Forage: The Cleaver’s Cookout

Posted on October 18, 2013 by


tubRecently, we sat down with Justin Stone and Megan Kiernan of forage to get a behind the scenes look at their dinner series.

A few weeks later, we donned our best 1950’s attire, thanks to darling and Low, curled and set our hair, thanks to Sarah Hatch of running with scissorz, and off we went to The Cleaver’s Cookout.

We found ourselves strolling through a cozy neighborhood in Megan’s yard, filled with white picket fences, laundry hanging on the line, Justin’s grandma’s high school yearbooks, windows with gingham curtains, potted flowers, and even life-size paper dolls of the Cleavers themselves.


Our beautiful hostess, Megan Kiernan

The music filling the air, the smell of hot coals on the grill, and the clink of our glasses was just the beginning of a magical evening on Pine Street circa 1950.

The menu cleverly played with 1950’s era staples, and transformed them into something modern and fresh – quite literally, the canned goods were left out of these recipes! From a take on the deviled egg and the cheese ball with Ritz-style crackers, to a green bean casserole infused with creamy, buttery, cooked-to-perfection mushrooms, in place of the traditional cream of mushroom soup. A main course of smoky steak, crisp, flavorful potato salad, and stuff tomatoes was followed by the two courses of dessert, including the climactic live performance of the blow torched Baked Alaska.

Conversations around the tables flowed through the early autumn air, as family food traditions were shared, some to carry on and cherish and some to leave with past generations.


Second to the left: Dress, Banana Republic, courtesy of darling | Third to the left: Dress, Kensie, courtesy of darling | Third to the right: Dress and Apron, courtesy of Low vintage

It was another inspired evening of playful takes on classic Americana, and an evening that left our tastebuds ready for another forage adventure.

View more photos from the event on our Facebook page >>

Q&A with Justin Stone and Megan Kiernan

Leave it to Cleaver – oh wait, that’s not right! What was the inspiration for this retro series, The Cleaver’s Cookout?

J: Behind the Cleaver’s Cookout series was a desire to enjoy the final stages of summer. The thifting of few vintage picnic baskets and table clothes is all it took to decide that a casual outdoor dinner would be the ideal setting for the series. We then decided that if we were going to have a picnic, there was few better periods than the 1950’s for such an occasion. Several episodes of Leave it to Beaver and browsing of Megan’s grandmother’s cookbook allowed us to create our modern spin on America’s golden age.

forage 1950s 2

Button up shirt, Pants, Dress, Apron, and Crinoline courtesy of Low Vintage

Each dinner series takes on a life of its own, with creative atmospheres, aromas and tastes that transport the diners. The decor, although filled with returning pieces, is always uniquely reinvented for each series. What pieces stand out this series? (Talk about the specifics of thrifting, borrowing, reclaiming, etc.)

J: Creating, reinventing, and planting were the focuses of this series. Megan did thrift some iconic pieces such as the blue bench and can opener placed outside but most of this series’ décor ideas and items came from our existing cache. We reused and incorporated items in unique ways this time such as the bathtub, ladders, and windows while relying on the classic fabric patterns and colors to hint at the 1950’s. This series may have seen the most use of artistic crafting and creating. Megan fashioned all the banners and curtains herself, after fixing her troublesome sewing machine. Justin created the life-size paper doll cut out with some assistance from his uncle on paint mixing and Rick Miller on fine jig-saw work. It was also the flowers planted early in the summer in collected tin cans that became a feature of the series. The project’s for each series are starting earlier each time as we continue to develop of themes.

silverwarePies, gingham, aprons, and more pies. Talk about the inspiration for the menu, and how the 1950’s era of domesticity and suburbia will be brought to life through our tastebuds!

M: Initially, this menu was a challenge.  1950’s food is in many ways the antithesis of my own style of cooking with it’s emphasis on processed food and (disturbingly) jello.  But in the end, I enjoyed reinterpreting old classics and discovering new recipes.  My mother loaned me my great-grandmother’s cookbook (complete with her notes), and this was my source of inspiration.

tomatoesThe flavor combinations of many of the dishes from the 50’s are fantastic, I just needed to remove the processed items and replace them with fresh, local ingredients, such as the ‘green bean casserole’ salad made with fresh green beans, crème fraiche creminie mushrooms, and fresh fried onions. And, some items needed no modifications.  A Baked Alaska or a slice of pie is a treat in whatever decade you happen to eat it.

potatoesHow did foraging inspire the menu – what local foraging (businesses, farms, fields) was done to accomplish this feast?

J: The foraging for this series took place over the course of the summer. In late June and July Megan picked wineberries from local trails. I gathered wild blueberries and blackberries from northern Pennsylvania while on vacation in July. As the series neared, we found chanterelle mushrooms throughout the woods near Megan’s house. They only lasted for the first dinner, though. Day lily root was dug up from a nearby stream bed for each dinner, and figs were picked from the tree next to the house.

M: From the garden came okra, celery root, and various herbs.

Items sourced directly from farmers include vegetables and fruit from Radical Roots, Potluck Farm, and Vintage Virginia. Eggs and liver from Free Union Grass Farm.  Flank steak from Best of What’s Around, Liberty Farm, Heartland Farms (Staunton), and Tall Cotton Farm.

Local businesses frequented include feast! , The Spice Diva, Market Street Wineshop, Second Yard, Great Harvest Bread Company, Sprouses, A&W Thrift Store, Salvation Army, Rivertown Antiques.


How have your relationships with local businesses grown and strengthened the quality of forage’s dinners over the last year? (ie the ladies of The Second Yard for this series!)

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The climactic Baked Alaska

J: Oh the ladies at Second Yard were so great. It is just a labyrinth of fabric in there, so cool. We continue to receive such generous support from individuals and businesses that enjoy the spirit of Forage. Often, these folks come to a dinner too.

The bread rolls, served with our main courses, were donated by Great Harvest Bread Company whose owners Kath Younger and Matt Monson came to our second Cleaver’s dinner. Then there are the close friends turned business partners. Rick Miller, an exquisite woodworker based in Faber, VA, comes to each dinner often riding his motorcycle right up to the event. He generously donates his time and craftsmanship to many of our décor pieces. Megan and I also have known the guys behind Potter’s Cider, Tim Edmond and Dan Potter, since their first bottles were hitting Cville shelves. Their cider has and will continue to be the bases for our drinks that begin each dinner. Kristen Finn, an incredibly talented young photographer, provides her captivating photos and perspective of each series.

Our relationship with all of them has spread beyond just close friendships and truly has helped Forage grow. We hope to be able to continuing partnering with and also sharing Forage experiences with individuals interested in what we are doing.


Dapper host, Justin Stone

Now with 6 series under your belt(s), how have you seen forage grow, transform, and maybe even blossom into something you never thought it would?

J: The Cleaver’s Cookout was series number 6 in a little over a year and a half! It is now taking us a moment to recall the themes and moments from past events, which is a wonderful place to be in.  The most rewarding part of this growth is the number of new guests that have been around our tables. To see recent and returning guests around town and now be able to call many of them friends is now part of the Forage experience that we had not anticipated.

In 5 words or less, describe what makes each forage dinner one-of-a-kind.

No season or guests alike.

Leave us with a teaser! Ideas for the next forage event(s)? 

Come mid–winter, appearances may be deceiving.


Words and Interview by Linnea White

Photography by Katerina Diplays

Posted in: food