Fall. Autumn. Whatever it’s called, it’s my favorite time of year. Growing up in Arizona, we didn’t have much of a fall season. In fact, I think Arizona has only two seasons that don’t necessarily correspond with the traditional winter, spring, summer, fall. (Side note: how do you not sing James Taylor right there?) In Phoenix it’s simply hot and hotter so when I moved to the Midwest, this seasonal thing was a bit of an adjustment. Seasons? Winter?? What the hell? I was never dressed correctly; either too hot or too cold. Never had my umbrella at the right time, or the correct footwear. To my chagrin, I started paying attention to the weather report daily, something I hadn’t done in all my 22 years. But I adjusted. Eventually. Now I look forward to Indian Summers, the tree outside my living room window turning a gorgeous shade of yellow and college football tailgates wearing something other than shorts and a tank top (though daytime football is still very strange to me.)
Yesterday was an amazing one in my neck of the woods. After several days of cold, wet miserable weather we finally had a dry, if not sunny day. The timing was perfect because Seedling Farm – whose farmstand I’ve been working all summer – had it’s annual Harvest Party at the orchard. A friend and I hopped in my little car, hightailed it out of the city and marveled at the fall foliage all the way to Michigan.
I’ve been curious about Pete’s farm for some time, well ever since I met him years ago. I harbor these crazy ideas that someday, when I hit the lottery or marry a rich old man with a weak heart, I’ll buy a cozy little farm, plant a garden, maybe get a few goats and make cheese. Maybe in the south of France. Oooh, it sounds so wonderful and lovely that I conveniently choose to forget about things like income, manual labor, animal husbandry, taxes. Such a downer. Just kills the idyllic dream, doesn’t it? I prefer to live in my perfect little cloud on this one.
But then again, Pete’s doing it. He’s a city boy who sort of fell into the farming business and I have to say, has a rather sweet set up. He grows great fruit, is at several markets throughout Chicago and supplies the best restaurants in the city. The property has two old farmhouses (both over 100 years old), several barns and countless fruit trees. Having little experience with farms myself, I’m not sure how the size compares to others but this one seemed just perfect to me size-wise. We walked the whole thing in about an hour.
As we strolled along the rows and rows of apple trees – 28 varieties! – many were still loaded with fruit. HUGE fruit. Ginormous fruit. The apples are unbelievable large this year, due to the cool summer that really extended the growing season. Good to know that crappy summer was good for something. I’m not kidding about the size – a few weeks ago at the market, I pulled a mutsu apple out of a crate that was easily the size of a babies head. A big baby. The thing weighed 1 1/2 pounds! (I’m serious – see photo below.) In addition to apples, there are apricot, peach, plum, pear, quince, persimmon and cherry trees – several varieites of each. Fields for melons, strawberries, ground cherries. Somewhere in there are rhubarb, raspberries and blueberries. A few of the wild strawberry plants – fraise du boise – were still bearing tiny but extremely flavorful berries. If I had more energy I would have spent some time picking those but that would have meant putting my beer down. Uh, no.
There’s a cider mill where they processes the apples into really delicious fresh cider. And not just regular old cider, let me tell you. Sure, there’s that but also cinnamon spiced, 100% pear, apple cherry, apple raspberry and the 100% single apple varietals – mutsu, jonagold, golden delcious and honeycrisp cider. Fantastic, no?
It was great fun with delicious food – Pete is a helluva cook. Lots of tasty and unique apple dishes of course as well as a whole roasted lamb and suckling pig. Goose Island beer most certainly – the brewer is a friend and Pete grows fruit for some of his specialty beers. We all pretty much just sat around, eating, laughing and having a great time. Crazy hayrides, apple bobbing, games, s’more roasting and good conversation much of it centered around food (that’s what happens when you get food types and chefs together. We eat, drink and talk an awful lot.)
A great day made all the better by the stunning scenery – the farm is surrounded by beautiful trees in the midst of the autumn colors I hear so much about. In all the years I’ve been in the Midwest, I’ve never ventured outside of the city to witness these “fall colors”. My view of autumn have been colored by the city streets in my neighborhood, which are quite leafy, and until yesterday I’ve been quite pleased. Now I know better.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: well, there was no baking/cooking involved on my part but the stress relief was ENORMOUS. I love cool field trips. But in all seriousness – is there anything better than enjoying good food, drink and conversation in a stunning setting? Knowing that much of what I was eating was grown within 50 feet of where I was sitting was pretty sweet. In fact, nearly all of the food came from friends who either grew (the vegetables), raised (the meat) or brewed (the beer) that we were enjoying. That’s pretty cool.
UPDATE #1 10/27: check out Melissa Graham’s post on the party here. She obviously has a much better camera than I. And she got a pic of the apple target! Pete found it particularly funny to tease me with this knowing how much I hate to waste fruit. Wanker.
UPDATE #2 10/28: I’m such a dope! How could I talk about the farm without mentioning the fruitslinger blog?!? Check out Dan’s blog for a behind the scenes looks of the orchard and the farmstands around town. He has some hysterical observations and I really enjoyed working with him this summer.