Claire Hopley’s Table Talk: What’s cooking at Brookfield Farm?: Dishes inspired by Amherst CSA’s just-picked ingredients

The Daily Hampshire Gazette. May 23, 2014. By Claire Hopley.

‘I’m a farm wife,” says Karen Romanowski of Brookfield Farm on Hulst Road in Amherst. “I didn’t used to like that term, but now I do because that’s basically what I am.”

Romanowski is also a nurse at the McDuffie School and the mother of two teenagers. Nonetheless, she cooks lunch every day for the farm’s apprentices, workers and volunteers, who may number up to 20 people at the height of the growing season. In addition, she works a lot in the farm’s greenhouses, tends the flowers and helps wherever necessary. “I just ask Dan ‘What needs doing?’ It could be weeding or harvesting or helping with the cows — anything, really.”

Dan is her husband, Dan Kaplan, who came to the farm as assistant manager in 1993, and now heads it as “Farmer Dan.” Brookfield was one of America’s first CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) farms, so unlike many farms, which specialize in just a few crops, it produces an immense variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and berries, and as well as cows it raises chickens and pigs.

When it’s time to make lunch, Romanowski says, “I just look to see what we have growing. I make a lot of soups. And I might make muffins — like rhubarb muffins right now — because everyone has been working all morning; they’re hungry so they need some carbs.”

Mostly, she says, she doesn’t use recipes, relying instead on the supply of just-picked ingredients as inspiration. Earlier this month, she was making soups using the carrots, potatoes and garlic stored from last year’s harvest, as well as early herbs such as chives, tarragon and marjoram. Sorrel, too, is an early arrival, and she says she teams it with lentils and perhaps spinach to make a hearty soup with a refreshing acid tang.

“I will make a pesto with it too because the lemony flavor is very nice,” she explains.

Romanowski comes from Delaware, but left there to study English in Vermont, where she spent her vacations working on farms.

“That’s where I met Dan,” she said. “After that we traveled and worked on farms in New Hampshire, Vermont and then in England. The farm was in Dorset, and was just perfect. They always stopped work for a break at around eleven — ‘elevenses’ the English call it. Everyone got together. I loved it. That’s where I got the idea for the farm lunch. It’s a great thing to share a meal as a work crew, everyone eating together and just talking, sometimes about the work but about other things too.”

“Even back then, the farmers we worked with in Dorset were packing vegetable boxes: just a selection of mixed local vegetables that people could buy,” she said. Such vegetable boxes have now become very popular in England. Brookfield and other CSAs fulfill a similar, though larger, function, supplying members with fresh, just-picked foods and flowers. The farm also has a newsletter, a store, events and an accessible garden.

“The idea for an accessible garden came from a member whose daughter was in a wheelchair,” Karen said. “The thought was to have a garden for people who couldn’t get right down into the farm — even, say, for mothers with young children who just need to grab something quickly. So we have raised beds with a little of everything: you-pick vegetables, raspberries, rhubarb, herbs and flowers. We plant brightly colored ones — a lot of reds and yellows — and also lavender so it’s a sensory experience for anyone with impaired vision.”

“Karen just picked up the ball with the accessible garden idea,” said Peter Littell of Sunderland is president Brookfield’s board of directors.” She got it started. She’s really a force. She’s an amazing cook. She cooks the meals for the apprentices and whoever’s there. She does all the flowers, yet she’s very modest. There’s no sign like ‘Flowers by Karen’ or anything. But people who know the farm and get involved know how much she does. She really is the assistant farmer.”

Of all her many jobs, she says, the easiest is being the farm cook.

“Everyone’s hungry and eats what’s there. Eating what you have produced and enjoying it together is a great thing.”

Several of her recipes, including a rhubarb cake she learned to make in England and two dishes with sorrel are below.

Sorrel Pesto

Sorrel is one of the first greens to pop up in spring. Its leaves are a little like spinach, though paler and flatter, and remarkably tart. Even more than spinach, with which it combines well in soups and other dishes, it immediately collapses when dropped in a pan set on the heat. A clump or two is a useful addition to a garden because it comes back every year without requiring any attention. It also grows wild.

Basil is the classic herb for making into pesto, but other green leafy things also work. Sorrel pesto has a lemony tang.

“It’s delicious served on quinoa, pasta, fish or chicken. You may replace some of the sorrel with parsley, spinach or arugula for a different twist,” Romanowski said.

2 cloves of garlic

¼ cup pine nuts, walnuts or pistachios

¼ cup grated Romano, Parmesan or Asiago cheese

2 cups sorrel, washed and spun dry

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

Put garlic, nuts and cheese in food processor. Process until garlic is finely minced. Add remaining ingredients. Process until smooth.

Lentil Sorrel Soup

2 medium onions finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic finely minced

Olive oil

A few sprigs of marjoram, oregano and thyme (all greening up in the garden now)

1 carrot finely chopped

2 cups of lentils

2 potatoes chopped

6-8 cups of vegetable stock or water

A few handfuls of sorrel chopped (or to your taste)

Pepper and salt to taste

Sauté onions and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add herbs and stir a few minutes. Add carrots, lentils, potatoes and stock or water; bring to boil, then turn the heat down and simmer about 30 minutes until the lentils and potatoes are soft. Add chopped sorrel just before serving. Alternately, throw it all in a crock pot and let it cook as long as you are away from home and come home and eat it.

Rhubarb Cake

“Rhubarb cake is one of the things I really do use a recipe for,” Romanowski said. “It’s a recipe I got when I was in England,” She also makes a salad dressing from rhubarb, “It’s rhubarb, onions, oil and vinegar.”

½ cup shortening or oil (light olive oil is recommended)

1½ cups sugar (Romanowski substitutes Sucanat)

1 egg

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups flour (can be whole wheat)

3 cups diced rhubarb

Sugar and cinnamon for the top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients except the rhubarb and the sugar and cinnamon for the topping. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the diced rhubarb. Spread the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle the surface with sugar and cinnamon. Bake for 45 minutes.

Gluten-Free Baking Mix

Cooking for many people who work at the farm, Romanowski has discovered that quite a lot of folks cannot tolerate the gluten found in wheat, and to a lesser but still significant extent in rye, barley and some oats. For making cakes, muffins and quick breads she substitutes a combination of flours that do not contain gluten. Gluten stretches when it is mixed with other ingredients, and especially so in kneaded bread doughs. The non-gluten flours in this recipe lack this stretch, so she adds xanthan or guar gum to ameliorate this effect.

1 cup white or brown rice flour

1 cup sorghum flour

1 cup tapioca flour

1 cup cornstarch

1 cup almond or coconut flour

½ teaspoon xanthan or guar gum

For information about Brookfield Farm, visit The farm store is open to members and non-members. It sells seasonal crops grown at Brookfield, as well as milk, honey, bread, cheese, eggs, meat, and other products produced by local farmers. It has cookbooks, too.