This picturesque farm in Northern Illinois offers a soothing serenade for visitors who want to slow down, enjoy country life, and sleep beneath the stars. With nothing more pressing than finding a front-row seat for a spectacular sunset, time seems to stand still at this rural haven. Inspired by an abiding love of nature and a passion for healthy eating, husband-and-wife entrepreneurs David and Susan Cleverdon moved their blended family to an idyllic country retreat in northern Illinois in 1992. Christened Kinnikinnick Farm, the property grows fields of organic produce sold at Chicago-area farmers’ markets and offers an upscale camping experience for overnight guests.
Co-owners David and Susan Cleverdon work alongside Susan’s daughter, Erin Thomas Grace. Erin creates menus and helps with meal preparation, assisted by her own young daughters.
Camping takes on new meaning at Kinnikinnick, where guests are encouraged to experience all facets of farm life. Among the many animals on the property are goats, sheep, and a Polish Tatra sheepdog—the perfect strolling companion.
Kinnikinnick’s bees feast on wildflowers, such as clover and vetch, to produce sweet, fragrant honey.
Positioned on gently sloping pastureland, canvas tents include vintage furnishings that have a bit of rustic charm.
David and Susan are joined by Susan’s daughter, Erin Thomas, who creates delicious menus and assists with meal preparation for the family enterprise. Here, we share three direct-from-Erin recipes for her hearty dishes, made with the freshest ingredients.
- 1 3- to 4-pound roasting chicken*
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 1 sprig of thyme or rosemary
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic
- Coarse sea salt
- Softened butter, to rub on chicken skin
- 1 sourdough baguette, sliced on bias into 4 1.5- to 2-inch slices
- Olive oil
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes (preferably a mix of red, orange, and yellow)
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- 4 ounces baby arugula
- Preheat a gas grill or conventional oven to 450°.
- Dry chicken, inside and out. Remove excess fat from inside bird, and cut off wing tips.
- Place lemon half, herb sprig, garlic cloves (lightly mashed), and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt in chicken cavity. Truss chicken, and rub all over with softened butter.
- Place chicken on a V-shaped rack in a roasting pan, and sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt. If using a gas grill, place roasting pan on grill, and turn off burner directly under pan. Regulate remaining burners to maintain a constant temperature of 350°. If using a conventional oven, place roasting pan on middle rack, and turn temperature down to 375°. Chicken will be done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°, skin is well browned and crisp, and drumsticks move easily in their sockets, about 1 to 1½ hours, depending upon size of chicken.
- Brush bread slices on both sides with olive oil, and toast crostini on grill until well marked and crisp.
- Rinse, drain, and halve cherry tomatoes, and place in a bowl. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Center grilled bread on a serving platter large enough to hold chicken and garnishes. Scatter arugula over and around crostini. Remove trussing strings, and place chicken on top of crostini. Arrange tomatoes evenly around chicken. Pour drippings from roasting pan over chicken and garnishes, and serve.
- The key to a great roasted chicken is sourcing. Find one that is locally raised, preferably from a breed chosen for flavor over size.
- 1 cup stone-ground cornmeal* for polenta
- 6 cups salted water
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Salt and pepper, for seasoning
- 8 slices dry-cure belly or jowl bacon
- 8 farm fresh eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup premade arugula or basil pesto
- Cook cornmeal in saucepan with 6 cups simmering salted water, stirring frequently, until consistency is creamy and pulling away from sides of pan. Add butter and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour hot polenta into an 8x8-inch pan lined with plastic wrap to cool. Polenta should be approximately 1 inch in thickness. Let cool until firm, at least 2 hours, or overnight.
- Turn polenta out onto a cutting board. Cut into 8 triangular shapes or rounds, using a biscuit cutter.
- Thirty minutes before serving, crisp bacon in a cast-iron skillet or heavy-duty sauté pan. While bacon is cooking, toast polenta under a broiler set on high until brown and crispy around edges.
- Fill a saucepan with enough water to cover eggs, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Add eggs, in their shells, to water, and turn temperature down to a gentle simmer. After 1 minute, remove eggs, and place on a plate. Gently crack each egg back into pan and simmer gently for 2 more minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove eggs, and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain.
- To serve, arrange 2 bacon slices and 2 pieces toasted polenta on each plate. Top each piece polenta with a soft poached egg. Add 2 tablespoons pesto on the side of each plate.
- *We recommend sourcing the best locally milled, heritage-variety cornmeal, if possible. (We love the cornmeal from Lonesome Stone Milling, in Lone Rock, Wisconsin.)
- 1 cup French green lentils ( sometimes known as lentils du Puy)
- 5 cups water
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
- 1 bay leaf
- Approximately 2 pounds assorted midsummer vegetables–young carrots, sugar snap peas, zucchini and yellow summer squash, knob onions, and radishes
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- 4 fresh French Country-style sausages*
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 4 ounces fresh goat chèvre
- Bring lentils to a simmer in a saucepan with 5 cups water, 1 thyme sprig, and bay leaf. Simmer, partially covered, until tender. Keep warm until serving.
- Preheat oven or a covered grill to 400°.
- Prepare vegetables for roasting by removing stems and seeds, and cut into 2-inch chunks. Toss vegetables with a generous coating of olive oil, salt and pepper, and remaining 2 thyme springs. Roast in a grill basket or on a baking sheet in oven until edges are brown and vegetables are crisp-tender.
- Roast sausages either on a grill or in a heavy skillet on medium heat, turning frequently, until firm but not tough.
- Drain lentils into a strainer, return to pan, and drizzle with olive oil and the juice of ½ lemon. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Spoon ½ to ¾ cup lentils onto each serving plate. Cut each sausage on the bias into 3 to 4 pieces, and arrange on top of lentils. Divide roasted vegetables evenly among plates, and add 1 ounce cheese to each plate.
- *Ours are seasoned with fresh tarragon, chives, and parsley.
Text Karen Callaway
Photography Marcy Black Simpson
To learn more about this bucolic haven, see “Camping at Kinnikinnick,” on page 45 of the May/June 2014 issue of Victoria.