Debbie's Blog

Van Till Family Farm Winery

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Summer in the middle of winter…

That’s what I feel like when I can take the last produce from the garden in October and keep it in the house and make salsa in January!

Take the Roma and yellow grape tomatoes harvested in mid October that finished ripening indoors, along with our garlic harvested in July and jalapeno peppers that I froze and one lonely little red onion and add…

cilantro and more onion that I purchased from the store, to make…

a lovely salsa to eat in January! Make some guacamole with avocados in season and this combination pairs great with our Citrus Sangria Wine.

These tomatoes were grown in soil rich with humus and microbes, thus they are high in nutrients. The theory behind nutrient dense produce is, that as the fruit ripens and holds, the fruit or vegetables will dry up rather than rot.

So, even though the tomatoes were ripe and ready to eat a month ago, sitting on the counter they simple dehydrated a little, but that just makes the flavor intensify. Bring out the chips!


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The Pawpaws are ready to pick!

Though we are really busy in the middle of grape harvest and have tanks of wine, at different stages of production, that have to be monitored and grapes ripening in the vineyard, we make time to keep an eye on the fruit trees in our gardens.

The pears are ripening and will soon be turned into Pear Dessert Wine (port).  But, there is one kind of fruit tree that I think I will use for cooking and not for wine.

There are two Pawpaw trees in our Wine Barn Garden and the fruit is ready to pick!

Pawpaw Tree in Wine Barn Garden

Pawpaw Tree in the Wine Barn Garden. This tree is 10 years old and about 12 feet tall.


The race is on to get the fruit when it just ripens, but,  before the raccoons or the opossum.

More Pawpaw Fruit Ready to Pick

Pawpaws ready to Pick.


Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) are native to North America, growing wild in much of the eastern and Midwest portions of the United States.

The fruit tastes similar to a banana, and can be used in recipes similar to how one would

use a banana.

This month Chef Matthew is making a special dessert with the ripe pawpaws.  He’s

made a wonderful Pawpaw Cake and Pawpaw pudding topping to accompany the cake.

This will be on the menu and served in the Wine Garden this weekend. Should be very tasty.

Now, which wine will we pair with that?



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Yes, Fresh Figs in Missouri



If you have lived in the south or have been to California,

you may have fond memories of tasting fresh figs at the farmers market or

picking them from a tree.


Moving to the Midwest, where the weather doesn’t just dip below freezing

for a few hours but stays there for days on end, which isn’t good growing conditions for figs, doesn’t mean that one needs to give up eating fresh figs.


Figs do grow in Missouri.  The first time I saw them growing outdoors was at Powell Gardens.

There was a row of plants next to a building and they were more like shrubs

than the large tree in our yard as a youth in Southern California.   But, to my amazement,

these shrubs did produce figs.  And if they could grow them, I figured, I could too.

After planting a rooted cutting, in our Courtyard here at the winery, I anxiously

waited for the plant to get big enough to produce figs.

I can laugh about it now, but I was a little discouraged during the first summer, since the plant got cut to the ground twice

by the well meaning gardeners whose weed eaters didn’t recognize an edible plant!

These young men hadn’t ever seen a fig tree or bush.

It would have helped if I had put a wire fence around it the first time, but

nonetheless, I planted another rooted cutting and this time I did protect it!  This year was the 3nd summer and it was loaded with figs!

Figs Fall 2017use also

See the brown figs just ripening this September. They were sweet and so good!

Figs ripen from the bottom to the top of the branch, so I would regularly check the bush throughout the fall for ripe figs.  They continued to ripen up to the first frost.

Figs Fall 2017 use

Here’s another shot.

Chef Marc featured a pizza special this fall topped with figs and paired it with our Missouri Chambourcin Wine.  He also included figs in a topping for his Pumpkin Soup that he was serving as an appetizer in the Wine Garden.  He and Wine Club Manager, Stephen, had paired this with Missouri Chardonel Wine.  To use figs in a savory dish was new for me, since our figs were always eaten up fresh.  That just gives me a reason to plant more next year.

In the years to come, guests can be on the lookout for the figs growing in our farmscape.  Maybe, some will be inspired to grow their own. Or, maybe seeing the fig leaves or fruit will just bring back memories of a time when figs were  enjoyed fresh.

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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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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!


Relaxing Dinner on the Patio with Farm Crafted Cuisine

Cliff and I had an impromptu dinner on the patio a few weeks ago.  We took two pot pies out of the freezer and

put them in the wood fired oven and waited on the patio with a glass of wine.  This was a great combination!

Just a hint of smoke from the remains of a hot pizza baking fire and plenty of bubbling juice

oozing out of the whole wheat crust, made this a wine pairing experience!  Cliff had the

beef and I had the chicken pot pie  and the Chardonnel was a perfect match.

Farm Crafted Pot Pies baked in the Wood Fired Oven

As you can see, it was such a relaxing dinner, with some tomatoes from our container tomatoes, Tumbling Tom.  This tomato only needs a 1 gallon size container, and it produces!

We have a Tomato Tower with 30 container tomato plants growing on it.  The tower looks like a Christmas tree with green plants and little

red balls.  These tomato plants can be grown in a 12″ container, so they do well in this tower.  We already picked the first flush, and they were great

in a tomato, cucumber, basil and onion salad with an olive oil dressing.  I will get a picture of the tower with  the second flush of yellow blossoms out in the next blog.

These plants  love this heat we have been having and do very well with regular watering in the towers.  They are indeterminate

and will produce until frost.  I like that!