For some of the freshest farm-to-table fare on the North Shore, head to Appleton Farms in Ipswich. Using just-plucked veggies from the fields, locally sourced grains and cheeses, and other ingredients, the farm store and café offer homemade seasonal soups, salads, and pizzas, along with crusty breads, potpies, quiche, and more.
“I love being able to do what we do, which is to feed the community with the most nourishing ingredients we can,” says Jess Wagoner, culinary program and food service manager at Appleton Farms, who kicked off the prepared foods in July 2020 in response to the pandemic. “I was teaching an introduction to sourdough bread and a pizza and flatbread class at Appleton Farms right before COVID hit and then, of course, all of the classes were canceled. But I got a phone call in late June [from the farm’s property director, Lieza Dagher], saying, ‘You know we have all this green space and we have this old earth oven and we have this commercial kitchen that’s not being used (for classes), would you want to come and make wood-fired pizza for the community?’”
Wagoner, the former bread production manager at A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem, jumped at the chance and developed a pizza program using local flours from Ground Up in Hadley and her own wild yeast. Seasonal veggies from the farm provided toppings for the pizzas and the makings of various salads offered alongside, including the house salad composed of Appleton Farms greens, shaved carrot, onion, seasonal fruit and lemon vinaigrette.
“The pizza program was a massive success,” says Wagoner, who regularly sold 200 pizzas an hour that first summer. “Even though the pies bake in about a minute, sometimes the wait would be 1½ to 2 hours long. We got totally slammed, but it was so wonderful because people could spread out and enjoy their pizza [safely, outside on the property]."
When it became too cold to bake pizza, Wagoner used the commercial kitchen to craft artisanal loaves, including the farm’s flagship whole-wheat sourdough, a top-seller in the farm store. She hired staff and began offering baked goods, like tea breads, fruit pies, and chocolate chip cookies made with Duxbury sea salt. She concurrently kicked off a firepit picnic program offering a soup of the day made from that week’s bumper crop of vegetables, served with hot buttered sourdough toast. She served warm pretzels with mustard, as well as hot cider and cocoa made with local dairy and scratch-made ganache.
She also made prepared foods to sell in the farm store, such as quarts of soup, various kinds of mac and cheese, four-bean chili and Bolognese sauce using the farm’s beef. “We have customers who come every week and they stock up on potpies and three different soups because they want to have that quick option when they’re busy during the week,” says Staci Zarimba, who manages the farm store. “Currently, most of what we offer is frozen, although we do have some fresh things, like the green sauce,” a pesto-like condiment made with parsley that sells out as soon as it appears.
Culinary classes resumed in fall 2021, along with Wagoner’s prepared foods program. The Thursday through Sunday wood-fired pizza series returned last summer with such pies available as potato-leek and Delicata squash with roasted garlic and crispy kale. Wagoner also offered pre-ordered, local fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving, along with a brining and stuffing kit, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, squash, prepared sage stuffing and various pastries and pies.
Firepit picnics again ran through the winter with soup choices like Italian Ribolita and sweet potato-coconut curry stew. The holidays brought a kid-friendly cookie decorating kit with prepared gingerbread cookies, icing and added decorations, fruitcake made with Privateer rum from Ipswich, barleydoodles (snickerdoodles made with barley flour), and even more harvest-inspired frozen offerings, including vegan ones thanks to a vegan chef on Wagoner’s team.
Pizza picnics will return for summer 2022 on June 4, and Wagoner continues to dream of even more ways to bring the bounty of the farm to visitors.
“We’re designing everything in real-time, based on visitor support and our physical space,” says Wagoner, who admits that with just so much room to prep, chill and freeze foods, growth is limited. And yet, she’s shooting for the stars. In an ideal world, Wagoner would produce even more varieties of bread, more pastries and more prepared foods. She’d like to offer sandwiches, salads and soups off the porch on a regular basis. “I mean, the dream would be to have coffee service too, and essentially be an outdoor café at the farmhouse.”