They’re farmers and also a folk duo, and for one night only, they’re bringing the best of both of those worlds to Blue.
Adam Nordell and Johanna Davis, the couple better known as Sassafras Stomp, will be playing tunes from their brand new album “Walk These Fields,” and the Blue kitchen will be serving cornbread made with heritage variety cornmeal and wheat flour grown and milled by Nordell and Davis at their Songbird Farm in Unity.
They reached out to me the other day about the show, and Nordell said he’d stick a CD in the mail for me to listen to. The very next day, a package was on my doorstep that was way too big for just a disc and also too heavy. Much to my surprise and delight, he had also included a bag of Songbird Farm’s Abenaki Flint cornmeal. I fired off an email requesting their favorite recipe, and the joy continued when they responded with one that doesn’t have an ingredient I don’t eat: sugar.
When I checked the cupboard, I realized I had all the ingredients to make a batch of cornbread, and so I donned an apron and got to work while listening to “Walk These Fields” on the kitchen CD player.
About 40 minutes later, the CD had ended and the cornbread was fresh out of the oven. My ears had been treated to a lively, sweet, personal and downright wonderful 10 songs, and my taste buds sang their praises as well, once I took a bite of the cornbread, sweetened with honey. It was so good I immediately delivered half of the pan to my next-door neighbor, Anna, for fear of eating all of it myself. She called me a half-hour later raving about it. It was by far the most delicious cornbread I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait to make it again. By the way, the cornmeal is available through the Portland Food Co-Op and a pantry-share CSA drop in Portland.
Songbird Farm is a certified organic, mixed vegetable farm on the bank of the Sandy River in Unity. Among other things, they grow sweet potatoes, watermelon, dry beans and an heirloom New England flint corn that likely traces back to the Abenaki Indian farmers and is what made my cornbread so magnificent.
Lest anyone fear I’m suddenly thinking myself a food writer, I will shift back into music gear because “Walk These Fields” deserves its own happy ramblings. I gave the songs another spin back at the office and can tell you that Nordell (vocals, guitar, banjo and upright bass) and Davis (harmony vocals, fiddle, shruti box) have made a gentle yet spirited album of songs that are like diary entries about living as organic farmers in rural Maine.
“Walk These Fields” opens with “Chickadee,” which is a lovely melancholy tune essentially about missing someone and asking a chickadee to sing a “sweet and mournful tune while the lilacs are in bloom.”
Take a listen to “Chickadee”
“Four Bare Feet” speaks to the realities of farming. “Not in it for the profit but the feeling in our souls/Four bare feet in the fresh-turned earth, that’s the way that this song goes.” Davis’ fiddle floats through the song like a zephyr. That theme continues in the toe-tapping, banjo-driven tune “Means of Production” with the line “Small farmers of the world unite and toilers of the land/Our tenure is uncertain, we make our daily stand.”
“Walk These Fields” also shines brightly with the two instrumentals “Saint Anthony’s Waltz” with a fiddle that sounds like a happy butterfly flitting about with no particular place to go, and the haunting “Dry Gulch,” with fiddle and acoustic guitar.
So head to Blue early on Friday and spend some time listening to Sassafras Stomp while nibbling on their glorious cornbread. They’re both worthy experiences and together just can’t be beat.
Sassafras Stomp, 6 p.m. Friday. Blue, 650A Congress St., Portland, no cover, donations accepted. portcityblue.com
New England Style Cornbread
Note: Although the recipe calls for 20 minutes of baking time, it took closer to 30 minutes when I made it.
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons melted butter
In two bowls mix together dry and wet ingredients, then combine.
Bake at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes.