Debbie's Blog

Van Till Family Farm & Winery

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Farm to Thanksgiving Table

All went well with the wine pairing this weekend.  The favorite, hands down, went to the Medium Body Gravy

with roasted turkey paired with our  2013 Chambourcin wine.  It was a wonderful taste treat! The wine really enhanced the gravy and

vica versa.  Bits of Cliff’s handmade chicken/apple sausage really added depth to the gravy which

brought out the character of the wine.  In this case, the turkey was there for the gravy!

Here’s the recipe:


Pair with Van Till Family Farm Winery 2013  Chambourcin Wine

4 ounces butter
6 ounces flour
6 each chicken/apple sausage links
2 tbsp olive oil
5 each shallots, sliced
1 tbsp mustard seed
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp fennel seed
2 qts. turkey stock

In a saucepan over low heat, make a roux by melting the butter and stirring in the flour.
Cook the sausages according to package directions and dice into small pieces.  Reserve.
Add olive oil to a medium sized sauce pot over medium-high heat and caramelize the shallots
with mustard seeds, black peppercorns, coriander and fennel seed.  Add turkey stock and reduce
by one half, approximately 20 minutes.
Once reduced, strain mixture.  Place liquid back in pot and stir in roux.  Continue stirring over
medium heat until gravy becomes thick.  Add diced sausage.
Keep warm for use right away or refrigerate.

The  favorite gravy for our “under 21 staff”, who couldn’t taste the wine part of the pairing,

was the Red Wine Gravy made with our 2013 Norton Wine, chicken livers from local free range birds and fresh sage from the garden.

They couldn’t pair with any wine, but they felt this one could stand alone.

Here’s that recipe:


Red Wine Gravy

4 Ounces chicken livers, or giblets

2 tbsp butter

1 1/4 cups diced onions

2 cloves garlic, diced

3 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

6 cups chick or turkey stock

1 cup Van Till Family Farm Winery 2013 Norton  Wine

1 sprig fresh sage


Saute livers, onion and garlic in sauce pot in butter until done.

Once brown, add the butter and flour  and mix well.  After 2 minutes,

deglaze with the red wine, stock and sage. Cook the gravy for at least 25 minutes

uncovered.  When it has reached the desired thickness, remove the sage and transfer

the mixture to a hand blender.  Blend until smooth.  Serve warm or refrigerate.



Cutting celery, onions and fresh sage from the farm garden.

Cutting celery, onions and fresh sage from the farm garden.

The cornbread dressing paired beautifully with the 2011 Chardonel Vintner’s Choice wine, which was finished

on oak.  The fresh sage, celery and onions harvested from the farm garden really made this pairing










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In spite of the freeze last week, the farmscape still had enough life left to harvest …

….for the up coming wine pairings for our Open House this Friday and Saturday.

Look at this sage!  The freeze didn’t bother it.

Sage with willows

It is beautiful and the succulent leaves will give great flavor for
the cornbread dressing.  You can see the willow hedge behind this sage.

This willow turns bright orange during the winter, which gives

a lot of color.

Cutting Celery is a great plant to have in the garden. It is easy to start from
seed and very hard to kill. I tend to be very successful with neglect, and this
one endures and survives.

cutting celery ready

The first time I had experienced growing celery was in California, when my oldest
sister, Kathy, spent  a summer working in a celery packing shed near Nipomo while she and I

attended California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo,

The fog would roll into the coastal hills
in the evening and roll out late morning and the weather was mild and gentle. Great
for celery. Well, Missouri weather has no such gentleness, but this celery does well
here. And, in spite of the freeze, it looks great!

Even the  grasshoppers are  hiding in here hoping to stay warm.

cutting celery ready

Onions are another plant that survived the freeze.

onions in veg bed

These are green onions that propagate themselves in the garden. They emerge first thing in the spring, slow down and just
sit there during the heat of the summer, and then start growing again during the cool
of the fall.  We use these to garnish salads that are served in The Wine Garden.


Now, I need to take the harvest and cook and sample.  Friday is our Open House

when we will be offering guests, who are tasting wines in the Wine Shop,

the opportunity to pair wines with samples of dishes that we serve for Thanksgiving

and during the holiday season.  We will be showing how red

wine can be paired with turkey.   The harvest from the farm will be an integral part of that

experience.  Stay tuned!

