We’re fortunate. We can yield to our outdoors for calm and comfort. Morning always seems to start out groggy unlike Hudson and Walter who jump to attention with the urge to eat and be stroked. Walker and I amble up the rise to the West toward the stone house. The sun glistens off the West roof after another shower.
I scrutinize the first flowers (they suffered only minor stings from the 4th frost at dawn) of a three year old apple planting of Northern Spy, Pippin, Pixie Crunch, Pink Pearl, and other oddities that only a gambler would attempt. Walter munches grass along the way before we cross the road to the barn.
It is a wonder how green the world has become after prolonged gloom and cold.
This cherry season’s biggest fan: Jennifer Thornton, Owner & Educator, Buttercream & Olive Oil shares her anecdotal recipe and techniques for canning cherries.
Living in France for five years, one of my cherished memories is afternoons spent in Lolo’s cherry tree. Lolo is currently 95 years old and afternoons at his ancient Roman quarry farm were always spectacular. During cherry season, after a lengthy lunch, I would climb up into the stately cherry tree and eat as many cherries as I could until I couldn’t eat anymore. Whether they were the most delicious cherries in the world or not is debatable, but the memory of the Provençal sun and cigales singing, the company of best friends and so much delicious food, I cannot remember them being anything but the best.
That is until this summer as we ventured out to Quarry Hill for a Sunday afternoon of cherry picking. The trees were dripping with giant bunches of cherries. I will admit, I am a thoroughly devout sour cherry fan. I only stopped at 15 pounds because it was closing time. The sweet cherries were overwhelming plentiful and awe-inspiring and 20 lbs were picked easily picked in about an hour and half. These cherries are nothing short of exquisite. If you are new to picking cherries, remember the stems will keep the longer, so if you do not plan to eat or use them soon, pick with the stem. Picking your own fruit is one of life’s most gratifying delights. For me the only problem is I never know when to stop. When the fruit is plentiful and beautiful, I always think what I pick is just never enough. Of course, this really is not a bad thing and being staunchly locavore, the only cherries I eat all year will be local. This is why I freeze or can 90% of what I pick. Cherries are particularly fun to preserve through canning because no sugar is needed, in following with the USDA guidelines. This is for both sweet and sour cherries.
Canning Whole Cherries in Lemon Juice
What you will need:
15 pounds of sweet or sour cherries, whole and pitted (prefererably from Quarry Hill Orchards!)
4 Organic Lemons
About 6 one-quart mason jars, sterilized
Prepare all the tools necessary for canning. Clean whole cherries well by triple washing in a vinegar bath. Clean your whole lemons the same way.
Pit the cherries, leaving them whole. You can get a handy little tool, but the rounded end of a bobby pin works great on the smaller fragile sour cherries and a small copper pipe works great on the plump sweet cherries.
While preparing the cherries, place mason jars and lids in the dishwasher and run without soap. Fill a large canning pot with water and set on the stove. In a large saucepan, add approximately 4 quarts of water to the halved lemons. Bring this to a boil.
For raw-packing, meaning the cherries are not heated before placing in the jars, add 1/2 cup hot lemon water to each jar. Fill hot jars with pitted whole cherries, shaking down gently as you fill. Add more hot liquid, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel. Adjust lids and process in the boiling water bath, assuring that the water sufficiently covers the lids. Boil for 25 minutes.
*Sweet cherries or sour cherries can be canned separately or mixed together as well.
If this seems overwhelming, come can with me! This summer, I am offering two basic canning courses, because honestly the first time can be overwhelming. Canning is so rewarding and quite easy, but the process can be lengthy. I can about 100 or more quarts throughout the summer and as much as I love it, I always think about how it used to be done with families, friends and neighbors coming together to peel and chop and fill and boil…all in the good company of others. My canning class will hopefully bring a little of that community and have you feeling confident to go home and preserve summers bounty on your own. My July and August Canning Classes will be held in historic Medina Square. For more info, visit buttercreamandoliveoil.com
Once prolific, the number of cherry orchards has diminished through the years
I often stumble across old maps and aerial photos showing an evolution of land use on our farm, as well as those surrounding us. While recently preparing our fertilizer regimen for the season, I found a few archival photos dating back to the 1930s. The landscape was adorned with orchards throughout our little township. It appeared that most farming operations had dedicated orchard ground of some type. My father recalled the days of his youth and confirmed my observation. Orchards, including cherries, were prolific. He remembers my grandfather speaking of Pickett’s Cherry Farm located just west of us in Bellevue. That entire operation was dedicated solely to cherry production.
So, where have all the cherries gone? Was there some dramatic event that led to a decrease in cherry production? No. As it goes with most things in our lives, it was a slow evolution, a shift toward dedicating land for predictable crops of quality fruit.
Cherries, like other stone fruits, such as peaches and plums, are happier without extreme cold temperatures. The spring is a particularly vulnerable time for cherries, in that they bloom early and thus expose new green tissue to potentially damaging late freezes. And then, there are the challenges faced during the growing season: a host of rots can set in, as well as skin cracking, all brought on by excessive rain during the ripening window prior to harvesting in mid-June. Our counterparts in western Michigan have a more temperate climate that mitigates some of these factors. But the real domestic production is in Washington State, where a high, arid climate provides the necessary winter chilling hours, but avoids the humidity and pest pressure found in the Midwest. Out west, cherry orchards can receive a regular and controlled amount of water via irrigation and enjoy predictable sunny days on the slopes of the Sierras.
The Gammie Family June 2019 before Tucker’s Baptism
As best I can recall it was the summer of 1960. My father and I trekked across the road to help finish loading a truck for an early season market He had proclaimed several times in the prior days that the season held great promise (carrots, radish, peas, celery strawberries were cooperating). With an arm around me he shared that I should not be interested in farming because it appeared easy.
A couple days later a hail storm broke that promise. Still the routine goes forward, the crew to muster, a few peaches to pick, cauliflower to transplant, irrigation lines to move. On this night my dad urged that any longing for the farm should not waver because it is too hard (I dare not reveal that I had already taken measure that is was not for me).
An email from Ben to his best pals, regarding his RSVP to his 40th birthday party in February 2019…….
So the sun has long since set here at the farm. Its just me and the dogs here in the barn office. Harvest is in full swing… the Gala crop has been picked. Honeycrisp will be wrapped up by next week. I usually end the day lining up our wholesale delivery trucks for tomorrow’s routes (that… along with a beer or two and a 3-minute break for a small cat nap on the desk…..). We’ll have 3 drivers rollin’ tomorrow AM. With good weather leading into the weekend, we should see strong retail sales and plenty of folks coming out to pick their own apples. All in all, the crop is looking good. We will finally see good returns off of the trees Dad and I planted the first year I moved home. Production should be the highest since my coming back. Quality yet to be determined…
It is far too frequent during this time of year that I get swept up in the hustle of harvest. This life Brooke and I have chosen has challenged us far beyond what I could have imagined. Many-a-day I question whether my shoulders are broad enough to keep this thing going. There is a constant juggle between managing a payroll of 35+ people, forecasting farm profitability (or lack thereof), making harvest & sales decisions… all while driving the forklift around our packhouse like a mad man. I miss my wife. I miss my kids. I long for the tranquility of farm life that was the picture I painted for Brooke so many years ago. But I don’t think tranquility is my nature.
It is in these moments that leaving Austin, Texas seemed like a damned foolish idea. Maybe because its human nature to look fondly on the past. Maybe because I found confidence in engineering that just isn’t part of farming with Mother Nature. Maybe because the co-workers I met in that town have turned out to be the most meaningful life-long friends. For that last reason, this trip is gonna be epic. I absolutely can’t wait to strap some boards on my feet and earn my turns in some of that fine “Champagne Powder” of Route County, Colorado! After I help my wife settle into life with new baby #4 and life as a family of six – I’ll be on the plane headed Westbound to play hard. See you Gents then. -Ben-
Halle Snavely is a local food consultant and a writer. She documents the best of Northeast Ohio’s local farms through her Instagram account @oneingredientco. This is her first guest blog post for Quarry Hill Orchards.
