens, fresh herbs, peanuts, and a twice grilled pineapple with a beer and tamarind glaze. This was served with the award winning Jack’s Abby Mass Rising Double IPL. A simplified version of this salad is currently been running as a special in the Deli if you want to give it a try.
A real meat and potatoes main course, with a medley of beautiful John Dewar and Kinnealey Beef and a medley of garlicky creamy root vegetables to match. Plus in the dead of winter still a little homegrown flavor, with a tangy Horseradish Creme Fraiche to dollop on top. This course was served with the campfire flavored, Jack’s Abby Smoked Marzen, a Rauchbier in the Oktoberfest style.
The pastry crew doubled down on the beer for dessert as well, building a traditional Tiramisu, but soaking the ladyfingers in Jack’s Abby’s fabulous black lager first. layers of cream and cocoa completed the treat, which guests were finishing faster than the entire table could be served. Smoke and Dagger Black Lager was the natural accompaniment to the final course.
As the evening broke up, the guests meandered out to the parking area to a freshly snow cover, once again. The night was a lot of fun for us and the Jack’s Abby crew, and we look forward to our next one. See our gallery below for more photos of the evening, and please join our email list above if you don’t want to miss out on our next great event.
Thanks to our contestants in this weekend’s 1st Annual Customer Soup Contest. The competition was tight and precise. Only 6 contestants had the courage to present their masterpieces, meaning the odds were in their favor.
Very special thanks to Chef Robert DeSimone from Spiga Restaurant, he was a very generous & willing celebrity judge for this first round, when we weren’t really sure what to expect. Additional thanks to Chef Todd and Sean, our produce manager who each brought their palettes to perform as judges as well.
Special congratulations to our winner, a previous runner-up in the Apple Pie Contest as well as third place tie in last month’s Chili Cook Off, Paul Gardner. His Black Bean Soup with Cilantro Pesto wowed the judges and the crowd. He even lamented how good it was that there were no leftovers once we were done with it.The judges remarks included, “fantastic depth, loved the pesto” and ”delicious, I want more.”
Paul walked away with a sharp trophy, a $100 gift card to the farm, and a gift from local chef Dave Becker of Sweet Basil, a signed cookbook and gift card to the restaurant. Plus he will be guest judge at next year’s contest. The recipe for his soup is below, and it is perfect for a cold winter day like today. If you want to kick it up a notch consider getting the bacon right out of our kitchen, I bet Todd would slice some of his house smoked off for you.
Second place goes to one of our stalwart competitors, Mike Bolio, who brought an amazing yogurt based barley and meatball soup. Armenian seasoning really grounded this one with the judges and crowd as well, no one really knew what it was but they loved it. He used local partners’ Four Star Farms barley in it which gave it a great firm substance to the light broth which the judges loved.
Mike took away a $75 dollar gift card and continues to collect bragging rights. His recipe is below:
Last minute update: Mike suggests adding 4 cloves of chopped garlic to the meatball mixture!
Third place went to Emily Redmond, with a Curried Butternut Squash Soup. The spice was just right and the garnish of creme fraiche and cranberries hit the spot. Judges found it to be “perfect,” “aggressively seasoned,” and “nice ginger snap.” One of the simplest preparations of the winning soups, but really balanced well. Emily took home a $35 gift card, her recipe is below.
Again thank you to everyone for participating and showing up on a cold Saturday. It was a lot of fun, and now we have a standard set for next year’s Contest! Our next customer contest is set for summer, more info on that as it approaches.
Next up we have a Vegetarian Cooking Class with chef Todd this weekend, with seats still available. Also this weekend is the second half of our Rally for Rosie’s Place, we need more donations of fresh produce to match later this month!
Also be sure to stop in for our Grand Wine Tasting from noon to 4, if we haven’t got you donating before that, we will by the time you leave!
Sunday from 11-2 Patti from On The Edge will be back in the parking lot for monthly knife sharpening.
Join us this March for two separate Grand Tastings so that we can introduce you to a wide array of the beer and wine we carry by the knowledgeable distributors and brewers that bring them to us. A Grand Wine Tasting on March 8 and a Grand Beer Tasting on March 22.
We will have a section of the store cordoned off and after you present valid id to enter, you’ll get a “passport” to visit the regions on offer that day. No registration is necessary, and admission is free. A wide variety of the specialty foods we create and carry will also be available to sample alongside your beverages.
The following breweries have already signed on to the beer tasting, likely to increase as the date nears:
Hope to see you there!