A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
In the 1970s, an Irish folk singer, Pete St. John, celebrated a local farm and the Irish town of Athenry with this ballad, The Fields of Athenry. Imagine, then, you come upon a Virginia farm called Fields of Athenry. That name, said Elaine Boland, owner of this farm, she attributes to her friend and Irish priest, Father James McCurry.
A devout Catholic who has stationed a statue of Our Lady at the farm’s entrance, Boland recounted how her farming life began. Indeed, serious farming was never in her plans even as her family enjoyed a rural life. “We only owned two ponies, two sheep, ducks and geese for family enjoyment,” she said. But her life took an opposite turn when her daughter, Bernadette, at an early elementary age, suffered failing health.
“She was gaining weight,” said Boland, “and all her joints started hurting. I wondered, are these growing pains?” But her daughter’s condition fluctuated between normal and abnormal. Then Bernadette's tremendous amount of weight gain frightened Boland—her daughter had always been active with the farm life and had followed the family’s healthy diet.
Although her family pediatrician had examined Bernadette many times, testing her blood and thyroid, nothing improved. But five years later, an exam detected a tumor in her pituitary gland, meaning she had Cushing’s Disease. “And then the doctor said to me, ‘You have a farm, so get livestock so you can feed your daughter organ meat;’” Boland said. “The disease was attacking her own organs. Adding organ meat to her diet would support her own organ’s functioning.” The pituitary, she said, is like the “president of the body. It dictates everything to your body’s functions.”
Now that her daughter’s health has immensely improved, and after the removal of her pituitary brain tumor, Boland knows that the cancerous tumor can return. Her daughter, as a young grown adult, certainly recognizes the importance of keeping to her strict diet and getting plenty of rest.
But as Boland reflects on the family’s trauma, she said she could not have survived without her faith. “I wouldn’t know what to do without faith when going through all that but by the grace of God,” she said, “We would always say prayers… attributing it to God’s will. I do believe God has reasons he puts you in certain places… This farm journey has been God-guided.”
Elaine Boland, Fields of Athenry Farm, 23324 Potts Mill Road, Middleburg, Virginia.
Elaine Boland’s special chicken broth is available from her farm store in Virginia for cooks who want to shop online. Otherwise, use a commercial product. .
One 4-pound boneless pork butt
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
3 oranges, peeled and cut in half & squeeze for the juice, save rinds
4 tablespoons lime juice and zest
6 bay leaves
2 tablespoons juniper berries
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups Mom’s Liquid Gold Chicken Broth by Fields of Athenry or another chicken broth product
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
Cut the meat into meatball-sized chunks and put them into a Dutch oven. Add the onion, orange juice and rinds, lime juice and zest, bay leaves, juniper berries, oregano, cumin, and salt and pepper. Add the broth until the meat is just covered. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and once simmering, cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is tender and falls apart with a fork.
Remove the meat from the Dutch oven, and place onto a baking sheet. Remove and discard the onion, orange rind, bay leaves and juniper berries.
Return the Dutch oven and juices to the stove, and cook over medium heat until the juices reduce down and thicken. Shred the pork into bite-sized pieces, discarding any chunks of fat. Arrange the meat into a thin layer onto a baking sheet. Drizzle the juices over the meat.
Broil the meat in the oven for 8 minutes, or until the meat is colored nicely and is crispy. Remove from the oven, return to the Dutch oven, and serve.