Fifer’s cooking class brings farm bounty to table

February 9, 2024

Last weekend, I attended a cooking class hosted by Fifer Orchards at their Farm Store in Camden-Wyoming. The class was extremely well-organized, with delicious refreshments available as we awaited the arrival of all the students. Inside the building, there were gleaming metal tables set up as two-person stations, already arranged with a commemorative Fifer’s apron, various utensils, takeaway containers and the recipes.

Before we did anything, we were asked to wash our hands and don nitrile gloves, since we would be handling food and this is a food-industry best practice. In fact, from handing out knives to distributing cutting boards or ingredients, everyone on the staff was meticulous about cleanliness and avoiding potential cross-contamination.

Unlike some classes where students simply watch the chefs prepare the dishes and then taste a sample, this was structured to make sure we had the chance to actually prepare the dishes (with some help, of course). For the first dish, sweet potato and apple pierogis, we were given a ball of dough and a container of filling. Our tasks were to roll out the dough, cut it into circles, then fill, fold and crimp the half-moon shaped pierogis, all under the watchful eye of Chef James.

Instead of having us boil and sauté our creations, we packed them into containers and observed Chef Bill cook several of them in a skillet with browned butter. He also prepared a mixture of braised leeks and sour cream to serve with the pierogis, sending us home with the ingredients to make the leek sauce ourselves. He decanted small containers of browned butter for us to sauté the pierogis in once they’d been boiled briefly in our home kitchens.

The next dish was a roasted root vegetable medley. We were given a colorful mixture of peeled carrots and parsnips along with Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes and onions. Our job was to chop the roots into similar-sized pieces so they would cook evenly. Once we arranged the bounty on our sheet pans, we brought them to the ovens to start roasting.

The main protein for this elegant meal was a coffee-spice-rubbed duck breast. It provided a lesson in how to prep this potentially fatty piece of fowl into a delicious dish. Chef Bill demonstrated the proper way to trim away excess fat and then score the skin to ensure it would render properly when cooked. We were given the ability to add as much or as little of the coffee-spice rub as we liked, and then the breasts went on the flat-top grill.

Meanwhile, Chef Bill cooked a duck breast in the skillet, showing the best way to cook the flesh without burning the rub. Because there was brown sugar in the spice mixture, you run the risk if having it blacken before the duck is cooked to the proper temperature. He advised moving the piece to the edge of the skillet, where the heat was not as intense as in the center.

Once the duck was cooked and set out to rest, Chef Bill began preparing a Port wine and apple demi-glace. The first rule of cooking with alcohol is to make sure you are using something of sufficiently high quality; if you won’t drink it, don’t cook with it. The rich combination of Fifer’s cider, Port wine and reduced veal stock takes some time to reach the desired consistency, and we were sent home with some to finish thickening to serve with our duck.

As the duck breasts on the flat top neared completion, we lined up to collect our respective pieces and place them in the provided containers for the trip home. But we weren’t finished yet. Chef James was working on a huge pot of seasoned cider full of poached apples. The liquid was a combination of Fifer’s cider, brown sugar and cinnamon sticks. The peeled apples were soft and tender as we collected them from the liquid to pack into containers.

There were some very creative suggestions about what to do with the poaching liquid, including reducing it for a dessert topping or mixing it with a favorite adult beverage for a warm winter cocktail. The final treat of the day was distributed to the students as we made our goodbyes – Fifer’s apple-cider-doughnut ice cream topped with pecans. I must confess, this did not make it home; I ate it along the way.

Coffee Spice Rub*

1 C ground coffee
1/2 C brown sugar
2 T cinnamon
1 t coarsely ground pepper
1 t fine sea salt

Combine ingredients until well blended. Store in an airtight container. *Adapted from Fifer Orchards.

Port & Apple Demi-Glace*

1 C demi-glace
1 C Fifer’s apple cider
1/2 C Port wine
2 t cold butter

Heat demi-glace in a saucepan over medium. Cook until reduced and slightly thickened. Stir in cider and Port wine, simmer until reduced and nicely thickened. Remove from heat and stir in butter until smooth and shiny. Season to taste with salt and pepper, serve immediately. *Adapted from Fifer Orchards.

Coffee Spice Rubbed Duck Breast*

4 6-oz duck breasts with skin
1/2 C coffee spice rub
2 T olive oil

Trim away any excess skin from the duck breast; retain for another use. Using a sharp knife, score the skin in a diamond pattern, making sure to cut through the skin but not into the flesh. Coat the duck breasts on the meat side with the coffee spice rub. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium and add the duck breasts, skin side down. Cook until nicely browned, about 8 minutes. Remove the duck from the pan and drain off most of the oil. Return duck to the skillet, skin side down, and continue cooking another 8 minutes. Turn over the duck and cook another 8 minutes to between 137 and 145 F, as measured with a meat thermometer. Remove to a plate and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes. To serve, thinly slice the breast, from the flesh side, keeping the skin intact. Drizzle with demi-glace. *Adapted from Fifer Orchards. Yield: 4 servings.


Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter