Edible Blue Ridge Summer 2011 : Page 26

because all of the farms out here are lovely and all of the food they grow is lovely.” He passes a bunch of the Goodes’ kale over to sous chef Jeff Jacklin. Working here since Zynodoa’s inception, Jacklin has the passion and organization to help keep this kitchen running like a well-oiled machine. Around here, he’s known as the Chef with 12 Arms. Harris and Jacklin start breaking down the kale. The greens will be sautéed and served with Virginia rockfish. The stems—often tossed in the trash or compost at other restaurants—will be pickled and added to that dish as well. “Byproduct is our favorite thing,” says Har-ris. “It’s not just economical; it’s tasty. You’re paying by the pound for a lot of this stuff, and you don’t want to throw any of it away.” There’s a fluidity and a rhythm to the kitch-en at work. Nothing is static, especially the fla-vors: The same variety of tomato from the same grower will taste different each time, depending on sun exposure, placement of the plant in the field, and if it’s early or late summer. “I don’t want it to taste the same ev-ery time,” Harris explains, now peeling the blanched Romas. “My focus is to always keep a nice balance of flavor—sugary over here, salty up here. It should go all around the palate.” G unner, a large Chesapeake Bay retriever, bounds over to join Jeff on the short path between the Goodes’ home—a former care-taker’s cottage he restored himself—and one of the gardens. There are 50 acres of rolling hills and 14 picture-perfect outbuildings here—providing in-sanely pastoral vistas. Twenty-two acres are being used for hay. A small patch of ground is home to a handful of apple trees of unknown variety. And there are two gardens totaling a quarter acre, yielding the high-quality produce that winds up feeding the hungry locavores at Zynodoa. The gardens have been quite a success— perhaps too much so. The Goodes have had to shrink the square footage several times, be-cause there just wasn’t enough time in the day to man the crops, the restaurant, and Jeff’s construction business (which he has put aside for the time being). Not to mention, fend off the deer, foxes, and raccoons. Still, the garden has been prolific, in large SUMMER 2011 part because of help from their “garden gurus,” Phil and Deirdre Armstrong, owners of Harvest Thyme Herbs in Staunton. “They’re very sup-portive of our garden and of our restaurant,” says Susan, plucking pesky weeds from the space between the garlic chives and chocolate mint. She’s the queen of weeding here. A few feet away is an arbor almost com-pletely covered by clambering vines of Concord grapes, which, if they do well this year, will spend their afterlife as jelly. But it seems the more Jeff tends the grapes, the worse the results are. This year, he’s taken a hands-off approach, and, indeed, the fruit is looking pretty good. It’s early summer, but there are still spring vegetables like peas in full swing. “We’re several weeks behind the curve,” says Jeff, explaining that the cold river valley means they don’t plant before the freeze date, no exceptions. “We’ve tried pushing the date, but then to have to pull out 36 tomato plants just because we jumped the gun is heartbreaking. You can easily get ahead of yourself.” Plus, by harvesting later, they are able to extend the season and serve those ingredients at Zynodoa for longer. Suddenly, a line of marching ducks emerg-es from a quaint cinderblock building bearing the rustic sign hatchery. They are headed across the property, their daily pilgrimage to the spring-fed stream just beyond the main farmhouse, where Jeff’s parents live. They’ll return come dusk. Still inside the hatchery are the three ban-tam, two barred rock, and two Rhode Island red hens, each of which produces an average of one egg per day. These eggs find their way onto Zynodoa’s menu in everything from house-made pasta to mint ice cream. The rich, large duck eggs, on the other hand, are destined for Sunday brunch, prepared as a remarkably rich, almost orange-colored scramble. Hopping on an E-Z-GO golf cart, Jeff and Susan and their shovels and hoes arrive within minutes at what they call the “upper garden.” It’s there along the fence line that they’ve planted some sunchokes, graciously passed along to them by the Armstrongs of Harvest Thyme. On the other side of that fence are Mia and Rosie—two horses that were born at Buffalo Branch—which makes for a postcard-pretty garden scene. Also growing here are several varieties of po-tatoes, including Yukon Gold and Kennebec. A couple of years ago, the Goodes had a 450-pound yield, which lasted in cold storage until almost spring. This year, the plan is for 600 pounds. “It makes us proud to be involved to this degree,” says Jeff, pointing to the 60-foot rows where this year’s spuds have been newly planted (he puts them in late so as to bypass the ubiquitous—and damaging—potato beetle). Once it’s time to dig them up, it’s all hands on deck. Actually, there are really just four hands here. It’s clear Susan and Jeff aren’t afraid of hard labor. Jeff applies organic oils and fish emulsions plant by plant to ward off pests. And he composts both horse manure and farm waste, which he spreads over the crops with a tractor. The couple used to hand-water every-thing, standing there for hours, aiming a hose at each individual plant—and savoring the chance in an otherwise busy day to daydream. 28 | EDIBLE BLUE RIDGE

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