From left, Ryan Tengler, Ross Mehaffey, Acacia Mehaffey, Shelby Ruth Mehaffey, Louise Mehaffey, Bill Mehaffey, Maggie Mehaffey, Rich Bushee. Not all of us were present on this day. Not here on photo day: Michael Mehaffey, Desiree Wentworth and Marcia and Bruce Farina.
August 2, 2011
Farmhouse chef offers recipe for Caesar Salad made with fresh eggs
Food for Thought
Maggie Mehaffey married into a farming story that dates back to at least 1718, so says the historic plaque on the Mehaffey Farm homestead in Rowley. She and the rest of the family — Maggie’s husband, their two sons Ross and Michael, respective wife and girlfriend Acacia and Desi, Maggie’s sister-in-law Marcia and husband, and the family matriarch Louise — have all pooled cash, time, muscle and heart to save this farm, where Mehaffeys and Tenneys have been born and buried for 300 years.
Mehaffey Farm sits in a knoll at the foot of a gentle slope of winding road and meadow. The white-shingled house, both stately and modest, has clean New England lines and grace. The barn across the yard is all beams and barn swallows. In the sunny front by the wide entrance, buckets of snap dragons, lilies and zinnias stay fresh for the community-supported agriculture pickup in a small refrigerator. Behind them in the shadows, wide trays of Mehaffey garlic lay drying on screens. One of the three Allis Chalmers tractors (a 1939, 1940, and the Mehaffeys’ recently purchased 1956) waits tuning up or its next orders in the center of all.
A classic story, the farm originally spanned 300 acres, including marshland and woodlots; saltmarsh hay was cut as winter feed for cows. Today, it’s been pared down to 90 acres of woodland, 15 acres of open field, and 2 acres of vegetables, herbs and a couple of bee hives. Where once the farm had no neighbors, now roads named Harrison Circle, Tenney Road and Isabelle Circle, all family names, carve the landscape into house lots. (Isabelle Circle was misspelled; Isabel Tenney, was grandmother to Maggie’s sons. She raked hay, I was told, but refused to milk cows, and was fondly remembered for, among other things, a great steamed blueberry pudding and a sense of playfulness.)
I sat on lawn chairs in the barn and visited with Maggie and Louise, 80 years old but going on 40, last week. Louise keeps the family archives — 300 years of Tenney names and dates, births and deaths — in her head.
The farm was originally Perleys and Tenneys. William Mehaffey showed up in 1943 looking for work after finishing at Essex Agricultural School in Danvers. Two horses were used to plant Louise’s father’s fields when the young Bill Mehaffey, a natural machinist, suggested a tractor. It took a while — a difficult time in Korea, but William married Louise Tenney in 1953. Beside Louise’s parents, they raised a family in the farmhouse; their son William married Maggie.
In recent years, it had become a family hobby to sit around the table and agonize about preserving this place so rich in history. Isabel Tenney’s small trust, which had allowed basic maintenance on the buildings, had been dwindling for years. But, Maggie Mehaffey, a buttery blond whose powerful smile and optimism alone could power the farm machinery, had been watching the local food movement gain momentum. She read Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral,” about the author’s year feeding her family strictly on local foods, and Maggie passed it on to everyone in her family to read. Then, sadly Maggie lost her mother. She decided to leave her job at North Shore Community College and invest herself and a small inheritance into saving Mehaffey Farm. Teary, Maggie told me her mother would love knowing she was part of this effort. Maggie went to the Enterprise Center to get details about running a business, and started a blog.
Saving the farm is a patchwork effort built with muscle and heart. Bill, Maggie’s husband, supported his wife’s decision to give up a regular income to save the farm, but he works full-time for Mosquito Control for the state of Massachusetts.
“Everyone brings something different; we call my husband ‘the irrigator,'” Maggie says. Michael’s girlfriend, Desi, keeps a beautiful patch of herbs, her “Farmicy,” from which she’ll produce a line of all-natural balms and creams. Maggie, with a degree in communications, is public relations and business. Maggie’s two boys both have full-time jobs, but piece together, with their partners’ blessings, plenty of hours running the farm, hours that take away from other parts of their lives.
“The boys,” Maggie proudly tells me as I admire a beautiful new wash station standing in the field, built of reclaimed decking and an old sink, “do everything to perfection.”
The goal of all this work, and heart, is to pay the taxes, maintain the house and barn, and maybe support some family. Ross and his wife Acacia’s new baby, Shelby Ruth Mehaffey, begins seven generations of Tenney and Mehaffeys here.
This summer Mehaffey Farm is in its third year offering 27 families CSAs, and they sell at the Cape Ann Farmers Market in Gloucester on Thursdays and Amesbury Farmers Market on Sundays.
The day I visited, gold finches skimmed the fields. The last asparagus fronds toppled over in feathery bed by Desi’s fragrant clumps of herbs. Row upon row of vibrant produce grew like Findhorn, not a buggy leaf or weak seedling in sight (Mehaffey is not certified organic, but practices organic farming). Lettuces blossomed at all stages of baby to big. New radish seedlings peeked from the warm July soil. Thick, green foliage cradled plump heads of broccoli and golden crowns of romanesco. A hoop house protected an early tomato crop, while later fruit ripened in a distant field. A tumbling patch of melon varieties made me think to get to the farmers market early when they’re finally ready; local melons are treasures.
Three hundred years of this family sitting down to dinner together, and this Mehaffey generation’s commitment to preserving home, is the true fertilizer making this garden grow.
Here is Maggie’s recipe for Caesar Salad. She uses raw eggs, but promises the threat of salmonella comes from unwashed shells. The eggs at Mehaffey Farm are scrubbed.
Food for Thought runs weekly in the Times’ Taste of the Times section and is written by Heather Atwood, an author and mother from Rockport. Questions and comments can be sent to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow her blog at gloucestertimes.com/foodforthought.
1 large head of romaine lettuce
Parmesan or Romano cheese
For the dressing:
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice from half a lemon*
3 tablespoons corn or canola oil
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon (or so) of Grey Poupon, or your favorite spicy mustard
Anchovy paste or canned anchovy strips, cut up small.
Homemade or storebought croutons*
1. Wash the lettuce well and tear into large pieces.
2. Grate on a generous amount of a good Parmesan or Romano cheese.
For the dressing:
1. Finely mince the garlic.
2. Whisk together the garlic, olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, the corn or canola oil, the egg (We use a raw egg, but you can also “coddle,” or cook the egg slightly in boiling water for about 1 minute before putting into the blender.), the Worcestershire sauce, the mustard, and the anchovy paste — squeeze in about 11/2 inches or use canned anchovy strips, cut up smaller. We prefer the paste which gives the dressing its signature flavor.
3. To finish salad, grate on a generous amount of a good Parmesan or Romano cheese, add croutons and mix well, coating all of the lettuce pieces.
For the croutons*:
Homemade croutons with this salad are well worth the extra effort.
1. Cut any nice, crusty leftover bread into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces.
2. Pour a little good olive oil down the sides of a mixing bowl.
3. Smash a garlic clove and rub into the oil. Allow the garlic to infuse in the oil for a few minutes.
4. Take out the garlic and toss in the croutons to coat with the infused oil.
5. Spread the croutons out on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them and turn them every so often so they don’t burn!
Recipe courtesy of Maggie Mehaffey, Mehaffey’s Farm, 2011 (Recipe adapted from: “From Asparagus to Zucchini, a Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce,” by the Madison Area CSA Coalition, 1996.