Centennial Sundays at Quonquont Farm: Whately landmark celebrates 100 years 

  • Basil at Quonquont Farm in Whately. COURTESTY OF QUONQUONT FARM

  • Guests at the May Centennial Sunday.  COURTESTY OF QUONQUONT FARM

  • Strawberry Gimlets COURTESTY OF QUONQUONT FARM

  • The event barn and patio at Quonquont Farm in Whately.  COURTESTY OF QUONQUONT FARM

For the Recorder
Published: 6/21/2022 3:23:27 PM
Modified: 6/21/2022 3:23:08 PM

Quonquont Farm on North Street in Whately has seen a lot of history. Its farmhouse was one of the town’s first taverns in the 18th century, co-owner Allison Bell told me recently.

The farm’s identity under the name Quonquont was established in 1922. To celebrate this year’s 100th anniversary the team that runs the 150-acre enterprise — which is part farm stand, part nature preserve, part event space, and part pick-your-own flower-and-fruit vendor — decided to launch Centennial Sundays.

These monthly events throughout the summer will invite the community to share in the birthday celebration.

Each month, the event space at the farm, a converted tobacco barn, will host a Sunday party. The day will feature food, a full bar, and a special locally sourced cocktail. The next celebration will take place this Sunday, June 26, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to Bell, Centennial Sundays are the brainchild of event coordinator Alexxis Young. Bell characterized the idea as a response to the public’s general guarded “’we can do things again’ feeling” as the pandemic eases (or so we hope!).

She noted that customers who are concerned about safety in indoor space can sit outside the barn. There will be a number of chairs provided, but visitors are encouraged to bring their own chairs in case those fill quickly.

People are welcome to bring picnics if they wish. Event manager Jenelle Wilkins stressed that these Sundays will be family friendly.

“We were trying to brainstorm a way to celebrate the farm’s centennial,” Wilkins told me, “to find a way to have our local community experience the farm and also experience our hospitality.”

Bell has been immersing herself in the history of Quonquont and of the town of Whately. In the 1920s, she informed me, the farm was a dairy business. The landmark milk bottle in the center of Whately was created for the farm’s milk bar, she informed me, which was located on Routes 5 and 10.

Bell likes to contemplate Quonquont’s milk route. “They delivered milk every day from Westfield to Greenfield in 1922,” she told me. “You can imagine the vehicle that was being driven and the noise it made. It was loaded with ice and really thick bottles.”

Going even further back, Quonquont and Whately had what the team at the farm laughingly call a “spirited history.” Not only did a tavern sit on the property, but there was a brandy distillery nearby.

“We have records of when the cider mill was built here in 1824,” Bell added. Moreover, she and the local historical commission have documented explosions of illegal stills in Whately during Prohibition.

This longstanding connection to alcohol led the team to decide that each centennial Sunday should feature a signature cocktail that took advantage of local ingredients as well as a shot of Massachusetts liquor.

The May cocktail was called “Rhubarb 75.” It combined spring’s ruby stalks with gin from Berkshire Mountain Distillers in Sheffield.

June is awash in strawberries here in Massachusetts so this month’s cocktail will be a strawberry-basil gimlet. The basil will be grown right on the farm, the strawberries will be harvested nearby, and Berkshire Mountain Distillers will provide the vodka.

Quonquont’s farm stand will open officially on Sunday, although blueberry picking will not begin until July 5.

Bell has been collecting documents and artifacts from the farm’s history and hopes to display some of those this summer at the farm stand. There may even be a few centennial souvenirs for sale.

She and her team look forward to welcoming community members each month on their special Sundays. Bell, Wilkins, and Young all told me that they look forward to sharing not just the physical beauty of Quonquont but also the feeling it engenders in them.

“I’ve been working at the farm for about 11 years,” Jenelle Wilkins said. “The sense of wonder I feel every time I pull onto the property has not dampened in the least. It’s like the world calms every time I pull into the parking lot.”

Bell concurred. “There are two things that I think people get a sense of here. First, they get a sense of history. Whether they can identify the centuries [in which parts of the farm were created] or not, they can feel that they have ventured into a time warp.

“I think they also sense … that this place is cared for and that it’s a really wonderful combination of managed landscape and agricultural land but also wild landscape.”

Young added, “I really think the team here and the community that the team has built and crafted is special. You can feel the care and the passion that each team member has for creating an overall experience at the farm, not only for the clients but also for our fellow team members.”

In addition to this weekend’s Centennial Sunday, Quonquont has scheduled celebrations for July 10 and August 7. The date for September’s special Sunday has yet to be determined.

To get readers started on their own Centennial Sundays, the team shared the recipe for this weekend’s cocktail.

Quonquont Strawberry-Basil Gimlet

Ingredients:

for the simple syrup:

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1-1/2 cups sliced strawberries

1/2 cup roughly chopped basil leaves

for the cocktail:

1 whole strawberry (plus another for garnish)

3 basil leaves (plus more for garnish)

1-1/2 ounces Berkshire Mountain vodka

3/4 ounce lime juice

3/4 ounce strawberry basil simple syrup

ice as desired

club soda as needed

Instructions:

Begin by making the simple syrup. (This should be done in advance.) Place a saucepan with the sugar and the water over medium heat, bring the mixture to a simmer, and heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Add the strawberries and the basil. Return the pot to a simmer; then reduce the heat to low and let the mixture cook for 30 minutes. Strain out the cooked strawberries and the basil with cheesecloth, and discard them. Store the syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

To assemble the cocktail, in a shaker muddle the strawberry and the three basil leaves. Add the vodka, the lime juice, the simple syrup, and the ice. Shake until well chilled. Pour into a glass with ice.

Quonquont likes the gimlet with the muddled fruit and herbs, but you may strain yours over new ice if you prefer. Top with club soda. Garnish with basil and a strawberry. Serves 1.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.


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