BY SARA WALTERS
Ecker’s Apple Farm clearly has, well, apples. But there are lesser-known – and equally as tasty – treats to be had at this Trempealeau, Wisconsin orchard too. Jess Ecker and family serve up delicious blueberries, a refreshing assortment of beer, and, of course, those delicious apples.
It’s been a labor of love for Jess, who also handles all public relations, human resources and design aspects of the business. Her mom, Mary, owns the farm, while her sister, Sara, functions as the orchard manager. Jess’s husband, Simon, also assists with operations. Together they work hard to make Ecker’s both a well-producing orchard and a fun Driftless destination.
Before the apple season hits in late August, Jess stays extra-busy tending to her 1,000 blueberry plants. In March she was pruning. Early spring, she focuses on getting mulch down, fixing irrigation issues, and fertilizing as she prepares for the mid-season crop in July. Her plants produced 500 pounds of blueberries last year. She’s hoping for 700 pounds in 2018.
But this impressive volume of berries didn’t grow overnight.
“This is something we’ve done for eight years, but the plants take a while to mature,” Jess says. “You do have to be patient.” As she waited, watered, and worked, the berry harvest continued to grow. Now visitors to Ecker’s Apple Farm can pick their own blueberries on Saturdays and Sundays in July, paying by weight and enjoying the literal fruit of Ecker’s labor. Jess suggests visitors make a day of it and enjoy summer on the farm, “Come get a beer at the beer garden and pick your own blueberries!”
For some, the beer itself is the draw to this eclectic little orchard. Their beer garden, known as Hog’s Back Brew Farm, is essentially a keg in an open field among apple trees, surrounded by the beauty of the Driftless Region. Well, let’s say kegs…Ecker keeps 12 taps rotating and rarely doubles up on offerings. “There are so many great beers that I just keep changing it up,” she says. “We have every style – stouts, porters, IPAs, reds, ambers, ciders.”
One that’s particularly special to Jess and her family is the hard cider made from their own apple harvest, comically named Fat Blossom Girls. With the help of a sister orchard, they were able to ferment their own Honeycrisps, Cortlands, and McIntoshes – among other varieties – to create the popular sparkling cider. They debuted it last year, much to customers’ delight. “It was a big hit,” Jess says.
Another Ecker’s favorite is the Saugatuck Brewing Company’s Neapolitan Milk Stout. It’s one of the only beers that she’ll break her own “order one keg” rule for. “It’s so delicious!” she raves. To truly appreciate its tastiness, Jess suggests pairing it with a slice of their signature caramel apple pie. Gourmet caramel – a recipe developed in 1995 by Peter Ecker and made almost daily in season – paired with their own homemade pie, is best washed down with this à la mode, ice cream-inspired beer.
With such a bounty of delicious apples to choose from – Ecker’s has 20 different varieties – it’s no wonder they’re turning out equally as yummy baked goods. In addition to the famous pies, caramel apples, and turnovers, soon fudge will be available in the farm’s bakeshop.
So, if fruit, beer, and treats are up your alley, Ecker’s is the place to be… especially in October for their annual Hootenanny. 2018 marks the tenth anniversary of this event. “What started as a friendly get-together of close friends and patrons has exploded into a day packed with bluegrass music, food trucks, and damn good beer,” the Ecker’s team writes on their website.
But food and fun is had all throughout the season at Ecker’s Apple Farm, from July’s blueberries to the final pie pickup the day before Thanksgiving. At Ecker’s, it’s always about the beauty of the region and the bounty of the harvest. Oh and the beer. It’s also about the beer.
VISIT ECKER’S APPLE FARM
W27062 State Road 54 35, Trempealeau, WI 54661
608 539-2652. www.eckersapplefarm.com
Situated on the scenic Great River Road in the heart of the Driftless, Ecker’s Apple Farm features stunning views of the old north bank of the mighty Mississippi. Ecker’s also features a John Deere train (the Honeycrisp Express), an apiary, observational beehive, morel mushrooms in the spring, blueberries in the summer, and Wisconsin peaches in the fall.
JULY AND AUGUST
Blueberry Picking by Appointment
LATE AUGUST THROUGH OCTOBER
10am to 6pm – Monday through Friday
10am to 6pm – Saturday and Sunday
NOVEMBER – END OF DAYLIGHT SAVINGS
10am to 5pm – Monday through Friday
10am to 5pm – Saturday and Sunday
Final Day of Season:
Wednesday before Thanksgiving
Sara Walters lives in La Crescent, Minnesota, where she enjoys the the beauty of the Driftless Region with her husband and two young daughters.