By Emily Paster
A charming old house, acres of manicured gardens, elegant ladies in summer dresses and hats — no, it was not the latest episode of "Downton Abbey." I was at the Woodlands Garden Club's summer fundraiser, "Desserts in Gardens." Located on the ground of the Old Mill Farm in Lake Forest — a historic estate owned by one of the founders of the Mariani Landscape company, this event featured recipes and treats from the wonderful new cookbook Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine by popular food blogger Shaina Olmanson.
Under a tent to block the hot summer sun, chef husband-and-wife team Cory and Sara Grupe showed the assembled ladies how to prepare three of the adorable recipes from Desserts in Jars: Frozen Mudslide Pie, Lemon-Blueberry Bread Pudding, and to drink, a Peach Granita Bellini. These three recipes were well-chosen to highlight the wide variety of the recipes in the book. You may think that all desserts in jars are the same, but it is not so. For example, the Lemon-Blueberry Bread Puddings are baked in the oven — yes, right in the jars! — the Frozen Mudslide Pie are prepared and then frozen in the jars and the Peach Granita Bellini is a refreshing apertif or cocktail, which you can serve right out of a jar. All of these recipes are designed to be prepared ahead of time, which makes them ideal for entertaining.
After the demonstration, it was time to sample some desserts and beverages in jars and stroll around the exquisite gardens. Once a working dairy, the Old Mill Farm was built in 1929. The property fell into disrepair over time and has since been restored by the owners of the Mariani Landscape company. The estate includes a long, shaded driveway planted with native species of trees, an open lawn where the tent was set up, a traditional English butterfly garden with Yew hedging, an apple orchard, a gazebo that is original to the estate, a pool and terrace area and a vegetable and cutting garden. Walking in this pastoral setting felt like being transported to another time — a more civilized time where ladies in dresses and hats regularly gathered under a gazebo and sipped Bellinis out of a Mason jars. Okay, so perhaps that time never really existed. But it sure felt like an escape from everyday life.
Now that I have my own copy of Desserts in Jars, I cannot wait to start trying the recipes. I am already planning to make the Spiced Hot Chocolate Mix with Cinnamon Marshmallows (p. 140) for an upcoming Chicago Food Swap. (Maybe I will wait until the fall for that one.) I also love the author's idea to have a design-your-own dessert in a jar for a child's birthday party (p. 19). And for this time of year, I love all the ideas for fruit desserts served in jars, like the Rosemary-Peach Cobbler (p.100) or the Cardamom Pear Crisp (p.94).
I think I had better buy more jars!
Full disclosure time: I have been hired to help promote the event "Desserts in Gardens." I received a complimentary ticket to the event, which included a copy of the book, and compensation for my time. All opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.