A Visit to Dirt Road Farm with Phoebe Cole-Smith
Phoebe has been an inspiration to me since the day I met her: she's loving, creative, nurturing, and completely unique in her perspective on life. I had the pleasure of meeting Phoebe through my now-husband Justin - he grew up with her son, his best friend Walker, and was lucky enough to consider Phoebe a second mother. I admire Ph1 for not only raising two humans (Sophie, her daughter, and Walker, her son) who I consider to be my Los Angeles family and most trusted and dear friends, but also for the life she has created in her hidden away Connecticut haven. Phoebe has shown us what happiness can look like at all stages, moving through the seasons of her life with exuberance, curiosity, and an admirable willingness to try new things.
A lifelong student, Phoebe is ever open to new beginnings. Having found a passion for cooking when Sophie and Walker were growing up, she attended The French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) while they were still in school, commuting to New York City for her daily classes. Now, with her two babies having gone to college and become adults, growing into their own, she too has continued to grow as an individual, embracing her love of local produce, seasonal cooking, and community. Since I met Phoebe ten years ago, I've seen her transform her home into what is now referred to as Dirt Road Farm, find creative fulfillment through her beautiful cooking and intentional barn suppers, and explore new interests, constantly learning as she goes: tapping trees for fresh maple syrup, harvesting honey from her bees - the list goes on.
I find growing up to be exciting and scary in equal measure, and the thought of getting older is always in the back of my mind. In watching Phoebe grow and change so joyfully over these years, that slight fear in me has steadily slipped away, leaving only a sense of possibility and an eagerness to explore new horizons. I feel quite honored to have been able to photograph her at her home when I was in town recently. She made us delicious iced tea with homemade elderflower syrup, a local asparagus tart, and an Eton mess. I was very much in my happy place and I feel so lucky to know her and her family, and to always have that bit of happiness and warmth with me. See below for her Elderflower Syrup recipe, and if you live in the Tri-State area I highly recommend attending one of her magical and artistic barn suppers - link here to those and here to purchase her amazing fresh maple syrup.
– Phoebe (Ph2)
ELDERFLOWER SIMPLE SYRUP
"In mid to late June, our elderflower bushes are laden with large umbels of creamy white flowers with a delicate intoxicating scent and an even better flavor. The elderflower blooming season is short but you can capture its unique taste in an infused simple syrup; blossoms left on the plant will become elderberries, delicious to preserve as well." –Phoebe Cole-Smith
28 elderflower umbels (about 4 cups of blossoms)
4 ½ cups cane sugar
3 large lemons, juiced and zested
4 cups water
With clean hands, pick the small blossoms from the stem, dropping them into a large non-reactive bowl. Compost or discard the stems as the stems and leaves of the elderflower plant are toxic (although a few small bits of stems will not be harmful). Add the lemon zest and juice to the flowers. In a medium saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the hot syrup over the elderflowers and lemon in the bowl, stirring the ingredients together well. Cover the bowl and let the mixture steep for 3-5 days for the flavor to develop. Strain the elderflower syrup through a fine mesh sieve and transfer to a glass jar or bottle. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month. Use to sweeten and flavor iced tea, cocktails, and mineral water, or as a delicious addition to whipped cream or icing.
* If elderflowers are not in season, you can make simple syrup with other unsprayed edible flowers such as lilacs, roses, and lavender, using the same technique and adjusting the amounts according to taste.