Shaye and Stuart Elliott’s 1909 farmhouse sits tucked down a hidden gravel driveway on a Malaga hillside, surrounded on nearly all sides by cherry orchards. On a recent misty morning, I visited their home to talk with Shaye about food, farming, and her very big, very exciting news: Tomorrow, the Food Network will air the pilot episode of “Homestead Table,” a brand new cooking show starring Shaye and her rustic brand of from-scratch farm recipes.
The Elliotts are homesteaders. They grow their own food, rising with the sun each day to milk the cow and do chores around the property, but they don’t sell anything they produce. They farm simply to sustain their own tribe, which includes four young children, and because they believe in keeping a close connection to the food they eat. On their two-and-a-quarter acres of land, they tend to pigs, geese, chickens, ducks, bees, rabbits, a dairy cow named Cece and a large organic garden that keeps them in fresh and preserved fruits and vegetables all year round.
“There’s something about this lifestyle that is captivating to people because I think it really speaks to our heritage, how people have existed for thousands of years before us, and a lot of people are very removed from that,” Shaye said. “And yet it’s so attainable, really. I think that’s intriguing to a lot of people.”
Inside, the Elliott house is decorated in a charming, old-world country style. It’s welcoming and warm, and has served as the backdrop for countless of Shaye’s Instagram posts and blog entries on her wildly popular website, The Elliott Homestead, which gets about 100,000 unique visits each month. Most everything in the house was bought second-hand or was hand-made by Stuart.
On the morning of my visit, Stuart, who previously taught at a private Christian school, sat with the children around the long farmhouse kitchen table (which he built), quietly guiding them through a holiday craft project. They were making orange pomanders, carefully poking cloves into the fruit, forming intricate patterns. When he’s not homeschooling the couple’s children, Stuart works the land and cares for the animals.
For all the ease she displays in her kitchen and on the farm, Shaye was not born into the farm life. She grew up in a house on Western Avenue in Wenatchee, went to public schools here, then attended Washington State University. She met Stuart, a Georgia native, at a bar in Chelan one summer. They lived for several years in Alabama. It was there, just after the birth of their first child in 2010, that Shaye started her blog. Back then, The Elliott Homestead was a purely aspirational name. The Elliotts were not homesteaders. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood, kept rabbits “and a very sad excuse for a garden.” But Shaye was determined to learn the lifestyle, and as she taught herself to bake bread, make chicken stock from scratch and generally master the ways of an old-fashioned homemaker, she blogged about it.
Now she and Stuart are living the homestead dream, have published several books, and Shaye’s cooking is so good that she’s got her own Food Network pilot.
From the Food Network’s description: “Shaye serves up easy-to-prepare, rustic and crowd-pleasing recipes proving you don’t have to buy the cow to enjoy a taste of the farm.”
“This is really a baby step for Food Network viewers who, you know, they’re shopping at Walmart. They’re getting all their stuff there,” Shaye said. “So the whole concept is introducing them to these things and yet making it something that is attainable for them to cook with whatever food they can get at Walmart. I think a huge step forward for the real food movement is just learning to make chicken stock, learning to buy a whole chicken instead of just chicken breasts, or buying a bag of lentils or rice instead of pre-packaged microwaveable teriyaki bowls or something.”
On the menu for the pilot episode of “Homestead Table”: Roasted chicken, “crispy smooshed potatoes”, apple cake and more. “We use basic ingredients,” Shaye said. “It’s not complicated. It’s butter, salt and grains and cream.”
After the pilot airs, the Food Network will decide whether or not to order a full season of episodes.
“So there’s the chance that this goes nowhere,” Shaye said. “But we never sought to do this and so it all kind of feels like a free ride in a way. Like, well if it works out, great. And if it doesn’t, that’s OK too. We’re very content just to live here and do this.”
Kelli Scott’s column appears Wednesday through Friday. Reach her at (509) 661-5205 or email@example.com.