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The Team Goes to Show Me Zip Lines!

Last month, the team here at the winery had an opportunity to go to Show Me Zip Lines located at our neighbor’s farm 2 miles north on the highway.  We had the grandest time!

Gary Marmoy, Linda Haskell and I really did do the Zip Line.  We were the "older ones"!

Gary Marmoy, Linda Haskell and I really did do the Zip Line. We were the “older ones”!

Cliff and I wanted our team to be able to speak from experience when guests ask about the Zip Line which was opened this spring on the Swafford Family Ranch.  From my experience, it was awesome.  Not only was riding, hooked to a cable 10 to 200 feet up in the air a blast, but the tour guides shared their story as well as the story of the farm, which always makes the experience more meaningful.

Unique view of the trip up the hill through the farm with Torie Gillam and Brodie Daly.  Both of these are hard working high school students that are on our team!

Unique view of the trip up the hill through the farm with Torie Gillam and Brody Daly. Both of these are hard working high school students that are on our team!

As we rode to the top of the hill and our tour guide explained some of the history of the farm as well as what we were seeing, I could imagine what it must have been like to have lived there on the farm years ago.  That just added a dimension to the tour that was cool!

Rylie White, one of our new servers, coming in for a landing.

Rylie White, one of our new servers, coming in for a landing.

To also see the rocks in the canyon, up close, was an experience you just don’t get from driving around in the country.

Brody Daly on the beginner run.

Brody Daly on the beginner run.

After our tour, we hosted the Zip Line Staff for a pizza dinner and tour of our property.


Show Me zip Line Staff and families relaxing after enjoying a pizza dinner at our winery.  Look how relaxed they look!  They did a great job on our tour!

Show Me Zip Line Staff and families relaxing after enjoying a pizza dinner at our winery. Look how relaxed they look! They did a great job on our tour!

We enjoyed showing them around and explaining the Farm to Table aspect of our grounds and we sampled the alpine strawberries growing in The Courtyard.  It was very rewarding to hear the “wow” when the guests sampled those little strawberries that have such a robust flavor.  This helped me to realize that what I sometimes take for granted, can be really interesting to other farmers.


Now our staff can speak from experience when guests ask us about the Zip Line or if they ask if there is anything else to do nearby since we are a destination winery in a very rural setting.  Each of our staff can speak for themselves, but as for me, I had a grand time and enjoyed getting to know our neighbors.  Thanks for a great time!

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January on the Patio

Early in January  we had  some seriously cold weather, where the night temperature was nearly -6 degree with a wind chill factor of -17.  That’s cold!

Some of the plants in the patio didn’t survive.  We had moved the citrus and avocado to be under the big heater, so, they and many other plants did quite nicely.

Blooming geraniums during the winter.

Blooming geraniums during the winter.

This geranium is still blooming, 2 weeks later.

dead geraniums

This geranium, which stayed near the wall where there were large air leaks,  is toast.

Cuttings, taken from the plants on the patio, ready for the heat mat. This will give them the warmth they need to root and grow.

Cuttings, taken from the plants on the patio, ready for the heat mat.
This will give them the warmth they need to root and grow.

But, at least I was able to get some cuttings, and now they are sitting in a plastic tent indoors near a window, on a heat mat,  and in a few weeks these cuttings will root and I will be on my way to getting replacement plants for the ones that died.

The rose bush survived, being right next to the wall, but the blooms didn’t.

Roses that wilted during the freezing weather this month.

Roses that wilted during the freezing weather this month.

Here you can see the wilted blooms and  the little buds pushing new growth.

Regrowth where blooms had died due to freezing weather.

Regrowth where blooms had died
due to freezing weather.

When I cut off the wilted part, underneath is really healthy plant material, which has been recharging for the last 2 weeks.  In another week or so, we should have blooms.  In fact, here are a few that are ready to open.

Roses ready to bloom weeks after hard freeze.

Roses ready to bloom weeks after hard freeze.

It amazes me how quickly these plants can recover from a freeze or sometimes, when we forget to water, a drought!  Here on the patio, winter is a season where the roses don’t go dormant, they do slow down, and the geraniums bloom profusely.  But this year, I have a lot of plants that are in recovery because of the extreme cold.


