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Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 11:30 am

Spaulding Orchard memories


Spaulding Orchard holds memories for many locals who received freshly pressed apple cider in small cone-shaped paper cups.

Every fall I remember what it was like to come as a child to this place that has been my home for 30 years. My husband and I live in the old Spaulding Orchard farmhouse. It’s the first home we bought, and likely will be our last. It wasn’t our first choice, but after being entwined in this place for so long, it’s hard to think of living anywhere else.

Since the earliest days of our engagement, my husband and I had dreamt of building a log cabin in the woods. By the time Peter was in his junior year of dental school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, we’d started sending for brochures. We compared various companies and sketched floor plans. Our dream log home was a carrot at the end of a long stick: a reason for Peter to study hard and for us to live frugally.

It would be a while after Peter graduated until we could realize our dream, though. First there’d be several years of paying off student loans and starting a practice. So when we found out the Spaulding family wanted to lease a bungalow on their farm, we grabbed the opportunity – even though it would be months before we’d move in. We’d mostly enjoyed living in Chicago, but the previous winter had been horrific. And in April of that year, a frightening experience with a late-night car breakdown in a very scary neighborhood made moving to the country seem even more desirable.

It was heaven. Our apartment in Oak Park had been huge. The second floor of an old two-flat, it was large enough for Peter to have a room as his study, a formal dining room, and a nursery and a separate room for our first baby, then a toddler. The bungalow on Spaulding Orchard Road was smaller but had a huge tree-filled yard. There were beautiful woods and a creek across the road to explore, everything so peaceful and quiet that often the only sounds were birdcalls and wind rustling through the trees. Sitting on the porch that fall with our newborn son, watching the surrounding woods begin to flame with the brilliant changing leaves, we knew we’d come home.

One of the biggest reasons it felt like coming home was that it was so familiar – and not just familiar, but special. For as long as I could remember, I’d been coming there in spring for asparagus and summer for peaches. But fall trips to the Spaulding Orchard were what I really anticipated: a yearly ritual as closely linked to autumn as cooler weather and starting school. As mom drove past the farmhouse, heading to the sheds and barns behind, I could hardly contain my excitement. There were piles of pumpkins. Apples everywhere: in bushels and boxes, piled on wagons and, inside a huge shed, heaped in the monstrous contraption that turned the apples into cider.

Original label used on products sold at Spaulding Orchard.

If no one was around, mom would tap the horn and Geraldine Spaulding would walk over from the farmhouse. “Would you like some cider?” she’d ask, smiling down at me. That was it: the moment I’d been anticipating. She’d pull a cone-shaped paper cup from the nearby dispenser, filling it from a jug of cider just pressed in that noisy, huge machine. To this day I’m not sure why it was so wonderful. Was it just because it was a free sample? I only know I wasn’t alone in loving it: I’ve lost count of the number of people who, learning where I live, mention those cups of cider.

By the time we moved into the bungalow, however, the cider, apples, peaches and asparagus were gone. Mercer, Geraldine’s husband, had passed on, and their children had moved away. The orchard was cut down, the land leased to a neighboring farmer, and eventually sold to become Panther Creek.

By the time we began renting the bungalow, Geraldine was living alone. I saw her every day as she walked slowly to the mailbox, and visited her frequently. Three years later, her children persuaded her to live with her daughter in Florida, and the Spaulding farmhouse was put up for sale.

Several months later, our accountant said it was finally time to buy a home, telling us how much we could afford to spend. Peter and I looked at each other. The old farmhouse and its two-and-one-half acres was still on the market and listed for almost the exact amount he’d mentioned. A log cabin was still appealing, but the Spaulding Orchard was home. Two phone calls and 48 hours later, the farmhouse was ours.

The Spaulding Orchard had been a big operation in its day, a local landmark. Even though it’d been out of business for almost 15 years when we bought it, another decade would pass before people stopped showing up for apples and cider. Over the years, we’ve heard dozens of stories – one just last week – from folks who’d worked there. The family had left some things behind when we moved in: old furniture, pictures, a roll of cider labels – and that old metal paper cup dispenser. Even though it doesn’t serve a purpose anymore, I just can’t throw it away. It belongs here – and so do we.

This nifty little pan sauce is fantastic with roast or grilled chicken, duck, pork, smoked pork chops or ham. It’s delicious with mashed or roasted potatoes and even better drizzled over sweet potatoes, winter squashes such as butternut or acorn squash, or a mélange of roasted root vegetables such as carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas and sweet potatoes.

Cider pan sauce
• 1 T. bacon fat or unsalted butter or the fat and browned bits left in a pan from sautéing or roasting meat
• 1/2 c. minced shallots, preferred, or onion
• 1/2 c. applejack or calvados, or an additional 1/2 cider
• 2 c. unpasteurized apple cider
• 4 c. unsalted or low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
• Salt, pepper and cider vinegar to taste

If using the skillet/pan in which the meat or poultry has cooked, pour off any excess fat so that only a thin film remains. Otherwise, melt the bacon fat or butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, stirring until softened. Pour in the applejack and increase the heat to high, scraping up all the bits and browning on the bottom. Add the cider and chicken stock and boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture is reduced to a syrupy glaze, 15-20 minutes. Season with the salt, pepper and vinegar. Makes about 1-1 1/2 cups.

Variations (These can be used by themselves or combined.)
Whisk in 1/2 cup heavy cream and/or removing the finished sauce from the heat and whisking in 4 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter cut into bits and whisked in a few at a time.

Add 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme or sage, alone or in combination.

Add 1-2 tablespoons racked black peppercorns.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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