“We already ran out of peach ice cream!” Brooke Gammie says as she greets me at the Quarry Hill Orchards Peaches and Cream Festival. It’s noon. The festival started at ten. Running out of ice cream that early tells me that it must be really good. Mason’s Creamery clearly knows what they’re doing. Brooke is busy mingling with guests and crafting the dwindling peach sorbet into a beautiful presentation that is garnished with sliced peaches, lavender buds and fresh mint leaves (garnishes courtesy of Executive Chef and friend Jamie Simpson of Culinary Vegetable Institute). I immediately become jealous that I have to photograph this work of art instead of eat it.
Vegan Peach Sorbet from Mason’s Creamery
This is the first Peaches and Cream festival at Quarry Hill, but Brooke says it’s an idea that the Gammie family has been marinating on for some time. “Bill has wanted to do an ice cream social for a while, but we haven’t had a good peach crop and I had my hands full last year with Beatrice, so I didn’t get around to it. Then I thought, ok, I gotta do it this year! And it just happened really organically. I swear 80% of the people I’ve talked to today have never been here before.”
Flower Crown Makers
It’s a heartwarming sight: kids covered from head to toe in ice cream, happy children making flower crowns, people shopping at Fancy Me Boutique, crying children and parents consoling them are peppered throughout the crowd (par for the course), adults of all ages are taking in the scene while eating black bean burgers and empanadas from The Goucho and The Gringa (who also ran out of these crowd favorites), and local musicians are serenading the crowd. The farm store is bustling with people lined up in all directions, stocking up on peaches, eating peach crepes from The Mad Batter Baking Company, and getting their hands on the latest Quarry Hill Orchards gear. (Side note: Quarry Hill’s gear is seriously legit. Any hipster or style maven would be proud to rock these t-shirts, a new collaboration with Unsalted Boutique.)
4th Gen Gammie Girls Payton and Beatrice
There is a Gammie in just about every direction I look. Even in the midst of the chaos, it’s clear from the genuine smiles on their faces that they’re really enjoying themselves. Life on the farm is always chaotic, but to see how seamlessly the Gammie’s blend work and play is a pretty good indication that they really love what they do. It truly is a family affair, and their greatest joy is being able to share their farm with others. In fact, this is what fuels their passion. Judging from the number of people who showed up, it seems their customers are feelin’ the love too.
Caitlin Davis, who lives just down the road, recounts some of her Quarry Hill memories. “I grew up coming here, so I was not missing this! We come in the fall to the apple event, and we’ll actually be back at the winery tomorrow. There’s something special about it being family run. It just feels like home. Everyone is having a good time, kids are running around. You can’t beat that. I love it.”
Towards the end of the event, I had the chance to grab some food and interact with a few of the attendees. I met Roger and Nancy Wallace, fellow farmers and friends of the Gammie’s. They summed up the vibe pretty well. “It’s a nice family farm. There’s nothing better than to let people experience this.”
Brooke (center) with best pals Katie and Jess manning the ice cream tent (with their collective 9 kids helping out)
Did you attend the Peaches and Cream event?
We’d love to share some of our favorite peach recipes with you!
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Guest Blog Post for the Lake Erie Shores and Islands
Relationship-driven. Quality-focused. Family-centric. If you’re a regular at Quarry Hill Orchards, you’re probably a regular because of the authentic atmosphere, fresh (and delicious!) fruit, engaging conversation, memorable experiences, good people, oh, and the friendly golden retrievers and cute babies. A typical day on the farm includes some combination of the Gammie Family onsite managing the day-to-day operations of the business: slicing a ripe peach for a customer; driving a wagon full of first graders around the orchard; directing the crew which apple orchard needs thinning; inspecting a load of peaches on their way to a Cleveland grocer; or swapping produce with a local vegetable producer.
