Homemade Apple Cider

Apple cider warms the soul on a crisp fall morning.  Aromas in my kitchen are an elegant dance of fresh apple and cinnamon spice.  The rust colored skyline meets with the golden harvest of the season as fall appears.

With a bushel of Jonathan apples, from our oldest fruit tree on the farm, I wanted to make a batch of cider to preserve their flavor and welcome autumn.  They are my husband’s favorite.  This apple is a classic American Heirloom variety that has sweetness with a touch of tart.  It balances the flavor and makes them a perfectly delicious apple.

I made two batches, with different ingredients, to see which recipe we liked best.  What I came up with were equally amazing.  The one batch resembles a wassail and the other leans towards a more traditional cider.  You can make both recipes and decide for yourself!  Enjoy!


Jonathan Apple Wassail

  • 10-12 apples, quartered
  • ½ an orange, quartered
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ Cup brown sugar
  • 1 T ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 8-10 Cups of water


Jonathan Apple Cider

  • 10-12 apples, quartered
  • ¾ Cup sugar
  • 1 T ground cinnamon
  • 1 T ground allspice
  • 8 Cups water

Cut your choice of apples into quarters.  Don’t worry about peeling or seeding at this point. Everything will cook down and you will remove when you strain them.  Place apples, sugar, spices, and water into a slow cooker.  The aroma throughout the day is amazing, but you can also cook either recipe over the stove for a quicker batch.

Cook on medium to high for 4 hours.  At this time remove the apples and mash.  You can use a potato masher or immersion blender; either will do the trick.  Don’t worry about straining just yet.  Put your apple mash back into the crock pot and cook down for 2-4 more hours.  The longer you wait, the more intense the apple flavor, and delicious in my opinion.

After cooking, strain the liquid and remove all stems, seeds, and debris.  You can enjoy either recipe hot or chill in the refrigerator.


Concord Grape Juice Recipe – Grandma’s Way



As I walk past the vines, the sweet smell of Concord grapes alert me that it is time to harvest.  When I bring my bounty home and get ready to prepare some grapey goodness, I ask my hubby which recipe he prefers; jelly, jam, puree for pie, juice… “Grape juice, grandma’s way”, he replies.

It is important for me to not only preserve our harvest, but preserve those memories he has of the farm.  My husband is fond of anything done the way they did it on the farm.  So, without delay and without an actual recipe from grandma, I begin.

Now, mind you, my husband does not cook or follow recipes.  I’m going off of stories he recollects from childhood, and for a man who doesn’t cook he does remember the steps pretty good.  The process is very simple and I’m going to experiment with the amounts of sugar, because I don’t have the actual recipe from Grandma Bossler.  I made some of the jars with ½ Cup sugar and others with 1/3 Cup sugar.  I will label them and we shall see at the time of the taste test.

concord grapes - stemmed concord grapes

Concord Grape Juice Recipe                    

  • 1 Cup Concord Grapes (heaping)
  • 1/3 – ½ Cup sugar
  • Boiling water to fill to the rim of each jar

Soak and rinse concord grapes in cool water, then drain.  I like to add some vinegar to the water and let them soak for at least 3 minutes before rinsing and draining.  While they are soaking you can set up your canning assembly line and wash canning jars.  After washing the jars in soap and water, I place them in the dishwasher on the sanitize cycle to sterilize.

Remove stems from each individual grape and place into a container for later… depending on how many grapes you have this could be a while.  Fill each sterilized jar with 1 Cup of Concord grapes.  Add sugar to each jar then fill to the rim with boiling water.

Remove lids and rings from hot water bath and place on jars for canning.  Process jars for 15 minutes in a hot water bath.  Because I didn’t have a recipe I used the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for a reference on how long to process my jars.  This is a great resource and canning companion!

Once the jars are processed and cooled, make sure they have sealed properly. Label and set aside for at least 4-6 weeks while the magic happens.  When you’re ready to have your Concord Grape juice – Grandma’s Way, strain juice and enjoy the grapey goodness!

closeup of concrod grapes in jarsgrapes after canning

Summer Cherry Crisp Recipe

fresh cherries

cherry crisp with ice cream top view

A crisp or crumble recipe is a beautifully simplistic way to enjoy seasonal fruit. This recipe can be pared with your favorite fruits all summer long, whether it’s cherries, blackberries, peaches, or apples to pick.

The first crisp of the season at our house is always sour cherry.  We have many fruit trees on the farm, but my husbands favorite is THE sour cherry tree.  Although we have planted other trees, he says the one his Great Uncle Glenn planted is the best. This cherry trees fruit has the perfect amount of tart with just a hint of sweetness, and I think that’s what makes it perfect for this recipe.


