Cooking for Retreats


Cooking three meals a day for five days–while teaching workshops during that time also–is a big job. I love to do it, though. I love cooking for people. It takes a lot of organization to manage it. I cook everything from scratch, and I do it all by myself. I’ve been wanting to make a report of the August retreat, and I’m going to write it centered around the food this time.

As usual, I started out with big dreams of taking photos all through the retreat, and my camera pretty much fell by the wayside by the second day.

First of all–what this retreat entailed, workshop-wise, included cheesemaking with mozzarella and various soft cheeses and other dairy products (cream cheeses, yogurt, sour cream, to name a few) as well as a couple of hard cheeses. The baking day had everyone making biscuits, yeast bread, pie crusts and apple pies, and learning about grinding grain. During the soap and herbs days, attendees made batches of hot process soap, homemade lotion, beeswax and honey lip balm, and sugar scrub cubes along with learning about (and picking and eating) edibles from the wild and creating herbal tinctures and salves.

Around and in between all of that, they ate a lot of food. I managed to take a few photos. This was lunch one day that consisted of summer squash soup with salad and bread. Dessert was homemade clotted cream with berries and brown sugar snickerdoodles. (Really wish I’d taken a picture of dessert!)
Other lunches were things like potato soup with artichokes and ham, baked potatoes with homemade butter and sour cream, and one day I made them eat fried bologna sandwiches. Hey, you can’t come to West Virginia without sampling some of our prize menu items. Dessert at lunch is often homemade candy, or cookies.
Breakfast includes offerings like waffles, yogurt, smoothies, raisin bread, homemade cream cheeses, poached eggs, and one day I made an apple butter coffeecake. Of course, on baking day, we have eggs and biscuits–the biscuits they make themselves. I like to serve cheese grits at least one morning. There’s usually someone here who has never had grits before, or has tried them but not liked them before, and they always tell me they are surprised that they like mine. (I make my grits with cream, not water, and add cheese and season them well, that’s it! But yes, grits ARE delicious.)

Dinner is always homemade pizza the first evening–with their own mozzarella cheese they make in the morning.
Other dinners include spaghetti, chili, West Virginia beans and cornbread, and finale night is beer-braised brats on the grill with an ice cream bar for dessert. A popular dinner dessert is always Julia Child’s chocolate mousse, and there’s always a lot of homemade Glory Bee ice cream on-hand to go with carrot cake and other things.

I like to provide snacks–cookies or popcorn or one day this last retreat, I made crullers.

In order to make all this happen while I’m also giving workshops, I do a lot of advance preparation, and over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten that down to a science, especially for five-day retreats because they require so much planning. (FIFTEEN MEALS.)

When attendees aren’t eating, they’re doing, of course. This is a very hands-on atmosphere at Sassafras Farm. If you come here to a retreat, you will not just be sitting and listening, you will be doing as much as possible. Here, attendees were making herbal salves.
Here, milking the cow.
Making soap:
Here’s Laura Phillips, my co-teacher, teaching one of the hard cheese workshops.
Apple pies…..made by attendees. (They get to take them home, too.)
And attendees on a farm walkabout visiting the cows.
I want to say something about the men who come to the retreats at my farm.
This is Don and Marty, one of two adorable couples who were here. (Hi also to Randy and April!) I love it when men come here with their wives. They are always fabulous men incredibly willing to accompany their wives and embrace their interests. If you’ve ever thought about coming to workshops here and bringing your husband (or boyfriend) and wondered if men come, yes, they DO. Almost every retreat includes at least one man if not more, and they have a great time. So bring ‘em!

And now I’ve got to go make some bread or yogurt or something because I’ve got another retreat coming this weekend!

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It’s a week before the next retreat, and that means it’s serious milking time. I need 15-20 gallons of milk for a retreat, depending on what all we’re making, and I try to store the milk up fresh in one week. That means milking Glory Bee twice a day. She’s giving me about three gallons of milk a day.
Moon Pie is upset with mommy’s long hours, but she’ll get over it. She’ll get her visitation when I’ve got enough milk.
I think mommy misses her, too. Sometimes they both cry.
But they Skype, so everything’s fine.
And me, I’ve been making ice cream, cream cheeses, butter, sour cream, and more with all my Glory Bee riches.

Heavy cream coming off the top:
Wow, that’s the good stuff, let me tell ya.

This is some neufchatel that I packed into 8-ounce containers to go in the freezer.
After it freezes, I pop it out of the container.
Then I place each 8-ounce frozen block of cream cheese in a plastic sandwich-size baggie.
I place the baggies all into a gallon-size freezer baggie and can store for months in the freezer, though this cream cheese won’t last that long. Cream cheeses freeze well and it’s a handy way to make it ahead.

Yesterday, I decided to try clotted cream. Clotted cream is made by heating heavy cream to a very high temperature, 190 degrees, and maintaining it at that temperature for about an hour. Then refrigerate and let the heavy clumps of cream rise to the top.

It’s the richest cream in the world, something of a cross between butter and whipped cream in consistency. Technically, you should skim the heavy clots off the top and use the remaining cream underneath for something else, but since you can whip both butter and whipped cream, after letting it set overnight, I whipped it briefly–which resulted in clotting the rest of the cream. I didn’t whip it long enough to turn it into whipped cream, or whip it warm enough to turn it into butter. (And it doesn’t cast off any whey.) It just all thickened up into sweet, rich clotted cream, the consistency that I remember from when I took a trip to England and had some real Devonshire clotted cream in a little tea house in a tiny town with a castle. (Sigh. England!)
I’ll be serving this up along with other goodies at the retreat, and we’ll be making even more goodies during the cheesemaking workshops.

Meanwhile, I’m in full-on mode every morning and evening here with my little milking cart, the barn, and my pretty Glory Bee. I took a neighbor milking with me last night. I told him to stand back from the path Glory Bee would take to the milking parlor when I opened the back barn door. Sometimes people are amazed at how well-trained a milk cow is. You open the back barn door and she makes a beeline for her headlock. She knows her big feed is waiting for her there and she needs no instructions.
My cow, she makes me proud!

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The Slanted Little House

"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....

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