Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#15. Pick your own Apples at Beasley's in Danville

One of the pitfalls of basing this blog off a two-year-old magazine article are the inevitable changes that occur over time. For example, I couldn't complete #17. Canoe down Sugar Creek because of the severe drought that Indiana experienced this summer. Dates and addresses listed in the article are occasionally outdated. And Beasley's Orchard doesn't offer you-pick apple orchards.

I have fond memories of going to Beasley's pumpkin patch fields to pick out future as a child, but I had never been to their apple orchards. I was unreasonably excited to return to frolic in the fields of yore; one can imagine my disappointment when a Beasley's employee informed me over the phone that they did not host any you-pick apple orchards, only you-pick pumpkin patches.

Beasley's Orchard
After recovering from my crestfallen state I found a handy website that lists PYO (pick your own) farms. Through this site I discovered Anderson Orchards in Mooresville; their website listed an impressive variety of apples and I decided that this would make up for my crushed Beasley dreams.

The Johnny Appleseed cutouts that stand at the entrance and exit wooed me. The red barn market filled with fresh fruits and vegetables made me want to permanently switch to local food. Size options of peck or bushel provided fun words to ponder. (Now that I have Google on my side, I know a peck is about 10 lbs and a bushel is about 40 lbs.)

With a peck bag in hand, my family and I drove through the orchard hunting for the currently pickable apples:

  • Mollies Delicious
    • sweet; similar to eating Red Delicious; meant for eating
  • Gala
    • sweet; all-purpose
  • Golden Supreme
    • sweet; similar to Golden Delicious; all-purpose
  • Jonathon
    • tart; all-purpose; popular for pies
  • Cortland
    • tart; all-purpose; recommended for cooking; cooks soft
The hunt was pretty easy due to Anderson's convenient labels and clumping of varieties. 

Soon we found a Gala row and hopped out to fill our peck bag. We were sorely disappointed with what we found: tree after tree with either rotting or newborn baby fist-sized apples. We walked the entire row hoping to find at least one blossoming tree but it was futile--the whole row was past its prime. 

Luckily future rows were much more successful. It was a fun process; eyeing suitable apples turned into a sort of competition with us calling each other over to gauge the quality of our sweet discoveries and compare them with each other. We quickly filled our bag about 3/4 full with more apples than we could eat. 

My family was not the only one having a good time; other families were picnicking and eating fruit straight off the trees. (This is probably not allowed but they didn't seem to care.) The fun came at a low cost too; for $5 we bought about 25 apples.

Now that I am outside of the orchard I realize this is a ridiculous amount of apples for a small family. To avoid letting them spoil, I gave some to my grandma and used about seven of them in a few loaves of apple bread using this tasty recipe. I plan to make homemade applesauce and apple crisp in the next couple days because there is no way we will finish them before they start to go bad.

So far the bread has been a big hit and hopefully the other recipes will be as well. With such fresh apples, I assume they will.

#16. Trace your Indiana Roots

I have a pretty sizable family. My dad is one of nine children and my mother one of five. I have more first cousins than some football teams have players. My grandparents all had at least three siblings and their progeny have been very bountiful.

Approximately 98 percent of my numerous relatives live in Indiana. The Indy Monthly article asks "How Hoosier are you?" I always knew the answer was: very; however, I never knew what I was besides Hoosier. Sure, I knew that I had German and Irish ancestry like every other white person living in the U.S. but everything else was very vague. Sometimes I would be told I had ancestors from Czechoslavakia, other times Yugoslavia, still others England or Austria. In high school, my Spanish teacher informed me that I was actually Slovenian. (She grew up down the street from my grandpa in a heavily Slavic area.) Even though borders in Eastern Europe have been crazy for years, I wanted concrete answers.

I found them, sort of, at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. The library's genealogical center is one of the best resources in North America for tracing family history. Powerful genealogical databases, microfiche, microfilm and printed volumes fill the center with loads of information for family tree makers.

