Spotlight: Apple Picking at County Line Orchard

If you have Facebook friends who are:

  • In their late 20s/early 30s;
  • Have a child; and/or
  • Live in the Midwest

Chances are you’ve already seen a million apple picking photos. Well, this post will be one million and one!

Yes, I’m 31 years old, and this is the first time I’ve ever been apple picking! Nate, my brother Christopher and his wife Melissa, and our friends Clint and Gina joined me for a morning of apple picking and corn mazing. I chose County Line Orchard based on some feedback from my Facebook friends (thank you!) because it’s relatively close (about an hour) and has good activities (corn maze, pumpkin patch, U-Pick sunflower field, roasting marshmallows, bee hives…oh, yeah, and apple picking).

We drove to Hobart, Indiana, the Sunday after our Revolution Brewing Oktoberfest Party, and we couldn’t have picked a more perfect day. Blue sky + cool temperature = ideal apple picking weather.

We started our experience in the Timber Frame Barn, sampling apple cider, and tasting apple cinnamon and pumpkin-glazed donuts (holy amazing) while we browsed the gifts, food, and mementos for sale. Then, we headed outside to get our tickets for apple picking.

We were told the corn maze was muddy, but we wanted to do it anyway. For the Explorer Pass (access to the maze and apple picking), it cost $7 per person, in addition to the apples costing $1.89 a pound. Now, I understand apple picking is a novelty, so I didn’t think these prices were too outrageous.

We hopped on a tractor ride and made our way to the corn maze. An employee handed us a map of the maze that was designed to honor Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux, and had 10 checkpoints (you got a hole punch at each point). We successfully completed the task, although we did get a little dirty. There was also a beautiful sunflower field next to the maze, so we snapped a few photos there.

Next, we walked over to the apple orchards, which were partially picked over (it was early October), but there were still plenty of apples to pick. I opted for mostly Jubilee Fuji, which—according to my information guide—are good for eating, cooking, pies, and frying. We picked six pounds, and I actually ate most of them, giving a few to a friend. I’ll have to get more next year to bake and make some homemade applesauce!

Our trip to County Line was wonderful. I went home with my apples, as well as a mix of donuts for my co-workers, and some delicious kettle corn. My brother ordered a soft pretzel (his favorite!) from a vendor outside, and it was the best pretzel I’ve ever had. (They have many vendors and food trucks outside to visit before or after your pick.) There’s also a kid’s farm, and plenty of pumpkins and decorative items to purchase, and, I know I’m biased, but they also have weddings here! (See photos from our barn wedding)

Would I return to County Line? Definitely. Will apple picking be a tradition in our house? I sure hope so!

County Line Orchard
200 S. County Line Road
Hobart, Indiana

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Green City Market Cookbook Demonstration at The Chopping Block

These days, what can $40 get you? How about unlimited cocktails, the new Green City Market Cookbook, and a cooking demonstration at The Chopping Block Cooking School, featuring chefs and a farmer who contributed to the cookbook. Oh yeah, and you get to sample all of the recipes and chat with them, too. No kidding, this is how Nate and I recently spent our Monday night!

Walking into The Chopping Block, a recreational cooking school,  is like foodie heaven, complete with a boutique kitchen store to shop for items used in demonstrations and classes, and three classroom areas for classes and private parties.

We bumped into my friend Gina who works there, then our friends Britta and Dave who were also attending the class. Britta volunteers at The Green City Market, which is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide a marketplace for purchasing sustainably grown food and to educate, promote and connect  farmers and local producers directly to chefs, restaurateurs and the greater Chicago community. I’ve been to the Lincoln Park market a handful of times and loved it, it’s just kind of difficult for me to get to. So you could imagine my excitement when they recently started The Green City Market Fulton on Saturday mornings!

Back to the story: The room was busy, so we got some wine and beer and sat down with our cookbooks, not quite sure what to expect. The presentation started with a few introductions, including Beth Eccles, owner and farmer of Green Acres Farm, who spoke about her involvement with the Green City Market, and how she collaborates with local chefs. Throughout the evening, the chefs had nothing but wonderful things to say about Beth and her produce, which was really wonderful to hear.