This summer, my presence at the barn has included my three darlings (Payton 6 ½, Henry 5, and Beatrice 8 months). We work as a team, as a family: Payton has become an expert at “decorating” the baskets of fruit with fresh leaf cuttings; Henry eagerly helps carry bags of blueberries, apricots, and peaches out to customers cars (he’s been getting a few tips recently which he uses to buy peach fritters); Beatrice is either riding in her Daddy’s backpack carrier, or is playing in the arms of one of our regulars. My husband may work from sun-up to sun-down every day this time of year, but we get to spend that time together, working together as a family….a lifestyle that was 100% created on purpose.
During our income generating time of year, it’s critical we prioritize this day-to-day management of our business. Hence, our family schedule is dictated primarily by the needs of the business and our off-farm activities like dinner hour, nap time, birthday parties, house chores are always scheduled around these needs. As a Mom, my role in helping run the business has been crafted entirely by my children’s needs, yet influenced by my strengths and passions. It’s a daily balancing act between Motherhood and managing the back office. Returning phone calls while we’re driving to Catawba for swim lessons; logging hours behind Quickbooks while the kids are napping; updating cash flow spreadsheets while a neighborhood babysitter takes them to the Old Fish House for ice cream; packing up the tribe for a trip to Sandusky to pick up payroll; writing grant reports while they attend a day camp;scheduling nap time to facilitate a late dinner when Dad comes home; making Put-In-Bay plans to the Butterfly House on a Tuesday because we’re at the barn on Saturdays.
“Work hard, play hard” is one of our family mottos. When it’s time to play, we play hard, and don’t have to travel far to do that. Going to Dinosaurs Alive and exploring Hotel Breakers and swimming at Cedar Point Beach made a perfect birthday party for our five year old. Watching fireworks from a friend’s back porch during the Huron River Fest, seeing Payton learn how to canoe for the first time in the Huron River thanksto the amazing nature camps hosted by Erie MetroParks, double date night with my parents at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, and beach glass hunting on Kelley’s Island are just a few highlights of our playtime.
The summer memories we’re making here are one that I will treasure, and cherish forever – I know this time as their playmate is fleeting, and the dirty dishes, the piles of laundry, and the messy chaos are things that will be easily forgotten……Thank you LESI for this lakeside playground that gives our family so much opportunity to make this summer one we’ll always remember.
A soggy week. In an invigorating side step to progress. Rainy days are cathartic; they break the routine, give pause, prepare us for renewal. A few stoic “wild” dogwoods peek from the tree line by the old Bailey quarry. While once prolific, the numbers have decreased in the last twenty years. Jacque, Adrianne, Brooke and Bill’s mom count them as favorites…for their bloom orders a sense of reassurance in the seasons of life.
Upon Brooke and Ben’s departure from Arizona and trek to Ohio they posted “Change is good” – a positive challenge to an entrenched older generation. Bill’s Dad once lamented that people don’t change (he might qualify that today). Donald Trump declared last week that the future belongs to the dreamers. Depending on your opinion of our new president, that can be interpreted as illusionary or reactionary or encouraging or confusing, regardless it implies change.
All of us and all of you know it is a constant, but how we cope with the feeling that our precious attention and exhausting behaviors is being blown downwind like this weeks apple blossoms is the hurdle. Hope, anticipation and kids are salves for this affliction. Kids are the best.
Arra (1-1/2 years), Adrianne and Tom’s daughter can indeed, eat soup with fingers and giggles. Payton (6) can scoot across a ball field (and a keyboard) as nimbly as her mom can negotiate three urchins and an overworked husband. Henry (4) asserted himself during an afternoon read with Gigi. A hallway noise made him bellow “show yourself!” That protective urge will endure? Baby Beatrice (6 mo.) softens us with her quiet smile. Despite being born deaf seldom has a child seemed more content and eager.
