Driving down a long steep driveway into the home of Jean and Mike Murphy and their farm, was a comforting turn on my journey in Wisconsin. When I arrived I was greeted by a momma cat, a black lab named Josie and Jean. I was welcomed in as they were just sitting down for dinner and I joined them. A delicious meal of homemade pizza topped with veggies from their garden and a fresh salad was served. At the table was Laura, from southern Ohio. I say southern Ohio because this makes a difference. She told me so. She was here to take Nina’s class too. Laura and Jean talked and carried on that I asked how they knew each other. They didn’t, but they were just those type of people. Also at the table was Mike. Quiet observant Mike. He reminded me of Kevin. Mike and Jean have owned Life O’Riley Farm for 22 years. They left the rat race of life many years ago and started working on farms until they were able to afford their own farm. They are both well educated, resourceful, funny, giving, hard working, interesting and a pleasure to get to meet.
My room was at the top of the steep wooden stairs. A small cozy room perfect for just me. A twin bed with a light over the bed, a window overlooking the garden. I was happy staying here. I slept soundly here for four nights. It was the only room in the house that couldn’t hear the rooster each morning.
Breakfast each morning was fresh eggs that Jean or Mike had collected from their hens. Mike took me to meet their hens. I’ve never been in a hen house before. It’s a little spooky. All the hens lined up on their roost looking at you. I tried not to make eye contact. One flew around and I freaked. Jean makes everything homemade. We had homemade cinnamon rolls one day and awesome wholegrain”ish” type yummy muffins the next and bacon from their smokehouse to go with our eggs. The last morning we had french toast with homemade bread and maple syrup they had harvested that spring along with blackcaps and cream. (similar to blackberries) I had picked on a evening walk to a hillside view of their farm. Their coffee is freshly ground and prepared in a french press. Their dishes are simple heavy ironstone which are perfect for her hearty meals. I wish I could pull my chair up to their big farm table right now. I wonder what she is serving today. My mouth waters thinking about it.
One evening Laura and I ate dinner with the Murphys and we had grilled chicken (one of theirs) and fresh beets, I saw Jean dig up, and fresh peas and salad and homemade bread. Just when it couldn’t get better strawberry ice cream for dessert. All from her garden. Jean is a wonderful cook and her garden is full of deliciousness! I asked her one day what she had planned for the day and she said she was going to make granola. And she did. She gave me some in a zip lock. I asked for more the next day. It was really good. One evening she made us ginger cake. I’ve never heard of ginger cake but it was wonderful. She shared the recipe with us. It’s posted below.
Besides the wonderful food, the farm is really a neat place to explore. It has a granary and a schoolhouse that you can stay in. I got to see in the granary. It was quite comfortable and homey. It had wisteria growing on it’s porch and hollyhocks growing on it’s side. The girls I met in class from Tennessee stayed here. Dawn and Katie. The school house was once called the Brown School and was moved there some time ago to be used by the Murphys. I walked around with Mike the first afternoon and met Vietnam and her kittens. They were about 4 weeks old. She had them in a horse trough. They were friendly. There was a chipmunk running around in the horse trough too. That gave us an unexpected surprise. They have plum trees, blackberries, raspberries, potatoes, lettuces, onions, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, peas, beans, beets and much more. Beautiful flowers too. Mike is working on a great covered outdoor kitchen area. They had a large compost pile that Josie like to rummage through. Jack would really like that.
A few days later, I walked around with Jean when she did the chores and so met the cows. Whitey and Blacky. When she fed them, Whitey would hit Blacky with his head to knock him out of his bucket so he could eat his food and then Blacky would return the nudge. They were highly entertaining to watch. She fed the dog and the cat. She then fed the chickens and put them up. I enjoyed watching them especially the rooster. I saw the baby turkeys they got for the holidays and the broiler chicks they are raising as well.
Jean and Mike are a self sustaining farm and it was refreshing to be around people with this lifestyle. A simple life so to speak. Jean makes her own soap and it was amazing. When I reached for my towel I recognized the feel and the smell of a towel that had dried on the line. Simple joys. They have buckets and garden shoes at the back door. These things reminded me of growing up. We didn’t live on a farm but we lived in the country. We had a large garden and had to put up corn and green beans and shelled purple hull peas, we picked and dug up what we were having for dinner. We hung our clothes out on the line. My cat was always having kittens. Our dog followed us everywhere. I picked blackberries. It brought back good memories.