  • 5-6 Cups sour cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • 1/2 Cup sugar
  • 2 T corn starch


  • 1/2 Cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 Cup flour
  • 1/2 Cup oats
  • 1/2 Cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 Cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

Pour sour cherries into a 2 ½ quart baking dish and lightly toss with sugar and corn starch to coat.  In a stand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar.  Add flour, cinnamon, oats, and chopped pecans.  Beat on a low speed until mixture is combined and slightly crumbly.  If mixture is still sticky, you can add more flour.  Top sour cherries with crisp and bake in an oven @ 350° for 20-30 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown on top.  After your crisp has cooled from the oven, serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

IMG_6291 IMG_6292 IMG_6295completed cherry crisp from oven

“A Pinch of That, Sprinkle of This, Measure to Taste” Cream of Asparagus Soup

Cream of Asparagus soup picture

I’m always so excited to see the first signs of asparagus peeking through the soil announcing spring. The alarm for fresh produce has rung, and I look forward to the season of delicious farm fresh food!

“A pinch of that, sprinkle of this, measure to taste”, is the characteristic of a great chef and a great recipe.  As you learn to cook and experience flavors, you don’t always have to follow a recipe to a T, but merely a list of ingredients to guide the way.

I enjoy trying new recipes as I learn to cook with my produce on the farm.  I had some cream of asparagus soup at a Grange membership dinner and asked the cook for the recipe.  Of course, like many family recipes, the ingredients were not measured and the directions were not written down.  She sent me her list and my recipe was adapted from that.

In our house, we like soup to be full or heavy.  I opted to partially blend half of this recipe, leaving behind delicious bits of asparagus and potato.  I also added cream instead of milk and chicken broth for some extra flavor.  But, as I encourage everyone to make a recipe your own, feel free to add a pinch of that, sprinkle of this, and measure to taste!

Cream of Asparagus Soup Recipe

  • 1½ – 2 lbs asparagus
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 large potato, chopped
  • 1/4 Cup onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste (I used 3/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper)
  • 4 Cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 Cup heavy cream
  • *1/4 Cup Asiago/Parmesan/Romano cheese blend to sprinkle on top of soup

Wash asparagus and break the end pieces off of the spears.  The asparagus will naturally break at the tender area leaving the woody ends to discard.  Chop spears into 1 inch pieces, along with chopping the potato, onion, and garlic.

Saute garlic, onion, potato and asparagus in butter for about 5-7 minutes, or until potatoes and onions are lightly browned.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Stir in broth and heavy cream, then bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes until the asparagus pieces are tender.

Helpful kitchen tip:  Tasting is an important part of cooking.  At this point, taste your broth and see if you’d like to adjust your seasoning.  You can add more salt, pepper, or thyme would be a complimentary ingredient.  If the soup is overpowered by any one ingredient, you can always add more chicken broth to lessen the intensity if you over seasoned.

Using an immersion blender, partially blend half of the soup.  If you prefer a creamy soup with no vegetable pieces, blend the entire pot of soup.  Top with a sprinkle of cheese before serving and enjoy!

Planning for Change


One of the many things I learned as an apprentice is that change is constant in farming.  While planning is important, things may not always go as planned and sometimes the only constant is change.  There are weather systems, pest issues, machinery repairs, fading daylight hours, varying soil conditions, and that’s just a regular day on a farm.  It’s part of farming to plan for change, and then adjust as needed when the situation arises, but always keep moving forward.

Like many farmers, I have a job off of the farm and balancing the two became a challenge this past year.  Running our farm, and now a construction company, I soon took on more responsibility than originally planned; and while managing the company has been beneficial for business, it has pushed my full time plans for the farm back a little.

I will admit, I felt discouraged and defeated at times.  Spending more days in the office or on a job site meant being away from the farm.

But, there were those glorious days in which I was able to put my hands in the earth.  Every day on the farm is a breath of fresh air as I come up to the surface.”

Despite the change in schedule, I still had a great season with many firsts, learning opportunities, and continued growth at our farm.  After all, every step forward is still a step forward as I live my farmDREAM!

A few of my farming firsts and successes this season…

  • Growing tomatillos, lavender, and rainbow carrots
  • Attended the Illinois State Grange session and brought home ribbons for our produce!
  • Made grape juice with Grandma Bossler’s recipe, Yummy!
  • Found and purchased two very needed tractor implements
  • Moved the chicken coop
  • Cooked with rhubarb, who knew? I LOVE RHUBARB!

And yes, I started planning for the upcoming season after one week of being off for winter break.