How do we interpret the past, check the moment and investigate the future and at the same time give credit to everyone’s ability to adapt? We just do it with the whole spectrum of emotion. One truth in the confusion of the demands of time, money, and especially relationships is a May morning. The first step outside unlocks magic. There exists a brief inner feeling of order and rightness. It may or may not endure.
Our family is in flux. Adrianne and Arra have returned to Ohio and Tom from Toronto every other weekend. Their plans to relocate to Michigan are alive, but Adrianne’s passion to grow cut flowers in Berlin Township has been fueled.
Brooke and Ben and kids have assumed so much of the farm’s demands and expectations that their time is always squeezed. Jacque negotiates the parade of family activities and friendships and Bill naps in the tractor and relishes the kid spurts.
It has been proclaimed that “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences.” That thought can be argued for this year we have a promising crop of peaches for the first time in four seasons. We are energized to renew our friendship with you. Here’s the plan:
June 15 First Cherries
July 15-20 First Peaches (cling stone); apricots lost to frost
July 10 First apples (Lodi)
August 5 Zestar apples
August 10-20 Red Haven peaches
August 25-30 First white peaches and nectarines
August 26 Ice Cream Social
September 2-30 Plums
Sept. 10 – Nov. 25 Pears
September 1 First cider
September 5-10 First Gala and Honeycrisp PICK YOUR OWN
A seasonal recipe and narrative from our loyal and long-time (25-years) customer Brenda Glasure
“Thank you to all the people who keep spaces, converted pole barns and haywagon harvests. Thank you to the growers and risk-takers, rolling the dice with the wind, the hail, ice, water – or lack thereof. Putting in the work; believing in the work. You nourish us, body and soul. I feel a vast contentment, buying a bushel of apples that grew on trees I have met.”
East Meets West Applesauce, from the kitchen of Brenda Glasure
Peel, core and slice about 25 apples. I like to use one variety that completely breaks down with cooking and one variety that tends to keep it’s shape. Today, I used Fuji and Crimson Crisp.
Place the prepared apples in a large, heavy pot. I add about 1 cup of water or cider, if you have it. Cover and cook on low heat until the apples break down and become *saucy*. Cook down to your liking. We like our applesauce thick, so I cook for a little over an hour.
Add about ¼ teaspoon of salt, ½ cup of brown sugar (this is completely optional. I don’t generally sweeten our sauce, but it is a great addition if you like your sauce as a sweet dessert.)
Add ½ to 1 tablespoon Garam Masala to taste (recipe follows)
Garam Masala Mix:
1 tablespoon cumin
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
1 ½ to 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoons ground cloves
½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
Mix all together. You can purchase this mix already made from various companies. I like to make my own as I like it heavier on the black pepper and cinnamon. ENJOY!
My grandparents had a dairy farm, a mighty Ohio spread, measuring nearly 180 acres in Champaign County. I spent quite a bit of time there while growing up. Farms are not easy. There was always work to be done. Besides the crops and the milking of the cows, there was often food to be harvested, canned, frozen; meals to be cooked. The lessons were simple, primal and deep; lessons of nourishing the people and animals who lived there. From seed to plant, from bloom to fruit, from fruit to harvest, to the kitchen, to the table. Buying fresh and direct from farmers is natural and right to me.
So it begins – the day after buying apples at Quarry Hill – the order of things – putting food by. After a good scrubbing, the apples are divided. Plenty of the bright, snappy fruit will be munched fresh from the fridge. But with a nod to the icy days to come, at least one big batch of apples (usually about 40-50) are peeled, sliced and cooked down with some spices. The homemade apple sauce is unbelievably delicious on cold winter nights, alongside a bowl of hot soup. It reminds us of sunny days and renews a reverence for the vitality the earth provides.