This is what I do when it is 12 degrees outside!  This is good "inside" work!

This is what I do when it is 12 degrees outside! This is
good “inside” work!

Today, I have been having a grand time, working here in the patio.  Outside, the sun is shining and it is 12 degrees.  Inside, it is  55 degrees and no heater.   The Thompson Seedless grapevine and petunias  needed pruning and the ivy needs to be trained.

We have been busy in the winery this month and it is time to take care of the plants.  But, we always take time to test wine!

Here I am, testing the not yet released Sangria with the Southwest Gourmet Pizza.  It’s a great match!

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The grapes are in and the wine is in the tank,

…and it’s 78 degrees and it sure  feels like California weather!  And with the cucumbers that I planted at the end of August looking so green and loaded with blooms,

the strawberry towers loaded with big berries, the carrots looking good and the raspberries loaded with ripe fruit, I am having too much fun walking around the farm, harvesting and enjoying the fruit of our summer labor. It is quite rewarding to have a long mild fall, because the farm really does seem to have one last burst of energy

as the plants produce in abundance before the really cold weather sets in.

Strawberry Towers in the Fall

Strawberry Towers in the Fall with big berries

Fall cucmbers growing in the hoophouse.

Fall cucmbers growing in the hoophouse.

Short round carrots, grown in the hoophouse

Short round carrots, grown in the hoophouse

  1. Ready to be cleaned and served in an appetizer tray
    for a wedding reception today.
    These are fun to eat!

Starting cucumbers in late summer works really well if they begin growing in the heat of summer and produce in the cooling weather of fall.

Here is a picture of a variety of cucumbers that we grow here that are fabulous!  They don’t get bitter, even when grown during the heat

of summer, the skin is smooth and thin, which means we don’t have to peel, and they taste great!  We use them in our garden salads that we serve in the wine garden.

Next post, I will explain how we  get them ready to produce even when the weather gets cold.

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Farm to Table or is it: Tower to Table!

The mild weather of the fall season  creates ideal conditions for the lettuce, arugula, mizuna and other

greens that are growing in the “Towers” in the greenhouse for the Garden Salad that we serve here at the winery.

Here are a few pictures to show you how this humble, but very necessary and nutritious part of our diet

has a very cool place here on the farm.

Pots ready to be filled with great compost made right on the farm.
See the mizuna growing on the edge of the grass. It is a volunteer,but we could pick it and eat it too!

Here , we start filling the pots that make up the grow towers, with potting mix that is decomposed strawberry roots, leaves and stems that were taken out of the towers in August.  Here, in the compost pile, the warm air, sunshine and the rains have created an idea condition for decomposition of this plant material, and now, in just a few short months,

it is ready to be recycled back into the pots to grow the greens.

After these pots are filled, we stack them in the greenhouse.

These lettuce plants are about 3 weeks old and are ready to be transplanted into the


Here is a tower, with just planted lettuce. In a few weeks these will be ready to start harvesting. They love this cool weather.

  Here the towers are filled with new seedlings that will be happy in the greenhouse, away from the

wind and enjoying the sun.

Lettuce, arugula, mizuna are ready to harvest for the farmstead salad served on The Patio Pavilion.

Here are the two towers with plants ready to harvest.  These greens are very young and just the outer leaves

are picked off, thus leaving the small leaves to get a little larger for the next pick.  In fact, these towers

were just picked 4 days ago and they have so much growth that they are ready to harvest again.

And here we are on a very comfortable  Patio Pavilion, in October, with our  farmstead salad, ready to eat, with

a glass of award winning Strawberry Festival Wine.

Farm to Table, or was that, Tower to Table!

Those chairs are empty, come join us!

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The Storm That Took Out the Strawberry Towers

Last month, my brother Lonnie Scott,  Bobcat Properties Farm,  wrote about his experience in an unexpected storm that came through the Farmer’s Market in the parking lot of Gen Ivy Hot Springs Spa in Joseph Canyon,  California.   He sells honey from the farm and has a “mascot bee”, Hanna.  This blog is a response to his story with a similar story of our own about a storm coming through Rayville, where our winery is, just 2 days before his storm!  I am just having some fun as  our mascot, Strawberry Shortcake is being re-introduced!  Life has been so full this summer with wine, pizza and the experience at the winery, that we are  just have a little fun here!

