Fall Garden Party in Newbury, Massachusetts
Create a seasonal feast for friends and family from the bounty of the fall harvest.
Photographs of Elise Sinagra
Some people baked sourdough during the 2020 lockdown. Some people took to canning. MaryJo Anderson, a resident of Newbury, and her family built a garden, and not just any either. They envisioned a spectacular oasis for entertaining – with space in the middle for a very, very long table – one that could
place a hundred people on each side.
“In March 2020, we just started digging,” Anderson recalls. “We had dreamed of creating something like this for years, but we never really had the time.”
With everyone stuck at the house, Anderson, her husband, Bryce, and their three children, Jackson, Reece and Bryce (the third), went out every day for months, with shovels and hammers, landscaping. landscaping, building planters and planting. The family planned and designed the entire space, with guidance from gardening coach and edible garden expert Arianna Iappini of Birch Arbor Gardens, and help from William and Steve Hunt of Hunt Garden Beds, who helped build the raised planters.
The family filled the beds with a mix of herbs and vegetables – 37 different varieties last year, including chamomile, lemon thyme, peppers, eggplant and, of course, tomatoes and cucumbers.
But while the pandemic gave the family the opportunity to build the garden of their dreams, the health crisis prevented the space from being used to its full potential. A gathering of 200 people, sitting side by side and sharing a meal, seems idyllic, but impossible, especially last summer when vaccinations were not yet available. So Anderson decided to throw an intimate feast, celebrating his lush garden with just a few of his closest friends.
The party, hosted by Caswell Restaurant Group, started with a glass of Sophie James wine.
The Napa-based organic winery is owned by another close friend of Anderson and has a philosophy of minimal intervention that allows the wine to express the terroir of the vineyard atop the mountain where the grapes are grown. the bounty of nature.
“The wine was definitely a focal point of the night,” says Anderson, with both rosé and pinot noir on offer. It was the perfect addition to a thoughtful, local feast. To celebrate the gathering after a long absence, Nancy Batista-Caswell, owner of Caswell Hospitality, which operates Brine in Newburyport and Boston’s Oak + Rowan, chose to serve the family-style cuisine, inviting Chef Brianna Meyers to focus on the garden to inspire the menu.
“We tried to present things that were still growing,” says Batista-Caswell, including nasturtium leaves, herbs, and a cucumber salad, all taken directly from Anderson’s plantations. “It was a lot of garden-translation-at-the-table that day. We wanted to provide food in the simplest way, so she was talking about the real element of what she is. If it could have been served raw, that’s how we presented it, ”rather than marinating or cooking.
To that end, dinner started raw, with a sparkling, freshly peeled Nantucket scallop crudo, followed by a menu consisting mostly of items sourced from Tendercrop Farm, just down the road. The offerings included roasted squash, ricotta gnocchi with first season winter truffles, apple ricotta balls, beef tenderloin, hot mixed cereals with radishes and nasturtiums, ciabatta bread with au oven and macaroons for dessert.
The party was lovely and Anderson says she used it as a guide as she slowly allows her friends and family to organize small gatherings, with safety in mind. But its long-term vision – as a place to host philanthropic events while nurturing an underserved community, may still be a long way off. Anderson is hoping the garden will eventually provide a bountiful donation of fresh vegetables to the First Parish Church of Newbury Community Food Pantry, but this rainy summer thwarted some of those plans.
“When we got down to building the garden, one of the most intentional pieces of the design was to grow enough to give the pantry plenty of tomatoes and cucumbers, which is just down the road. of our house, ”says Anderson, explaining that during the pandemic the need has grown so great that the pantry has grown from about 75 people per week to over 300. In fact, COVID-19 has grown the organization to become too big for its home in the church. With a new building under construction, Anderson’s husband Bryce is acting as a general contractor and the family is deeply involved in fundraising.
“What I’m planning soon, hopefully, when I feel safe enough, is to invite 100 people to the garden for a fundraising dinner for our community, so they can learn more about [the food pantry]. And then if they feel out of place, they can donate to the new building.
Then many more people will be able to experience the joy of her garden, scented with flowers and buzzing with bees, like her little group did last year.
“Everyone was beaming,” Anderson recalls. “Everyone was so happy to be in a beautiful place, to eat delicious food prepared by Nancy and her team. It was a pretty magical night.