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Fruitopia, Arthur Expeditions, Tuscany in Central Illinois

Posted 10/4/2013 1:05pm by Leslie Cooperband or Wes Jarrell.

Farm News

Fruitopia: Sundays are usually the one day of the week that Wes and I get to “hang out” on the farm by ourselves (there are exceptions such as farm tours, stray visitors and the occasional farm dinner—we have a big one this Sunday with Rick Bayless and the Eastern Illinois Food Bank fundraiser).  Wes milks in the morning, and I make a batch of chevre. Last Sunday, after the goats were milked and fed and the chevre making was underway, we strolled out to the north end of the orchard, faithful dog Blue in tow, to pick the last of the Moonglow pears.  We were hoping there were at least 15 pounds left for the dessert planned for the Bayless dinner.  Sure enough, we were able to find 20 pounds of intact medium sized pears.  The windfalls on the ground were in various stages of decomposition. The orchard floor was a buzz (literally) with honey bees carving out pears to extract the juice.  Others were loaded with Asian lady beetles.  I was happy to see the bees in such a feeding frenzy—they need all the sugar they can get to make themselves some winter honey.  Wes picked the pears that were high up on the trees, while I focused on the low hanging fruits and the intact windfalls. I moved over to some apple trees to find several buckets full of perfect red apples at the base of just a single tree! Wes being the long-time fruit maven (he grew up on a fruit farm in western Oregon), I asked him if he had ever seen a fruit year like this before. His reply: “I’ve never seen a fruit year like this in all my fruit lovin’ days” (and he’s been picking and loving fruit since he could walk).   

What do you with fruit when you have lots of it? You press it into cider. We purchased our very own stainless steel cider press last week, and it arrived just in time to make a batch of pear and several batches (by variety) of apple cider. Bill Morgan, our resident brew meister (Blind Pig Brewery fame) will be turning these first batches into perry (that’s hard pear cider) and hard apple cider.  We’ll be pressing more apples to sell as fresh cider. 

 apples ready for pressing

apples ready for pressing

making cider

making cider-it's a three person job, clearly!

Arthur Expeditions: In preparation for our upcoming farm dinners, Chef Alisa and I took a trip to Arthur this past Tuesday to attend the Arthur Produce Auction and purchase pumpkins from the Great Pumpkin Patch.  The Arthur Produce Auction is an Amish-run wholesale auction where buyers bid on locally- grown vegetables and fruits in season. We were there to purchase fall mums to plant around our beautiful new stone patio.  The crowd of bidders follows the auctioneer from lot to lot of products and transactions are made within seconds.  The regulars know what they want and what they should pay, so novices like me have to brave the pace and jump in quickly. Knowing when to stop bidding is just as critical as jumping in.  You have to have an end price in your head BEFORE you start bidding.  The exercise reminded me of riding the waves at the beach—you have time your entry and exit from the shore just right so a wave doesn’t break on top of your head or suck you back out into the froth.

 Forty mum plants later, we headed over to the Great Pumpkin Patch, a multi-generation family farm that grows over 400 varieties of cucurbits (that’s the family of squashes, pumpkins and gourds). Mac Condill, the current generation farmer is a world authority of cucurbits and can give you all the characteristics of each variety.  We met him at the gate (Bill the brew meister had tagged along so we could pick out pumpkins to make the pumpkin ale for our beer dinner) and he led us to the section of baking pumpkins.  We told him what traits we needed, and he selected three varieties of banana pumpkins for the ale. He also picked out a great heirloom baking pumpkin called “Triple Treat” for our pumpkin gelato.  The seeds are skinless so they can be roasted (nothing goes to waste except the skin). Alisa described a French variety of pumpkin that she wanted to use for a pumpkin cake and within seconds, Mac had it identified as “Galeux d'Eysines.” Literally, this means a skin condition akin to psoriasis.  The pumpkin is a beautiful coral pink with light-brown wart-like protrusions on the skin, similar in appearance to circus peanuts.  We lugged our pumpkin-laden wagon to the car and headed back to the farm.  Banana squashes were roasted the next day and are already in the fermentation tanks as I write. 

wall of squashes

car load of cucurbits
Building a little bit of Tuscany in Central Illinois: Wes and crew put the final touches of sand over the stone patio pavers yesterday, just before the rains came.  The process of laying crushed rock, compacting it, then a thin layer of sand, then the pavers in pattern, then more compacting, then the final sand to fill in cracks took about two weeks to complete. The crew ranged in age from mid-20’s to late ‘60’s—lots of sweat and dust covered faces.  The patio is a marvel—stone evokes emotions deep within our early ancestor psyche.  We’ve brought a little bit of the old world to our farm once more—Tuscany in Champaign. 

stone patio near completion

Farmers’ Markets   

 We’re attending one farmers’ market this Saturday, October 5th: Urbana’s market at the square.  We’ll have some great fall milk chevre (it’s getting super creamy right now) so start stocking up for the winter:

  • Fresh chevre: plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper, heirloom tomato
  •  Bloomy rinds including: Little Bloom on the Prairie, Black Sheep, Ewe Bloom
  •  Sheep milk feta 
  • Moonglo
  •  Roxanne
  • Eldon: sheep milk blue

 Gelato flavors (Stewart was out of control this past week AND he helped build the stone patio):

  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Stacciatella
  • Espresso
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Walnut Brittle
  • Tart Cherry Stracciatella (yes, we froze some tart cherries just for this occasion)
  • Gianduja (chocolate hazelnut) 
  • Honey Lavender
  • Winesap apple cider sorbetto
  • Moonglo pear sorbetto
 We’ll also be bringing a few varieties of our organic apples including Mutzu, Fuji and Winesap.  If you think you’re sick of tomatoes, just pick up a quart box from us—they are so sweet and flavorful (you can thank the drought for that), they’ll make you forget how many you’ve already eaten.