Allen County Public Library genealogical center
The center is probably most useful to hardcore genealogists. A woman standing in line beside me at the Help desk was looking for information on a really distant relative from the 1700s. She traveled to the Center from another state after finding information in a cemetery in Maryland. As a rookie looking for information on my paternal great-grandfather I felt a little out of my league. Even the librarians knew I was a noob; they gave me a family tree diagram I remember using for a project in first grade, complete with colored illustrations.

The library handout wasn't quite this elementary, but it was close
Nonetheless, I had a great time researching my family history. I focused on my dad's side of the family because my mom's relatives are really aware of their ancestry. My maternal grandma, who accompanied me on the trip, even brought several books of family trees and demonstrated a real talent for remembering names and complicated familial ties.

Every time I would make a discovery I felt strangely accomplished. It was like putting together a never-ending puzzle that involved a lot of dead ends and parsing of old documents. This may not sound like fun, but it was to me.

Volumes in the Genealogical Center
I discovered some interesting things. For example, I now understand the confusion over my heritage. Records showed relatives who immigrated from Yugoslavia, Croatia and Austria. All of the regions they hailed from are now Slovenia. I also found a picture of my great-great grandfather's Indianapolis grocery store with an address; I think it would be interesting to visit the location sometime soon to compare the differences.

Some of my great-great aunts and uncles standing in front of my great-great grandfather's grocery store
Some discoveries were weird. I found that a woman who I believed was either the mother or guardian of my great-great grandpa was an inmate at an insane asylum. I wasn't able to find much about my paternal great-grandfather beyond his year of immigration; there was a 23-year gap between his year of immigration and the first U.S. Census in which I could find him mentioned.

Example of 1930 U.S. Census sheet
All of these discoveries, both good and bad, raise questions. I want to verify discoveries with my elderly relatives and wrack their memories for stories. I've already learned new things from my grandma and dad because of this visit and I look forward to talking to my other grandparents and family members to learn more.

Researching family history has an odd draw. I'm not sure if its appeal lies in the challenge, the discovery your roots, or comfort in knowing future generations may remember and search for you just as you search for long-dead relatives. Whatever the reason, myself and others will continue to trace family relations with the resources of the Allen County Public Library's genealogical center.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

#2. Enjoy Sugar Cream Pie

Pie is great, but not all are equal. Cherry pie often suffers from an excess of goopey syprup. Cornmeal pie can be gritty. Boston cream pie easily becomes soggy. In Indiana, one pie is particularly respected for its absence of such flaws: sugar cream pie.

The pie is said to have been created in Indiana in the early 1800s by Quakers, according to the Indianapolis Monthly article. It is a simple pie made of sugar, flour, vanilla, milk, shortening and nutmeg. The minimal ingredients combine to create a smooth and creamy concoction that is honored as the State Pie of Indiana.

The go-to spot for Indiana sugar cream pie is Wick's Pies, a Winchester factory that has been baking for over 60 years. The business grew from making 20 pies a day by hand to its current production of over 10,000 pies and 30,000 pie shells in an eight hour shift, according to Wick's website. A wide of variety of pies are baked here, but Wick's is best known for its sugar cream pie made from the 19th century Wickersham family recipe . The pie is so beloved, in fact, that Gov. Mitch Daniels bet Maryland Gov. O'Malley a Wick's sugar cream pie and St. Elmo's shrimp cocktail in the governors' Super Bowl bet.

Armed with an empty stomach and expectant palate, I set off for Winchester. My friends and I parked in the Wick's factory parking lot and walked across the street to Mrs. Wick's Pies restaurant. Vintage tables and chairs sat a crowd of entirely local retirees. The menu showed prices so low I was unsure if they were up-to-date.

Luckily they were and I was available to order a massive breaded tenderloin and piece of sugar cream pie for $7.

The tenderloin was fantastic, yet the pie was the highlight of the meal. The balance of the crumbly crust and sweet, soft filling was ideal.

After lunch, my friends and I walked around the tiny city. I was charmed by the downtown with its stately courthouse fringed by a square of old buildings.

