For all their most recent history as a summer resort for the rich and famous, the East End of Long Island has been farmland from the arrival of the first English settlers in 1640. The land and the climate here are extraordinarily good for growing. The glaciers left behind rich top soil that in places is 6 feet deep. Locals and those of us who love the place decry the fact that we now grow multi-million-dollar houses on what was once fertile ground for corn and most particularly, Long Island potatoes. But all is not lost. In the 1970s, a group now headed by the scion of one of our original families, one John v.H. Halsey, was formed to preserve our farmland.
Today the Peconic Land Trust can claim an enviable record of buying development rights for our local farmers and thereby preserving them from residential development. The problem, however, was that among those who purchased preserved land were many non-farmers. They wanted to extend their lawns or keep horses or to plant trees. Farmer Madonna Ciccone, yes, that Madonna, owns a sizeable tree farm that obscures her house and does little else. Land that the Peconic Land Trust hoped would yield fresh fruits and vegetables became so expensive—over $100.000 an acre—that it was out of reach for local farmers to purchase.
Help was on the way. The towns were given the right to dictate how the preserved land would be farmed for the production of food. Horse, tree farms and elaborate estate landscaping do not fall in that category. So the effect has been the value of the agriculture land has decreased and it is now relatively affordable for farmers.
All last winter, as we drove the back roads to get to our house, we watched as a beautiful new barn was built. In the fields behind the barn, we saw numbers of horses grazing and we assumed that this was another beautiful horse barn. Early this summer, a large sign appeared announcing the opening of a new Farm Stand called Yellow Barn Farm. The White Barn, it seems, is the centerpiece of a new farm. And that 19.2-acre farm is the property of 27-year-old Hank Kraszewski, a third-generation farmer who has spent his life farming his family’s 450 acres in Southampton Town. Here at Yellow Barn Farm, he has put his heart into farming truly beautiful vegetables, berries, and fruits including those that make up today’s recipe.
What he doesn’t grow himself, he brings in from other local farms. He is quoted as saying “I love everything about farming. There’s nothing I don’t like. I’m looking forward to working with my family—my mother and father—and to grow the business.” “Buying this farmland is important for the future of our family farm. We know that this is land that we will never lose and have forever.” I certainly hope so.
Today’s recipe was inspired not just by the beautiful ripe peaches and farm-grown cukes. A version appeared in a recent Bon Appetit. It inspired me to take the ingredients I had and adapt them to a wonderful warm weather salad. There’s a lemony vinaigrette that gives the salad a savory quality. It’s the perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the fruit and the tang of the cheese. The original recipe called for Feta. I had an idea to use goat cheese and I only wish I’d had some Trader Joe’s Honey Goat Cheese. Instead, I opted for an herb-flecked cream cheese. And instead of a medley of herbs, I stuck with just beautiful mint leaves that not only added color but a hint of mint flavor to this terrific salad. Here is the recipe to which you are free to make your own adaptations.
- Step 1 =”For the Vinaigrette
- Step 2 1 shallot, finely chopped
- Step 3 Kosher salt
- Step 4 1 lemon
- Step 5 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
- Step 6 To Assemble the Salad:
- Step 7 2 lb. mixed heirloom cucumbers, sliced into ¼”-thick wedges and rounds
- Step 8 1 English hothouse cucumber, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise
- Step 9 Kosher salt
- Step 10 2 lb. yellow peaches, sliced into ¾”-thick wedges
- Step 11 4 oz. goat cheese or feta, crumbled
- Step 12 Freshly ground black pepper
- Step 13 Handful of mint leaves, torn if large
- Step 14 1 lemon, halved” ]To make the Vinaigrette
- Step 15 Place shallot in a small bowl and season with a big pinch of salt. Finely grate zest from lemon into bowl
- Step 16 Cut lemon in half and squeeze in juice. Add vinegar and toss to combine. Let sit 10 minutes.
- Step 17 To Assemble the Salad
- Step 18 Place cucumbers in a medium bowl and season with salt. Spoon half of vinaigrette over and toss gently to coat.
- Step 19 Place peaches in a serving bowl or on a platter and season with salt. Spoon remaining vinaigrette over and toss gently with your hands to coat.
- Step 20 Add cucumbers to peaches
- Step 21 Toss gently again just to combine. Add crumbled cheese
- Step 22 season with salt and pepper. Top salad with basil and mint and squeeze lemon over.