Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Growing, Grinding, Baking & Eating Corn

Late last Spring, Nancy Schaeffer planted a handful of corn kernels in the Morris Arboretum’s community garden. By mid-September, mature cobs were ready for harvest. Nancy and gardeners Diane Wells & Eleanor Peck plucked 15 cobs from their stalks and brought them to the Arboretum’s recently restored 1854 gristmill. There they shucked the cobs and hung them to dry. Diane had brought her own dried buckwheat kernels that she ground into meal on a pedal powered mill.

By mid-November the dried corn was ready to grind. Nancy was shown by mill engineer Craig San Pietro how to use the powered sheller to remove the kernels from the cobs. The mill’s 4 foot diameter, one ton grindstones, elevator and powered sifter system would have lost too much of her small batch during processing so Nancy fed the kernels into a smaller powered mill and then used a hand sifter to separate the fine corn flour from coarser meal.

At that point Nancy worked with mill engineer & baker Ted Bell to mix her corn flour with mill ground wheat flour, eggs, milk, maple syrup, butter, sugar, and baking powder and fill muffin trays. Trays of hot muffins soon emerged from the mill’s oven. A few were eaten but Nancy took most of them home along with enough of her flour to bake two more batches for Thanksgiving.

The Arboretum’s mission is to connect plants, place and people. The creekside mill is the place where plants have been converted to food for people and their livestock for more than 150 years. Mill demonstrations of 10 different restored machines (and muffins!) will begin on Sunday, May 17th from 1 to 4 PM and continue on the 3rd Sunday of each month through October.

Learn more about Morris Arboretum's Grist Mill by visiting our website here.

Picking the corn planted by Nancy Schaeffer in Morris Arboretum’s community garden.

Getting ready to remove the kernels from the cobs.

Using the power mill to grind the kernels.

Making corn muffin mix and prepping the tins.

Homemade corn muffins, yum!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Learning and Sharing at Morris Arboretum: Become a Guide

Become a Guide

Guides have played an active role at the Morris Arboretum for nearly 40 years. However, much has changed during the last four decades in both the landscape and its interpretation. The first guided tours were leisurely walks that highlighted interesting trees and such features as the Swan Pond and Log Cabin.

Today's guides lead a wide variety of tours for both adults and children. The adult tours are primarily general or garden highlight tours, but they can be geared towards specific topics of interest including sculpture in the garden, Japanese elements, or native plants. The children's tours are most often curriculum based, aimed at teaching groups about trees, pollination, and the wetland among other topics. Guides also welcome visitors, help plan their visits, present guests with topics of interest within the garden, and have even taken visitors back in time on costumed tours of the Victorian garden.

Guide instruction has changed quite a bit over the years, too. In the early years, novice guides became familiar with the grounds by taking tours led by experienced guides and Paul Meyer, the Curator of the Living Collections at the time. To hone their skills, these new guides would take field trips to other cultural institutions and gardens. Today's trainees attend a 30 hour course given on 11 days in March. Throughout this time, guides in training learn about plants, the history of the Arboretum, techniques for leading tours, and much more. Each trainee also receives a notebook filled with useful facts and interesting background material. In addition, trainees gain "hands on" experience by leading parts of tours with current guides. During the course, trainees are paired with mentors, who will support and encourage them until they are prepared to give tours on their own.

Guides give their time and energy to the Arboretum for many reasons: to learn exciting new things, to be inspired by the beauty of Morris Arboretum, and also to meet staff and other volunteers who believe trees are vitally important to everyone's life. Our very knowledgeable guides promote the Arboretum's mission to their neighbors and friends by encouraging them to visit, volunteer and become members. Even more importantly, guides encourage environmental stewardship in neighborhoods near and far.

Active guides at Morris Arboretum are rewarded with learning opportunities such as field trips, lectures and classes, receive exciting awards for volunteering, and make lifelong friends. If you would like to be a part of this actively engaged group click here to visit our website for application and instructions.