Nothing thumps like a plump, round pumpkin.
That deep resonance gives us sweet, sumptuous pies and salty seed nibbles, seasonal decor and leering Halloween grins. Every year when the air turns crisp, the pumpkin joins the apple, crimson leaves and frost-rimmed corn stalks as an enduring herald of fall. And there’s no better place to find them by the heaps, piles and mounds than The Great Pumpkin Patch, a visitor-friendly farm near Arthur.
From tiny Jack-Be-Littles to warty Knuckle Heads, enormous Atlantic Giants to classic Sugar Pies, ghostly white Luminas to heirloom Blue Lakotas, the farm grows more than 300 varieties of cucurbits—the pumpkin, squash and gourd family—from over 30 countries.
“We have one of the widest varieties of pumpkins growing in a single patch that you’ll find anywhere in the country,” says Shana Condill, an owner and sister-in-law to Horticulturist-in-Residence Mac Condill, who has chatted about pumpkins with Martha Stewart on her television show, in the pages of her self-titled magazine and in such popular titles as Woman’s Day and Midwest Living.
It’s a total cucurbit (that’s kyoo-CURB-it) commitment, or as a Thoreau quote has it in huge letters on a Pumpkin Patch barn wall: “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”
For 28 autumns now, the McDonald-Condill family has opened their 14 acres of gardens and activities to visitors seeking their yearly pumpkin fix, along with an overflowing menu of fall fun, treats and tastes. Guests test their path-finding skills in several corn mazes, visit friendly goats, llamas, chickens and rabbits, and admire thousands of mums and other plantings arrayed in explosions of brilliant fall colors.
“We start transforming our farm into The Great Pumpkin Patch in July,” says Shana. Huge numbers of pumpkins, gourds and squash are pressed into service, some in colorful towers, others affixed to every square foot of farm outbuildings. Even more find themselves assembled for sale in vast ranks and rows on the ground, a colorful cucurbit army in search of a mission.
But the work actually starts long before. The first seeds go in the ground in May, and the family plants many varieties with different maturity dates.
“Mac wants to make sure that the people who come at the beginning of September have the same experience as the folks who come at the end of the season,” Shana says.
Every year, as many as 60,000 visitors throng the Pumpkin Patch for seven weeks spanning the harvest season in September and October. Another 4,000 kids on field trips also enjoy the activities, the cucurbit lore and the fondly restored 1912 one-room schoolhouse, complete with historically accurate school marms.
“This is a family with a long history of loving history,” laughs Shana.
Humble Pie stands proud at Eckert’s, says family member Angie Eckert. “It’s a small, individually baked pie that we offer when people come up and want a slice. It’s about 4.5 inches wide and delicious.” Kids especially love Eckert’s take on the classic caramel apple dipped in peanuts, pecans, M&Ms, Heath bar crumbles and chocolate chips.
At Wizard of Oz-themed Curtis Orchard, the Yellow Brick Road leads to apple donuts, says Store Manager Rachel Coventry. “We make them fresh every morning and people stand in line to get them.”
Visitors line up for distinctive apple butter and apple sauce at Rendleman Orchards. Regular is made with the classic Jonathan apple, sugar-free features Golden Delicious, and a new offering is tangy with the taste of the Suncrisp apple. “We also have a pecan apple butter that people are really enjoying this year,” says co-owner Michelle Sirles.
Do not miss the donuts at Kuipers Family Farm, says co-owner Kim Kuipers. Cinnamon sugar, vanilla glaze, apple spice glaze and chocolate varieties are available, and all cause traffic jams at the orchard. “People will come and pick apples so they don’t feel too guilty,” she laughs, “but they really love the donuts.”
Fans of Jonamac Orchard insist it’s tops in toppings, with jellies, country mustards, jams and apple butters. Most—okay, maybe not the mustards—delightfully complement Jonamac’s signature donuts that draw visitors by the thousands. There’s no fudging on the popularity of the orchard’s fudge, deliciously crafted from the freshest butter and cream. And pick up a bottle of Jonamac’s sweet apple wine, sold only at the orchard.
From apple orchards to pumpkin patches, find farms to visit in Illinois all year...