Shelley Young, owner of The Chopping Block, started the demos by sharing her strata recipe (all of the recipes from the evening are featured in the cookbook). What was cool was that Shelley adapted her recipe for the summer, using yellow corn and squash. Sometimes I get to caught up in a recipe that I can’t even think about changing an ingredient, but the chefs that evening were really playful with their recipes, which was inspiring for this wannabe foodie. This strata was so decadent, my mouth waters just thinking about it. Very creamy and delicious but packed with veggies, too.

Next were Joshua Kulp and Christine Cikowski, chefs and owners of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, who made mini versions of their Sunday Dinner Club market burger. The burger, which they freshly ground, was simple but outstanding. The quality of the meat was so great, the burger didn’t require much seasoning before cooking. (I always add egg and breadcrumbs and sometimes veggies–not necessary!) Luckily they let us sample some right after the demo because these were too good to wait.

Lastly, Jason Hammel, co-owner of Lula Cafe, put together a lovely summer bean salad with smoked trout. Jason walked us through the steps of blanching the veggies, and properly assembling the dish. He made his own dressings, which is something I really need to start doing. This salad was so crisp and crunchy, it made me excited to visit Lula. After our move this month, I swear!

After the demonstrations were finished, the audience was allowed to sample the strata and salad, have the chefs sign their cookbooks, and chat and ask questions. It was nice to be able to get to know the chefs a little better, and hear about their involvement with the market.

Needless to say, we went home very full and truly inspired. We even picked up a cooking oil and spatula used in class. I look forward to making many of these recipes for years to come.

Green City Market
Lincoln Park (Wednesdays and Saturdays) & now Fulton Market (Saturdays only)

Green City Market Cookbook

The Chopping Block Cooking School
222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza
River North

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Week #48 – Spotlight: Christmas Event at Walnut Grove Farm

Three and a half hours southwest of Chicago you will find yourself in the quaint town of Knoxville, Illinois. This is where Walnut Grove Farm is. This is my husband’s family’s farm, where he grew up. This is where we were married. This farm has become such a part of my life, and although I’ve been here before, I am going to share it with you anyway. 🙂

This weekend is Walnut Grove Farm’s annual Christmas Event, the perfect place to get you in the spirit of the season. At the event, you can find decorative items like wreaths and swags to make your home festive–courtesy of my mother-in-law Jan and her good friend Ruby–as well as more than 20 local artisans to buy unique and extraordinary goods from.

Here are just some of the offerings at this year’s event:

  • Artwork
  • Candy
  • Children’s books
  • Crocheted hats, headbands, and more
  • Jewelry
  • Ornaments and garland
  • Pottery
  • Photography
  • Vintage
  • Woodworking
  • Wreaths, swags, and centerpiece arrangements

Need more reason to come out? We’re running a food drive, as well as asking for donations for those affected by the tornado in Washington, Illinois.

If you live nearby, stop by and enjoy the work and stories of the artisans. Get a candy cane from St. Nick (Do you recognize him? It’s Rich!), go on a carriage ride, taste Laura’s delicious food (yesterday I had goulash–yum!), and get in the holiday mood.

PS: Remember, today is Small Business Saturday, so whether you’re able to make it to the barn or not, support your local community.

We hope to see you this weekend!

Saturday: 10-4 pm
Sunday: 11-3 pm

Walnut Grove Farm
Christmas Event
1455 Knox Station Road
Knoxville, IL

20131129-215410.jpgMeet Jan and Ruby, and check out some of their designs. See St. Nick too!

20131129-215416.jpgDon’t miss the Vintage Broad and her eye-catching displays (not to mention her cool finds and creations!).

20131129-215423.jpgSee the barn and some handmade crafts by Nate’s Grandmother and Aunt!

20131129-215429.jpgTaste Pam Madden’s candy, buy one of Vintage Chic Crochet’s hats, and take home one of Chris Dokolasa’s ceramic pottery pieces.