In northern Utah, we’re accustomed to a shorter growing season than warmer climates to the south. According to the National Gardening Association, Utah averages 170 days between the last frost and the first frost each year. Saint George is estimated at 207 days, while Logan clocks in at 164.
What could I expect, then, from a farm-to-table banquet, featuring only produce and food products from vendors with the Cache Valley Gardeners’ Market? Would it truly be a banquet with a variety of tempting flavors or would diners spend the night noshing on apples and cheese?
I arrived with my two teenage children and their friend ready to work. We had noticed an opportunity to help with the meal on JustServe, a website that connects volunteers with community needs. Almost before we could set down our bags, we were setting out fresh salsa and chips on 25 tables spread across the floor of the Cache County Event Center. Then, we joined other volunteers in the back kitchen dishing desserts for holding in the refrigerator: four-tier raspberry and carrot cake--both with cream cheese frosting, squash pie, a pastry layered with cream and slivered almonds, as well as bowls and bowls of raspberry and vanilla ice cream, locally made. The ice cream would later be topped with warm grilled peaches and a buttery oatmeal crumble.
Having worked in catering when I was in college, bustling among trays of decadent desserts didn’t phase me; my kids, however, were already looking at me with wide, eager eyes.
Soon, guests started pouring in. They were greeted by gardeners’ market representatives and guided to tables of appetizers along the south wall: cups of apple cider as well as trays of watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes and golden plums first, then slices of farmstead cheese and creamy trout with locally baked whole grain bread. With calm music from a sitar-like instrument setting the mood, guests settled into their seats buzzing with anticipatory conversation.
Back in the kitchen, we were tasked with re-filling the raspberry lemonade and keeping an eye on the banquet table to alert catering staff when entrees in the chafing dishes depleted. Stepping out of the kitchen, we finally gained a full view of what a Cache Valley banquet, prepared by local caterer Culinary Concepts, looks like. On the starting end, a massive salad of red and green leaf lettuce with cucumbers, carrots and jewel-like cherry tomatoes, followed by an impossibly tall and full cut-glass bowl, showing off marinated beets, onions, carrots and herbs--a salad so vibrant, I almost expected it to cast diamonds of rich red and purple light like a disco ball. A mustardy potato salad came next, followed by steaming corn-on-the-cob and a savory casserole of spaghetti and summer squash along with eggplant.
Sourdough bread and vases of basil pesto prepped guests for entrees of hand-shaped meatballs, beef roast and slow-cooked roasted pig, so tender the meat fell off the bones with ease. Pans full of quartered and steamed potatoes accompanied the meats along with an herbed gravy for a finishing touch. Oh--and don’t forget--shortbread biscuits edged their way onto hefty plates carried by guests at the end of the banquet table.
My kids now looked at me with hungry, inquisitive eyes. With a spread like that, who wouldn’t? To their credit, they stayed on task, filling and refilling punch bowls and shuttling trays of bread. They even stayed lively as we cleared tables following the meal, scraping the few left-overs at a cleaning station behind the building. Finally, as the local band took over with electric guitars and rolling rock music, we volunteers sat to sample Cache Valley’s finest. I heard a contented sigh from my teenagers, followed by satisfied vocal mumblings. The experience proved fulfilling--though not just in flavors and variety. We gained delicious insight into what an active community of gardeners, farmers and local producers bring to the table, even in notoriously cold Cache Valley with its limited growing season.
If a banquet is a sumptuous feast, what we experienced was truly a farm-to-table banquet.