Last Sunday afternoon, we hosted a brunch—part of our Friends of the Café | Makeshift Dinner Series—to benefit Jones Valley Teaching Farm, an organization that works with students and within schools to create and supplement healthy food curriculum. Jones Valley’s Good School Food program encourages students to buy into the concept of “good food” by learning about where it comes from and how it can benefit their families and communities—beginning in early childhood through high school graduation.
This year, Jones Valley took a unique approach to fundraising; as part of an initiative called Gather, twenty-two restaurants and individuals hosted dinners on Saturday, May 16, with all ticket sales benefiting the farm. The following Sunday, Alabama Chanin hosted the very first Gather Brunch to wrap up the weekend’s festivities.
The event was headed by very dear friends Angie Mosier and Lisa Donovan—of Atlanta, Georgia, and Nashville, Tennessee, respectively (with kitchen assistance from our Alabama Chanin team and employees and volunteers from Jones Valley’s programs). Both ladies are Southern food experts and found innovative ways to approach what might otherwise have been a standard, mid-day meal. They are kitchen rock stars who took simple ingredients and made them feel daring and out of the ordinary.
As guests arrived, they were greeted with classic brunch beverages including Bloody Marys made with High Wire Distilling Co. Vodka, Red Snappers made with High Wire’s Hat Trick Botanical Gin, beer from Good People Brewing Company, and mimosas blended with freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices.
Prior to taking their seats, everyone helped themselves to petite versions of Lisa Donovan’s famous buttermilk biscuits. Fluffy in the center with a good, buttery crust on top, the still-steaming biscuits were split open to be filled with butter, sorghum, and bits of pan-fried Benton’s country ham.
After taking their seats, the first course was served. A simple salad, looking only just plucked from the garden was served: leaf lettuces and shaved rings of raw candy stripe beets with ribbons of carrots from Bluewater Creek Farm. Lightly dressed in vinaigrette, this brief moment of lighter fare eased us into the richer dishes to come.
Angie Mosier had prepared multiple pans of egg casserole, made from fresh farm blue- and brown-shelled eggs and chopped curly leaf spinach from Bluewater Creek Farm, with melted shreds of cheddar cheese. Her bowls of cheesy grits paired well, loaded with plenty of butter, cream, and cheddar.
Lisa surprised us with what she swore was a last minute, early morning inspiration (or revelation, perhaps)—sausage gravy empanadas. Brushed with egg and baked to the perfect golden brown, they were brought to the tables on boards and quickly passed around, where many diners helped themselves to more than one. Lisa later shared that she used her go-to pie crust recipe and rolled it into small circles, each filled with a heaping spoonful of peppered sausage gravy made from Benton’s sausage. The lightness of the pastry was the perfect vehicle to the hearty sausage filling.
As difficult as it was, everyone saved room for dessert. Using leaf lard from Bluewater Creek Farm, Lisa made a rustic piecrust and filled the pies with sliced fresh strawberries and pieces of rhubarb stalks. Topped with brown sugar streusel, the heaping pies were served to the tables with bowls of whipped cream lightened with tart Cruze Dairy Farm buttermilk. In the history of strawberry rhubarb pies, there’s likely never been any this delicious. Instead of a soft blend of indistinguishable berries and rhubarb, each piece of fruit was cooked just to point of perfection; you could taste distinct flavor differences between the warm slices of strawberries and al dente pieces of tart rhubarb.
Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s Executive Director, Grant Brigham, was on hand to explain how the farm’s educational initiatives were making measurable differences in students’ classroom outcomes—and in their commitment to community. We look forward to being a part of the Jones Valley family for years to come. (And look for more information on their fall fundraiser—Twilight Supper—in the months ahead.)
Special thanks to Jones Valley Teaching Farm, Angie Mosier, Lisa Donovan, High Wire Distilling Company, Good People Brewing Company, Bluewater Creek Farm, Nick Pihakis and Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, and all of our guests who made the fundraiser a success.
To learn more about Jones Valley Teaching Farm and the Gather Dinner series, click here here.