Cooking with Chef Natalie – Bacon Wrapped Asparagus and Creamy Baked Asparagus


Meals are an experience at our household, whether you’re hands on in the kitchen while the festivities begin, enjoying a glass of wine while we stir up some fun, or awed by the serenade of cuisine set at the dinner table.  Tastes, smells, and sites to be seen as your senses dance with excitement.

I enjoy cooking and nothing makes me happier than seeing the fresh produce I’ve grown on my farm turned into delicious recipes for everyone to enjoy!  Early spring asparagus is so exquisite I normally take a simplistic approach to recipes not to overshadow the fresh flavor.  I invited Chef Natalie to my kitchen to prepare two asparagus recipe’s to accompany our dinner.

cooking with Natalie 01Natalie cooking 04 edited blanching asparagus 02

You should always use the best ingredients that are made available to you and that fits your budget.  It’s a simple tip but one that makes a huge difference.  We used fresh thick cut bacon from our neighbors farm to flavor and accompany our home-grown asparagus.

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

  • 1 1/2 lbs. Fresh asparagus spears
  • 5 – 8 Pieces of fresh-cut bacon
  • 2 T Olive oil
  • * Black pepper to taste

Clean the asparagus and break off the end pieces.  The stem will naturally break at the tender spots and you can discard the end pieces for compost or use to flavor soups.  Lightly brush the asparagus with olive oil and pepper to taste.  Spiral wrap 2 – 3 pieces of asparagus with bacon.  You can secure the pieces with a tooth pick before grilling if needed.  Place the asparagus on the grill and cook until bacon is crisp and spears are tender.

grilled asparagus IMG_3187 FullSizeRender[2] Creamy baked asparagus

Creamy Baked Asparagus

  • 1 lb.  Fresh asparagus spears
  • 1/4 Cup  Peppercorn Ranch Dressing
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Smoked Gouda Cheese
  • 12 Ritz Crackers, coarsely crushed (about 1/2 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Clean asparagus spears, remove ends, and blanch in water for 2 -3 minutes.  The asparagus should be bright green and still crisp.  Drain and place in a baking dish.  Add dressing and toss to coat, then sprinkle crushed crackers and top with smoked gouda cheese.  You can substitute the gouda for parmesan or cheddar cheese if you have that on hand, but trust me the gouda is good.  Bake in the oven for 10 – 12 minutes until  the top is lightly golden and crisped.  This recipe was modified from the original on KraftFoods.com.

» If you’d like to grow your own, check out my recent “How To” post on Planting Asparagus!

Planting Asparagus

Asparagus spears peeking through the earth are one of the first signs that spring is here! A farm favorite, and an early perennial, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

When we purchased the farm in early spring of 2013 we were lucky to have a few surprise plants, still left by the garden, to get us by until our new plants were established and well on their way. Once planted, and if cared for, asparagus plants will produce for 15-20 years.

planting asparagus

It is important to choose asparagus crowns that are from a reputable distributor or trusted local producer. Invest in healthy plants and you’ll be rewarded for years to come. Asparagus plants take 2-3 seasons before full production but 2-3 year old crowns are available to purchase if you are eager to get a head start. I have had success with planting both younger crowns and 2-3 year old crowns.

I purchased my crowns through Nourse Farms. The varieties we chose were Jersey Night, Mary Washington, and Purple Passion. When selecting your asparagus choose varieties that are well suited for your area. Online information is plentiful depending on which zone you live in or you can check with your local extension office.

Soil Location and Preparation
Select a location that has good drainage and plenty of sunlight. Asparagus prefers a pH range of 6.5 -7.5. You can amend the soil by applying lime if too acidic or sulfur if the soil is too alkaline. Prepare the soil by removing any weeds, as asparagus does not do well when competing. I suggest mulching to keep the weeds at bay.

When you receive your crowns make sure to keep asparagus roots dry and do not soak them. The sooner you can plant them the better, but remember it is springtime and Mother Nature does not always cooperate. Store the crowns in a cool dark place like a basement, root cellar, or garage until you are able to plant.

planting asparagus placing asparagus in trench asparagus crowns in trench

When you are ready to plant furrow 8” – 10” and spread compost in the bottom of the trench. Separate the asparagus roots like a mustache, spacing 10” – 12” apart, with the crown facing upwards. Make sure the roots have plenty of room to spread out and flourish. Cover the crown with 2” – 4” of soil. As the asparagus plant grows you will continue to add earth to the trench until it is filled, allowing the fern to stay above the soil. The ferns will dry and wither as fall approaches and after winter you will cut back and discard. If all goes well you will be able to harvest that spring and the following season you can enjoy the full abundance of your asparagus.

Next week I will be cooking with Chef Natalie to share a delicious recipe with asparagus, fresh from the farm and straight to your inbox!