Hi Lonnie, this is Strawberry Shortcake.  I live at the Van Till Family Farm & Winery.  I am the Senior strawberry plant.  Since Farm to Table is the theme around here, the community of strawberry plants in the towers are responsible for producing the strawberries for the Strawberry Salad and Strawberry Shortcake for the Patio Dining and strawberries for the Farmstead Strawberry Spread that is sold at Christmas in the Wine Shop.  Though we can’t produce all the strawberries for the Strawberry Festival Wine that is made here also, we do play an important role around here in the greenhouse.  We help out during the tours, showing the guests how happy we are growing in the towers in the greenhouse!

All the plants are pulled at the end of the season, which is around this time of the year, but I always hide and overwinter somewhere and then get back into the strawberry towers  (we don’t have ‘runners’ for nothing!) just in time for the beginning of the next growing season in February. I live a secret life here!  It is amazing what you can do with phones these days, as I have secretly posted on The Van Till Farms and Winery  Facebook page  as far back as 2010.  I kept a bit of a journal from a plant’s point of view and posted on Facebook.  I made a lot of friends.  I have since retired from strawberry production, but I am still

around and keep an eye on things.

Hanna, the Honey Bee, probably has made a lot of friends at the farmers market too, and who knows, maybe she has a blog somewhere or she is on Facebook,  or both!

It sounds like you had an experience just like we had out here.  The Wednesday night, before your Saturday morning experience, Cliff and Brian  were coming back from Ladoga Ridge Winery, which is a winery in our Great Northwest Missouri Wine Trail Association and it is located about 45 minutes west of us. They had been helping at the winery and were on their way home in the evening.  As they were heading back, a storm with near straight line winds and rain  was moving fast, right toward Rayville.  They called Debbie and told her to get ready!  She took down the farmers market umbrella that was over the pool, so  the wind wouldn’t pick it up and sail it over the house.  Even though that did  happen quite a few years ago and it was found, undamaged,  in the front yard upside down the morning after a wild storm,   she didn’t want to  risk it this time.

Then, Debbie ran to the shop to close the big roll up door so the bags of cement that were being used to finish The Secret Garden wouldn’t get wet, as the winds now were blowing like mad.

Me, I was in the greenhouse when the winds kicked up.  Cliff forgot to tell her to roll up the sides  of the greenhouse, so the wind just blew right through, and took out the 2 rows of strawberry towers!

I wasn’t hurt, I could see it coming. Just like you I tried to warn the others, but all I could do was get to safety.  I had remembered the  “stop, drop and roll” in the literature for training when Cliff was a Wood Heights Fire Department Volunteer.  I needed something to read during those lonely winter nights that I was in hiding!  Yes, Cliff had great foresight when he built the greenhouse, it has lights!

Strawberry Towers on the ground after the storm!

As you can see in the before and after picture, the greenhouse isn’t the same!

But, as I mentioned in the beginning, the strawberries were just about finished.  Last week the boys took the soil and plants to the compost pile and refilled the towers and got everything swept up.

You wouldn’t have even known that this was home to 500 strawberry plants!

Well, it is time to go.  We have another tour coming through this Friday and I need to supervise the changing of the guard in the greenhouse.  The cucumbers, though they have been sharing space this summer,  are acquiring more space and the strawberry towers are now being converted to Tomato Towers, so the grape tomatoes can garnish the salads served on the Patio. These guys, the cucumber and tomaotes,  do a good job in showing people how their food comes from a farm, but I act in an advisory capacity to them, helping them do a great job!.

The winery is busy today too!  The grape harvest is on and there is juice running through a stemmer crusher, 2 pumps and a big bladdar press. Cliff is having a grand time!  He loves the stainless steel tanks and valves.  Last year, when the tanks were full and harvest was finished, he had so much fun, that he wanted to get more grapes and tanks so he could keep working with his equipment!

He is a happy man these days!

I would like to meet Hanna the Honey Bee someday, she sounds like she is a great asset to your farmers market experience!  Maybe I could learn some people skills from her, since she hangs out at a spa and  goes to the farmers market every week.   I have tasted your honey and used your lip balm, they are both good.

Well, good-bye from Van Till Family Farm & Winery, where you will find

Wine, Pizza and The Experience.


Strawberry Shortcake