But once we window shopped (or attempted to) I realized just how little the town has to offer visitors beyond Wick's Pies. It seemed as though every other storefront was empty or for sale. The only shop we found was Meek's Consignment and Antiques. The owner, Mr. Meek, had a large inventory of china and jewelry that he had painted himself. My friend bought a really lovely gold heart necklace in which Mr. Meek had etched a rose. Although the town had very little commercial appeal, perusing Meek's was worthwhile.

Once we realized how slow Winchester was we returned to Wick's to buy pies to take home to our families. I bought a peanut butter pie for $7 and my friend bought a sugar cream pie for $5. I'm not even sure if you can buy a frozen pie from Walmart for that price.

Wick's is definitely out of the way but worth trying. If you don't feel like making the drive, you can have pies delivered to your home; they deliver to 25 states. For those interested, click this link: and enjoy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#10. Don Your Lederhosen in Jasper

I had many surprising experiences in Jasper, a city of about 15,000 in southern Indiana. I climbed a 235 foot belltower, saw the weirdest magic show of my life, slow danced to the voices of multiple retirees, attended a polka mass and ate delicious Hispanic food in the middle of a German festival.

Strassenfest, Jasper's 34th annual four day German festival, brought me to the small town. As soon as I drove within the city limits, I knew this was a big deal for the area. Dozens of homes and businesses were decorated with German flags and several city blocks were roped off for the occassion. The remainder of the town seemed very quiet; it was as though all activity outside of Strassenfest was temporarily put on hold to enjoy the communal festivities.

Strassenfest decorations in front of Jasper's Courthouse
And rightfully so. The event lineup was impressive, lasting from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and ranging from a Nutcracker Suite ballet performance to polka and chicken dance contests in the Bier Garten. Thousands of festival-goers enjoyed carnival rides, complimentary caricatures and outdoor music performances in the town square.

 The festival had many non-German elements, but I decided to start my Strassenfest with a tour of St. Joseph Catholic Church. The Church's founder, Fr. Joseph Kundek, was instrumental in building Jasper's German heritage. In the 1830s, Fr. Kundek placed ads for Jasper in newspapers around Europe and in cities like Cincinnati with strong German communities, according to an article by the Indianapolis Star. Soon after, immigrants from the German regions of Baden and Bavaria flocked to the town.

St. Joseph Catholic Church

St. Joseph is not only integral to the heritage of Jasper, but also to its architecture. The church is stunning, with green vaulted ceilings, jewel-colored stained glass and soaring pillars. The exterior is beautiful, but the interior is literally awe inspiring.

Volunteers led tours into the bell tower through a series of wooden staircases and ladders.

On the way to the top, I climbed past ringing bells and clock faces until reaching a room with windows offering a nearly 365-degree view of Jasper and the surrounding Dubois County.

View from belltower

In addition to the bell tower tour, I attended a polka mass at the church. I attended Catholic schools for 13 years and my family goes to Mass every week, so I am very familiar (and oftentimes bored) with the music played; I was interested to see what a polka mass could offer-- unfortunately, not much. Several polka songs were played but even this could not make mass entertaining. I know this isn't the purpose of mass, but a part of me was still hoping for more.

The mass may have been somewhat disappointing, but the food was not. For lunch, I had weinerschnitzel (breaded veal tenderloin sandwich) and sampled my boyfriend's mini bratzel (bratwurst on a pretzel bun topped with sauerkraut and mustard) served with German potato salad. Both were hearty and unhealthy and tasty, making them perfect fair food.

bratzel with German potato salad
Weirdly, the best food I had at Strassenfest was Hispanic. Pupusas (corn tortillas filled with cheese, beans and pork) and chicken tacos were washed down with horchata (sweet, cold drink made of rice, milk, vanilla and cinnamon) and made for one of my favorite meals in recent memory.


