Collaborations are what’s good right now. The list is impressive: Nike x Off-White, LV x Supreme, CB2 x Fred Segal, Jonathan x Wagener. For example, that last one sounds like some hip Scandinavian mashup but its very roots are among the oldest collaborations on earth. In 1942, agriculturalists at the University of Idaho crossed two species of Malus domestica, Jonathan and Wagener, to create the new variety Ida Reds. That’s right people, apples.
Growing up, my mother used Ida Reds to make her luscious apple pie, a recipe I make to this day. To clarify, Ida Reds are almost impossible to get out west (I substitute Granny Smith’s). So when the four of us arrived in the Berkshires, I was hyped to discover Ida Reds at Windy Hill Farm, an orchard in Great Barrington. I snagged a couple bags, dreaming (or was it drooling?) in advance of the pies I would make. Turns out visiting an apple orchard in October plays a key part in how to spend two perfect days in the Berkshires.
Third Leg of the Tour: The Berkshires
In Boston we dug Jason Moran’s debut exhibition at the ICA. In Martha’s Vineyard we ate chowdah and attended an old friend’s wedding. Now it was time to complete our somewhat scalene visit to Massachusetts and hit the Berkshires. I felt anticipation for the fire New England foliage brings in October. But the summer’s combination of temperature and rain weren’t ideal. The colors of the leaves would be somewhat muted. Heading south, along the curves and slopes toward New Marlborough, I was anything but disappointed. It was all yellow, every shade a slightly different reflection of the sun. Nostalgia, for the fall of my youth back in Michigan swelled in me.
We pulled into Gedney Farm, a very special inn with guest rooms customized out of a former cattle barn. Surrounded by acres of undulating land, trees and paths, the complex dates back to the turn of the 20thcentury. Being the edge of the travel season, we learned we’d have the place to ourselves. Upon entering, I noticed the timber beams above us, and the bronze sconces with filament candle bulbs adorning the entrance to each room. Centered on the first floor, there was a fireplace big enough to roast a pig. You could still pick up the aroma of smoldering embers in the air. Wordless nods were exchanged around our quartet. We agreed to end the evening in front of the fire, keeping the chill at bay, sipping drinks and talking shit.
Time to Eat in the Berkshires
First, we needed to eat lunch, and the Southfield Store was the place. Owned by Peter Platt and Meredith Kennard, the Store was a short ride down to Norfolk road. Ostensibly a baking kitchen, it also operates as a full on café. The place was white wainscoting and crown molding framing lemon-colored walls. Black Windsor chairs surrounded sunlit farm tables. There was a small bar at the back, combining with the ample light to give the place intimacy. I ordered a roast beef on a house-baked baguette because I could see these sandwiches were made with love. Wonderhoney got the Reuben while our companions ordered omelettes.
Our food was as subtle and amazing as our service, which is worth mentioning. The staff’s main concern was our contentedness (as it should be). The place was operated with the laid-back friendliness you’d expect of a town where you’re known. Just aloof enough. For instance, settling up was on the honor system: we were asked what we had, if everything was to our liking, and if there was anything else we’d like before we left. We left with a considerable amount of muffins, buns & cookies.
On the acreage of the inn we walked off some of the calories we’d consumed. Under expansive skies, with green and yellow backdrops we took pictures and joked about horror movies we’d seen set out in the remote woods.
Never one to be idle, Mike suggested we go for a ride so he could show me the landscape. The ladies decided to hang back. We drove the surrounding areas, passing farms, red barns, leaf-strewn roads and orange Berkshire hills illuminated by dying sunlight. Blue Hill Farm, supplier to the New York farm-to-table restaurant featured in the inaugural season of Chef’s Table, was along our path. Large and colorful farmhouses set back on an acre of green land were frequent sights. We were looking for everything and nothing, losing time like children in wonderland.
Before we knew it it was dark and on our way back we searched for a place for dinner. We browsed the menu at the Old Inn on the Green, the precursor operation to the Southfield Store and a stone’s throw from Gedney Farm. Regarded for fowl and lamb, Platt and Kennard’s establishment is award winning (a top 50 hotel restaurant in America by Food & Wine). But ultimately we headed into Great Barrington for something casual, and only slightly less delicious.
Well-fed and back at our inn, the hours drifted by as we made good on our promise. We sat together, pontificating on film, politics, culture and travel. As the levels of wine dwindled we stoked the fire and stoked it again. Not wanting the night to end, emphatic, laughing, the fire and us, raging (to cop a phrase) against the dying of the light.
We woke the next morning to a hot breakfast arranged by Michael Smith, a genial man and general manager of the Farm. He brought Mike up to speed on how things had or hadn’t changed in the years since he last visited the Berkshires. The four of us ate and talked about what we could do with our remaining time. Practically speaking, the Berkshires span numerous towns and cities, across western Massachusetts and Connecticut, encompassing more than two thousand miles.
We mused about visiting the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) up in the northwest corner of the state. The Berkshires are packed with rich culture. Historical sites like Tanglewood (the Boston symphony’s summer residency), Edith Wharton’s home (the Mount) and the Norman Rockwell museum are only some of the attractions.
We finished up, thanked Michael for the great accommodation and hopped in the car. Choosing to spend the rest of our time driving here and there, we’d soak up the western part of Massachusetts. We went north, passing Stockbridge, Lenox, and Pittsfield. As we passed the areas where Melville and Wharton lived for a time, we were as Henry James put in a letter, “surrounded by every loveliness of nature” and vowing to visit again.