Savory and sweet flavors abound in this midday feast inspired by an award-winning baker and a food-forward Vermont flower farm.
By Jessica Battilana
Jun 28 2022
Blackberry-Almond Scones; Summer Vegetable Frittata; Sweet Blueberry-Kale Salad; Lemon-Berry Tart; Overnight Maple-Glazed Cinnamon Rolls.Photo Credit : Kristin Teig | Styling by Liz Neily & Thomas McCurdy
The tiny town of Irasburg—named for one of the founders of Vermont, Ira Allen—is tucked into the upper right-hand part of the state, a dozen or so miles from the Canadian border. The drive to Ardelia Farm takes you down a long dirt road; you come over a hill and a red barn silo rises in front of you, a few more miles and the road dips and drops you at the 49-acre farm owned by Thomas McCurdy and Bailey Hale, named for Hale’s grandmother, Ardelia Roggenkamp Moore. Yes, it’s out of the way, but this unlikely spot is home to one of the most in-demand brunch scenes in New England.
How two men from Philadelphia came to own this 1840s farmhouse in a remote village in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is a tale of chance and good luck. The couple met online in 2011 (says McCurdy, “Five minutes into our first date we knew this was it”). At the time, McCurdy was a pastry chef for a large restaurant group, and Hale was doing floral design for events while also singing with the Philadelphia Opera. They quickly moved in together, and, when their Philly neighbors complained about their backyard chickens, they knew it was time to go. Together they’d dreamed of starting a farm, so they moved to upstate New York, renting land and starting a modest farming operation. A few years later, convinced they could hack it as farmers, they began looking for affordable land of their own, which brought them to Irasburg.
“We came to see the property right after a blizzard,” recalls Hale. The four feet of snow on the ground obscured much of the land, but the couple could see its potential. To make a go of it, the two did what farmers have done forever: They hustled. At first, Hale grew cutting flowers that he’d send off to florists in New York and Boston. Irasburg’s cool climate means flowers mature later than those grown in other locations, which worked to Hale’s advantage; long after peonies and sweet peas had come and gone elsewhere, he had ample supply. McCurdy continued his baking career, eventually operating a stand at the Burlington farmers’ market. At the holidays, he sold cookie boxes—baking, packing, and shipping dozens of varieties of cookies to hundreds of recipients. He also answered a casting call for the Food Network show Chopped Sweets, in which chef-testants are tasked with preparing dishes using only ingredients found in mystery baskets. McCurdy won, and along with bragging rights he was awarded the $10,000 prize.
The extra income—and a few years of experience—allowed McCurdy and Hale to reconsider the farm, homing in on what made them the happiest. For McCurdy, that meant ditching the farmers’ market, which was preceded by sleepless nights of baking and a predawn wake-up in order to arrive in Burlington in time, and ceasing the cookie boxes, which were too time-consuming to be a moneymaker. For Hale, it meant shifting his business away from delicate, perishable cut flowers and into seeds—particularly sweet pea seeds. Hale now grows 125 different varieties in greenhouses dotting the property, carefully harvesting seeds at the end of the season and selling them online. He is one of the only domestic farmers to grow sweet pea seed, a niche he carved out for himself. In addition to growing established varieties, he also puts his horticulture degree to good use, developing brand-new varieties of sweet peas by crossing some of his favorites. “Part of being a farmer,” says McCurdy, “is that you have to be adaptable. We’re not afraid to take big risks.”
A recent renovation of their farmhouse included the addition of a breezy entertaining porch, where McCurdy can host dinner parties and events. And in the “party barn” behind the main house, guests are welcomed to the farm several times each year for “Brunch and Blooms” events. McCurdy prepares a generous brunch spread for visitors—piling cake stands with scones, cinnamon rolls, cakes, cookies, and fresh doughnuts; loading platters with crudites and frittatas, cheesy grits, and bacon. Under arching strands of party lights, Hale lines the walls with buckets of his homegrown flowers so guests can make bouquets to take home. The events, which always sell out, are the perfect synthesis of their skills and passions.
For McCurdy, moving to Vermont and farming has had a huge impact on his cooking. The couple raises chickens, pigs, and, new this year, a few head of beef cattle; all the meat and eggs they consume they raised themselves. He’s happily embraced some of Vermont’s best-known products, including maple syrup and cheddar cheese. And without the pressure of producing for the farmers’ market, McCurdy has had more time to concentrate on a vegetable garden to rival Hale’s flower beds. They eat and serve fresh vegetables all season long, then McCurdy pickles and preserves the rest to see them through the long Vermont winters, when sweet peas—both the flowers and edible variety—feel like a distant memory.
The following recipes are inspired by McCurdy’s “Brunch and Blooms” events. They run from a savory veggie frittata and a kale salad that makes novel use of in-season blueberries, to a very doable puff pastry tart and deliciously simple blackberry-almond scones.