Music was plentiful, as well. Three stages hosted continual rotations of performers singing German folk music, beloved oldies and punky girl rock. The Talentspiel (Talent Show) was especially popular and provided both hits and misses. The winners were a tap dancing duo, but the most memorably strange entrant was the magician.

Tap dancing winners
A man in his early 20s dressed in dark clothing came on stage to creepy music commonly heard in janky carnival horror rides. Without speaking, he grabbed a tablecloth and lifted the cloth and table into the air and hoisted it around. Still silent, he set down the table and grabbed something metal from the table. He then ate some of the metal and looked expectantly at  the crowd. The crowd, unsure of what was happening due to the lack of narrative, sat silent. He then took the metal object out of his mouth and ate another metal object and repeated his previous expectant look. Still, the audience sat silent. This was his act. The music stopped and he walked offstage to scattered, confused applause.

floating table
In spite of this bizarre act, the Talentspiel went on to recover its upbeat nature. But I have to give the magician credit for being bold enough to enter his very out-of-place act into a traditional town talent show.

The unexpected finds at Strassenfest, like the dark and confusing magic act in the midst of a lighthearted talent show and killer Hispanic food amongst German stands, are what I will remember most about my visit. Who knows, maybe naechstes jahr I will find myself there once again.

Monday, August 6, 2012

#30. Visit Lincoln's Boyhood Home

Three Midwest states lay claim to former President Abraham Lincoln: Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. He was born in Kentucky and is buried in Illinois, but he came of age in Indiana. From 1816 to 1830, Lincoln grew from a seven-year-old youth to a 21 year-old man on his father's 80+ acre farm in southern Indiana.

Rendering of Lincoln at the Boyhood National Memorial
According to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial website, "[Lincoln's] sense of honesty, his belief in the importance of education and learning, his respect for hard work, his compassion for his fellow man, and his moral convictions about right and wrong were all born of this place and this time."

While I find this statement somewhat presumptuous and boastful, it is undeniable that Lincoln's 14 years in Indiana helped shape his character and personality. If Indiana wants to claim this as a direct reflection on its humble and honest values, I think it's a stretch...but whatever is necessary to boost tourism.

The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial is obviously meant for tourists, but it's much more off the beaten path than most tourism spots. To find the memorial, I had to drive down a deserted country road with no signs advertising the Memorial.

For a while, I thought my GPS was taking to an incorrect address; but alas, just when my faith in Garmin was faltering, I came upon the Memorial entrance.

I began my tour at the Visitor's Center but decided to skip the ubiquitous short informational film and brochures detailing the minutia of Lincoln's life. I did not dismiss it because I wanted to (I'm a sucker for useless historical facts and lame museum displays) but because there was an entrance fee and I was feeling cheap.

From there I wandered to the Cabin Memorial Site. There is a bronze casting of what is believed to be the site of the Lincoln's third log cabin. In 1917 this site was located and marked, but it wasn't until 1936 that the State of Indiana excavated the area and found sill logs and a stone hearth. (This is further proof of my love for useless historical facts.)

Even if this wasn't the site of the actual cabin Lincoln lived in, it was crazy to see how small the foundation was. It was probably smaller than my bedroom; seeing the change between life two centuries ago and now is startling.

In addition to the supposed homesite is the burial place of Lincoln's mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln. She died in 1818 of milk sickness, a then-mysterious poisening by milk from cows who have eaten white snakeroot, a shade-loving plant found in Indiana. The disease was known as "puking fever" and "the trembles."

Thank God I was not a pioneer.

While the gravesite made me glad to live in the modern age, the Lincoln Living Historical Farm was quaintly nostalgic. The farm is a pioneer homestead complete with livestock, a cabin, outhouses, gardens and man with handlebar mustache and wire-rimmed glasses. This man, a park ranger who seemed to wish it was 1812 isntead of 2012, pointed out four luxurious updates to the Lincoln cabin that were uncharacteristic of log cabins of that time:

  • glass windows 
  • whitewashed walls
  • wood floors  
  • swinging doors

Even in rural Indiana, Abraham Lincoln was ahead of his time.