I’ve never turned down a free sample. I’m shameless. I go back for seconds. I eat those stubs of hot dogs dipped in mustard at Stop & Shop, the weensy little mini-meals served in tiny paper cups at Trader Joe’s, curls of glamorous artisanal cheeses from a display of food and flowers at Balducci’s, chocolate at Garelick & Herbs, a taste of wine at my neighborhood liquor store. Especially wine, but they don’t usually let you go back for seconds and thirds.
This time I was snarking a free hunk of freshly-baked bread at Billy’s Bakery in Fairfield and a lovely young lady offered me a free spoonful of jam: strawberry-lemonade, blueberry-basil, or pineapple-kiwi. I chose the blueberry, primarily because I was intrigued by the basil, although they seem to be putting basil in a lot of things lately. I had a basil shortbread cookie last summer. Here is where the blueberry-basil jam became more than a free sample; it was the beginning of a beautiful culinary relationship.
White Oak Farm & Table produces the jams in the kitchen of Christie’s Country Store, a Westport icon since 1926 when Christie Marsiello sold her family farm’s produce there. The Store lost that farmers’ market identity when Christie died at the age of 88; a succession of new owners had other ideas for the Store.
But when Renee DuMar bought it in 2008, they had local produce in mind again. They’ve spent two years lovingly restoring it, creating the atmosphere in which Hooper remembers growing up.
White Oak Farm & Table grew out of that feeling of Connecticut history. Renee, who has a design firm in New York, and her corporate lawyer, Craig Zykar, decided they were both through with the corporate world. They wanted to feed their passion for food, and they saw Connecticut’s local farmers’ markets a veritable playground of fresh ingredients.
After finishing off the blueberry-basil jam straight from the jar with a spoon, I visited Christie’s to find that jams weren’t the only thing in White Oak’s catalog. There are grilling sauces, chutney, spice rubs, and chocolate dessert sauces.
Renee gave me three jars of jam, a selection of grilling sauces, and a jar of fig-&-garlic chutney. I invited 5 friends over, grilled up a variety of meats with the sauces, and we had a feast. We poured the rest of the sauces over our meats at the table, we piled up chutney on apple slices, we ladled jam on our ice cream. We voted for our favorites and Kevin announced that he expected two jars of the Cajun Peach Grilling Sauce for Christmas.
Renee tells me that the Apple & Jalapeno is their best-selling grilling sauce, and it does have just the right amount of “kick”. You can taste the molasses, Worcestershire, and cider vinegar, but anchovies? Tamarind? They’re in there, hiding under the apple sauce, giving off their auras, I presume. There was not any of the Apple & Jalapeno left.
In the morning, I tasted tablespoons of the Cajun Peach (Kevin’s right. It’s pretty wonderful. Less sharp than the Apple & Jalapeno, but still a mouthful.), the Carolina Honey (sweet and buttery), and the Blackberry & Ginger – clearly favorites. A plump and juicy blackberry slid out of the bottle in the first pour.
Knowing that all the ingredients are fresh and local makes the whole experience just a little bit better; and when you visit their website, you’ll fall in love with the Sauce Boss, their resident blogger, who is clearly quite out of his mind. If you haven’t been introduced to White Oak Farm and the Sauce Boss, consider this your invitation.
Visit WhiteOakFarmTable.com for more information or to place an online order.