Applesauce – I cook in batches of about 25 apples. I will spice them with either cinnamon, ginger, mace or an Indian spice mix called Garam Masala, which includes black pepper and coriander with cinnamon and ginger and various other spices. Both variations are absolutely delicious. Freeze the sauce in Ziplocs or freezer containers to be meted out for holiday dinners and cold days when you just need a little sunshine.
A look into orchard life through the lens of lady Farmer Brooke
“We have a fraction of the apples as we did last year” were the first words out of Ben’s mouth yesterday morning at 6am. I tried to extract the gravity and reason behind his statement over the clanking of breakfast making and lunch packing for our littles (kinder and pre-school). As husband-wife business partners , AND expectant parents of our third child due in six weeks, small talk over morning coffee consists of snippets of orchard updates in the same breath of “don’t forget your OB appointment, it’s picture day, and you’re in charge of the Karate carpool!” Here’s a shot of our preschooler (and 4th generation), Henry, out inspecting the Ginger Gold harvest:
“Mother nature has not been kind to us.” I’ve heard that statement every season since uprooting my brood from the Arizona desert three years ago to take up this fruit growing thing. 16 hours later after a full day managing the farm, putting the littles to sleep, and un-packing the smelly karate clothes, Ben and I finally get a quiet moment to finish the conversation. “It’s a combination of the spring frost we saw during Spring Bloom, lack of summer rains, and bi-annual bearing cycles.” Ah-ha. I knew the fruit was coming in small this year because of the dry summer, but did not even think the spring frost affected the apple yields in the same devastation as the stone fruits (homegrown Crest Haven peaches pictured below were the cream of the peach crop this summer).
My brain immediately goes to how this affects our business: First thought is more small apples for our Farm to School program, which is a PRO. Our customer base has grown in this segment from ~15 local (Erie County – Cuyahoga County) school districts to upwards of 26. This ability to scale is a direct result of the resources that have stemmed from our partnership with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and the USDA Farm to School Grant Project we are currently funded under. This is a snapshot of the corner of our cooler the day before our Wholesale and Farm to School deliveries are scheduled:
Second thought (not mine; credit goes to our pack-house manager, Becky): reduced variety in our holiday apple gift box that typically includes 12 different apple varieties (with a corresponding stamped map and flavor profile, see photo below), and this season we’ll be lucky to have 5 or 6. Good thing I’m having a baby this holiday season and the “sparse orchard” is not compromising a huge portion of revenue I’ve slated for Corporate Gifting (yes, we’ll still have gifts for sale!).
Varieties that were impacted? I cringe just even thinking about it: Honey Crisp, Crimson Crisp, Goldrush, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Suncrisp, and Cameo. The more robust varieties that stood up to the weather are the Reds and Golden Delicious. The “Red Riding Hood Red” colored apples pictured just beyond the humongous Spy Golds in the foreground are the Crimsons – my favorite! If this table looks familiar, you are a loyal customer at the Saturday Shaker Square Farmers Market.
Not to worry: we DO have an apple harvest, the apples ARE delicious, and we STILL have Pick-Your-Own. The crews are out daily harvesting bins after bins of Blondee, Gala, Honeycrisp, Golden Supreme, McIntosh, Jonathan, and Cortland. Our harvest dates are pretty much on schedule this year despite the “sparseness”. Here is ONE morning’s work of harvesting the Honeycrisp from ONE of many Honeycrisp blocks in our 90-acre apple orchards (we don’t grow all the Honeycrisp in the same place – the tractor and the crews have to trek all over the farm to get these guys in the barn – one of many reasons for the high price tag):
“We still have PLENTY to harvest and PLENTY of apples” was the comforting conclusion to our late night discussion. Our 2nd annual APPLE PEAK event happening on October 15th will be the best opportunity to taste the full variety of our harvest, including the Crimsons, Suncrisps, and unique varieties that are not as prolific this season. Top 5 things to do at Apple Peak this year: