The Farmer’s Wife: Sandwiches Made with Love

Reilly O’Neal, CUESA Volunteer
February 13, 2015

A sandwich from The Farmer’s Wife is a culinary tour through our region’s foodshed, blending the best seasonal offerings from local farmers, cheesemakers, butchers, and bakers. For chef-owner Kendra Kolling, whose husband is an organic apple farmer in Sonoma, “farm to table” is more than a trend; it’s her family’s way of life.

This week CUESA welcomes The Farmer’s Wife to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, where Kendra crafts sweet and savory grilled cheeses and salads using the freshest ingredients from her farming and food-making neighbors.

Becoming the Farmer’s Wife

Cooking has been a lifelong passion for Kendra, who started working in restaurant kitchens at age 14. “I put myself through college either serving or doing kitchen prep,” she says. While working PR jobs in the wine industry and running her own juice cart at the Marin Civic Center Farmers Market, she met Paul Kolling, founder of Nana Mae’s Organics, and they married in 1997.

Nana Mae’s Organics grows more than 25 heirloom apple varieties on 300 acres in Sebastopol. Juices and apple sauces are produced seasonally, and the apples are sold at local farmers markets. “My kids have grown up at the Marin Farmers Market,” Kendra laughs. From the age of five, the Kolling children—now 10, 15, and 17—learned how to weigh apples and make change. “I can’t think of a more honest and wholesome way to raise my children.”

But even though she loves the lifestyle, Kendra is honest about the economic ups and downs of family farming. “It was really eye opening to see what a labor of love farming is,” she says. “It’s often a path of poverty, though you’re rich in so many other ways.”

In 2010, to help with the farm’s bottom line, she began serving salads, soups, and sandwiches under the Nana Mae’s banner at the Larkspur farmers market at the Marin Country Mart.

“Customers kept asking me, ‘Are you Nana Mae?’” Kendra recalls. “I would explain that Nana Mae was my husband’s grandmother. He’s the apple farmer, and I’m the farmer’s wife. My business name just evolved organically.”

Recipe for Success

On a whim, Kendra entered the ‘Wich Hunt, a contest for Sonoma County’s best sandwich, in 2012. She won Best in Show, and her sandwiches have taken home the contest’s top prizes each year since.

She attributes the awards—and the loyalty of her farmers market customers—to using the best ingredients around: “We make all our own condiments, our sausages are house made with our own unique spice recipes, and our salads are literally direct from farmers.”

Not surprisingly, her menus feature apples creatively: sliced on melty grilled cheeses, in cider-laced vinaigrettes, and in house-made condiments like Gravenstein apple, raisin, and fig mostarda. “Whenever I have the opportunity, I love to use apples to showcase that I’m an apple farmer’s wife,” Kendra explains.

A breakfast sandwich layers pork lardons from Sonoma County Meat Co., blue cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, and a fried egg from Tully Dolci Organic Farm in Petaluma, just up the road from Kendra’s commercial kitchen. Full Circle Baking in Penngrove supplies organic sourdough and marbled rye, and a gluten-free quinoa-millet option comes from Grindstone Bakery in Cotati.

There are tasty offerings for grain-free guests, too. On the “Paleo Plate,” two over-easy eggs top braised greens from Marin Roots Farm and a sausage patty made in-house with pork from Red Wattle hogs. “The meat is super clean and tasty and it gives our sausage a nice percentage of fat,” says Kendra of this heritage breed.  

Savoring the Seasons

Kendra enjoys making the most of local winter produce—and she has a few tried-and-true tips.

For kale, chicories, and other greens: “I’m a fan of garlic, a little olive oil, and salt and pepper. I don’t think you really need more than that. I love to let the food speak and the flavors shine through.”

Citrus is a favorite ingredient for garnishes and dressings when fruit like Meyer lemons, blood oranges, and mandarins are at their zesty best. “We’re seeing such wonderful citrus at the markets this month. I love that winter is citrus time, after the indulgent holidays.”

Pickles and ferments also bring zing to wintertime meals. “Carrots and beets are plentiful now and make a great pickled vegetable garnish,” Kendra suggests. Her vibrant red Russian sauerkraut combines beets with purple cabbage and apples, and the house-made kimchi blends shredded carrots and leeks for a pop of orange and green. “We may be in the middle of winter, but my plates are like a little sunburst!”

Taking Root in SF

At the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, expect to see Kendra’s house-made pork chorizo sandwich with cheese, fried egg, and avocado, and a grilled cheese with lamb merguez sausage, turmeric-jalapeño sauerkraut, and chimichurri—both ‘Wich Hunt winners—as well as some new favorites. “I’m gunning for Best Sandwich in San Francisco!” she says.

This farmer’s wife is also thrilled to be joining a market whose sustainable agriculture work is so close to her heart. “CUESA’s mission is part of who I am and what I do. You can see it in the way my menu evolves with the seasons,” Kendra says. “This is the crown jewel of markets, and I couldn’t be more honored to be here.”  

Find The Farmer’s Wife in the south driveway on Saturdays and the front plaza on Thursdays.


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