Susan Hurd Machamer and daughter Amy Machamer, partners in Hurd Orchards Farm & Market, are fascinating people. Before every Hurd tasting, each takes a turn talking about the evening's themes, and these women have a lot to say. They represent the sixth and seventh generations of Hurd family farmers, and that history is one favorite subject. They often tell of Amelia Orr, who married into the family in the early 19th century and shared her harvest with Indian neighbors in the difficult year of 1816.
Both also like to talk about Susan's parents, Leland and Betty Hurd. Leland was a well-read man of the earth, and a real character. One of his quotes was, "You can't be an atheist and be a farmer." Betty Hurd, who met Leland when he auditioned for a play she directed, described her own life as having gone "from the footlights to the furrows."
Amy always tells guests about the difficulty of contemporary farming. To survive, farmers have to stay abreast of technology, market trends, and economics, and need to find creative ways to profit from their harvests. At Hurd Orchards, much of that creativity is expressed in their Market and in various tastings, lunches, and teas.
The Market itself --- and the 1802 barn in which the tastings are held --- are amazing, a combination of stunning dried flowers, gorgeous displays of jams and sauces, and an intoxicating brew of floral, herbal, and baked smells. Looking up, you see soft, yellow ladies' mantel; garnet-colored celosia; brilliant, yellow yarrow; delicate blue Petrovskia sage; rainbows of annual status, globe amoranth, and larkspur; and much more.
For this year's Thanksgiving Tasting, the barn was decorated with flowers, wreaths, heirloom apples in antique boxes, a candle tree, and displays of Hurd products. After the introduction, 22 dishes were spread among four barn stations and one in the Market. Each dish contained at least one element from the farm, and in some way expressed the evening's themes.
With fresh produce, simple dishes are often best. Hubbard squash with cinnamon honey apple spread was a favorite, rich and just sweet enough. Northern spy applesauce also expressed the season, as did sliced baguettes with two Hurd preserves, blackberry sour cherry and pear almond. Goldrush apple and red cabbage was another hit with me. Susan Machamer had me try a goldrush apple --- a new variety --- and it's one of the best out there: crisp, sharp, and sweet, with a deep flavor all its own.
Creamed broccoli and cheese soup is often too thick, with mushy broccoli, but here it was the opposite. The thin broth sparkled with leek flavor, and the broccoli and onion had been allowed to retain some crispness. I had thirds.
Everybody was talking about the roasted vegetable tart. The recipe --- they give you all the recipes --- says to "make a wonderful pie crust," and Amy Machamer certainly does. The crust is spread with cheeses; covered with roasted squash, potato, and parsnip; and baked. The nutty flavor of roasted vegetables was a perfect complement to the bleu cheese.
Braised beef with chili sauce was another crowd-pleaser. The beef was very tender and burst with the flavor of cider. The mild chili sauce gave it a slight panache. I preferred the roast turkey with an unusual, green tomato mincemeat (dark meat and skin, thank you).
Can there be too many desserts? Given the fruit focus of the farm, desserts just had to star. Among the eight was a chocolate pie with amaretto cherries that was so powerful I couldn't finish a small piece. Amy's nutmeg pudding, somewhere between a bread pudding and flan, was delicate and aromatic, with Hurd's blackberries in Chambord the perfect topping. The belle of the ball, though, was the pear crisp. Made with Bosc pears, rolled oats, pecans, and spices, it was a miracle.
Hurd tastings are delicious, tasteful affairs, but not fancy. You get paper plates and plastic cutlery, though you're welcome to bring your own. Many also bring their own wines. Considering the ambience, variety, and quality, this is, at $35, an outstanding value.
Hurd Orchards presents a Midsummer Tasting in August, with an even greater variety of produce. Corn, stone fruits, and fresh berries figure prominently in that menu. But it's fall produce that is most distinctive in Western New York. Winter squashes, root vegetables, cabbages, and especially apples form the heart of our regional flavor. Served warm on a cold autumn night, they're gifts from heaven. Bless the Machamers for all they do; their farm, market, and events are gems of the local culture.
Hurd Orchards Farm & Market, Rt. 104 and Monroe-Orleans County Line Road, Holley; 585-638-8838. Market hours: May 1 through December 24, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Available by phone for orders year round.