Girlfriend Getaways: Stockton

Sharpen your culinary skills at an 18th-century farm.

Photo by Shannon Greer

We turn onto a narrow gravel road off Route 29 in Stockton. A trio of goats roams toward an open field as I drive past a pair of weathered silos and up a sloping hill to my destination: the Farm Cooking School, where former Gourmet magazine editors Ian Knauer and Shelley Wiseman offer students at all culinary levels a comfortable, communal, farm-fresh cooking and eating experience.

Located at Tullamore Farms, which raises grass-fed cattle and lamb, the school is situated inside a stone building that dates to the 1700s. Inside, several students are gathered around a long butcher-block island. The atmosphere is inviting, the space marked by an understated, rustic elegance, from the original plank floors and handcrafted cutting boards to the farm tools that adorn the walls and the garlic bunches that dangle above the large, airy windows.

One more student slips past the wooden screen door, making eight of us for the day’s eggplant cooking class. It’s a perfect number for a gathering of girlfriends—old and new. Knauer casually asks one student to chop a pile of herbs, another to peel an eggplant’s slippery, purple skin. As my fellow students tackle these tasks, Knauer works the lessons into the conversation. We learn methods for charring, marinating and frying eggplant, and for baking it into a decadent chocolate dessert. Knauer’s casual manner puts us amateur cooks at ease.

“We break down each recipe in a way so that even if you’re not an experienced cook, you can understand it, you can replicate it at home,” Knauer explains, his hands lost in a mixing bowl. “The classes usually have a variety of people. Most are proficient home cooks who want to get better. Some are novices,” he says. “And then we usually get a couple students who really know what they’re doing, but who have an Oh, I didn’t think of that moment. We really gear each class so everyone can take something from it.”

The school offers courses year-round. They typically accommodate 6 to 10 students at a cost of $85 for two to three hours of hands-on cooking followed by a meal. During the cooler months, students can expect technique-driven classes on butchering, cheese making and canning, as well as the popular Foundations of Cooking series, which covers topics such as roasting, searing and knife skills. During the warmer months, classes focus on seasonal produce and often begin in the school’s garden, where students pick some of the items they’ll prepare.

Soon, we all begin to salt, dice and whisk as Ian guides us through the recipes, a mixture of casual conversation and classic rock providing the background to our lesson.

A few hours later, our group plates everything family style. Knauer encourages us to forgo formalities and nibble samples before he carries each platter to a long farmhouse table set with cloth napkins, wildflowers and Mason jars. The meal, a celebration of cooking techniques, consists of dishes prepared throughout the day, as well as white fish Knauer baked in advance. There is a bowl of pickled eggplant we spoon onto crusty bread; a coal-charred eggplant dip reminiscent of babaganoush, but with a bold, smoky flavor and topped with a vibrant herb oil; a hearty caponata that consists of fried eggplant slices gently folded into a sweet tomato sauce canned in a previous class; a dish of slender, miso-glazed Japanese eggplants; and a surprisingly moist and rich eggplant brownie cake. As we feast on our creations, several farm animals meander over to the door, a reminder of the school’s bucolic setting.

“This is not a new idea,” Knauer says of the school while I finish off the crumbs from our eggplant brownie cake.

“You bring people to the farm,” he says. “They learn about the products at the farm. There is income to the farmer from the rentals. They learn how to cook.”

While he speaks, I gaze through the window at the surrounding fields, realizing my afternoon here has been about more than just cooking.
“It becomes an experience,” Knauer says.

Stay: Since Stockton is big on bed-and-breakfasts—including the enticing Woolverton Inn, situated on top of a hill with sweeping views—it’s easy to extend your cooking class into a weekend getaway. For a true farm-to-table experience, you can book one of the private rentals at Tullamore Farms itself. All three include Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, and full, updated kitchens stocked with farm-fresh eggs and, by request, organic juices sourced from a local company. They rent in the range of
$150 to $200 per unit per night. All bookings are through the Airbnb website.

There are two rentals available in the stone building that houses the school. Both are flooded with natural light and balance modern amenities with classic farmhouse charm. The first-floor rental, known as the Nest, accommodates two and features a porch with a swinging bench. The upstairs rental sleeps two to three guests and boasts a spacious kitchen and dining area, a working fireplace and a private porch.

A third rental on the property is a cozy, prefab Frank Lloyd Wright bungalow with wood accents, loads of windows, a dining table, stone fireplace and private yard. The ranch-style home has three bedrooms and comfortably sleeps up to six guests.

Don’t Miss: Despite the rural setting along the Delaware River, Stockton is rife with art galleries and dining options like the newly reopened Stockton Inn and the Stockton Market, where visitors can procure artisanal provisions to enjoy while they explore nearby sites such as Green Sergeant’s Covered Bridge, the last covered bridge in the state. Walkers and cyclists can take advantage of the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, with its flat trail system along the river. Bulls Island Recreation Area has launch areas for kayaks and canoes and a scenic pedestrian bridge over the river.

Angela Brown is a freelance writer and co-owner of Mayhem & Stout, an artisanal sandwich company in Manhattan. She lives in Morristown.

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