Mike and Jean have Amish neighbors and they support each other in neighborly ways. Jean said her neighbor Annie had just been down to borrow 30 lbs of flour because she had to make 70 pies. The Amish take turns worshiping at different congregations and it was their weekend. This whole conversation is funny to me! Who keeps 30 lbs of flour? Jean said she buys it from the Amish store in 50 lb sacks. Which led to the conversation of the Amish store and auction. They were having a produce auction but I couldn’t miss class but I could go to the Amish store. Class starts at 9:30 what times does the store open?
Mike has an Amish boy that helps around the farm on occasion and Mike had asked him what time do you get up in the morning and he answered “We stand at 4:30am”. So, Jean said it would be open before class. She said it was a simple store in the basement of an Amish house. But I couldn’t resist the opportunity. Laura was up for it too so we left early the next morning. We passed by several Amish carts. The one I most vividly recall… it was an open wagon with both parents up front and a teenage boy in the back sitting on wooden boxes. He had black pants and suspenders on and a hat and a bright starched blue shirt rolled up at the sleeves bent over a barrel hard at work shelling peas. It’s a big contrast to what my teenagers are doing at 8:30am in the summer.
We pulled into a nursery along the road that is run by the Amish. This looked normal and the large garden looked well tended. I took pictures of these especially of the tiller. No motor. Driving beyond this it felt like we were trespassing. There was an Amish wagon and horse hitched up to the fence. There was a little wagon too. An Amish man and wagon passed us as we got out of our cars. He waved. We walked around to the back of the house. Just like Jean told us to. We were greeted by a grandmotherly type along with two children. She asked if we needed help and we told her we were there for the store. She told us it was just a simple store with just simple supplies but we were welcome to come in.
Coming up from the barn I see a teenage boy with two buckets with nothing but chicken feet sticking out of the top. We walked through a little arbor and into their basement and she tells us they are slaughtering chickens today. 80 chickens. We walked passed two very large vats of water with dead chickens in them. A little girl, who Laura found out was four, was handing the chickens to her sister who was cutting them up and then putting them in another vat. This was their job today.
The basement was dark. They do not have electricity. On the table was little brown medicine jars of all sorts of tonics and remedies. Each with simple white labels telling of their name, treatment and ingredients and price. On the ground lining the walls were large sacks of flour and sugar. They had some handmade items like booties and bibs. They had loose tea. And honey. I love honey. I bought it. It came in a Gatorade bottle. It is THE best honey I’ve EVER had. They had some regular products like Kool-aid and spray starch. They were very friendly. She wanted to know where we were from. When I told her Alabama she wanted to know if we had winters in Alabama. She had a young boy of five standing beside her quietly the whole time. He did tell me his name. It was Amish sounding. But the dogs name was not. The simple paper receipt was written out and we were bid safe travels. I bought a digestive tonic for my brother. This stuff was just to good to pass up. I bought raspberry tea for my mother. It smelled really good. Digestive tonic not so much.
I returned the next day with Nina on the way to the airport and the chicken cutting teenager was the only one there. She ran down from the Nursery and greeted us and brought us into the store. We found out she was the middle child of twelve. Half boys and half girls. She was eighteen. She was sweet. Her name wasn’t Amish sounding. Nina noticed the pins in her dress. They do not use buttons. Not all Amish are like that. Each patriarch decides what they will use. She asked if Nina was from Alabama too.
I really respect the Amish. I don’t really understand all they represent but I respect that they work hard and believe in family unity and have found a way to make it work. I really enjoyed this aspect of Wisconsin that I didn’t expect.
I had a wonderful time staying with Jean and Mike. I would highly recommend staying at their farm. Life O’Riley Farm near Boscobel, Wisconsin. Thank you both for making me feel at home. Thank you again for your yummy recipe.
Thank you for reading my long posts about Wisconsin. One last story. When I arrived at the farm I told Jean, quick tell me how bad the winters are!! She told me they get snow and all that but I loved her story how she takes her sled all the way up to her mail box and checks her mail and if she does everything turn just right she can sled all the way down and end at the barn. Just another reason to love Jean and Mike. They are fun that way.
Double Ginger Bundt Cake
- 2 ¼ cups flour
- 4 tsp. ground ginger
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup chopped crystallized ginger
- Butter pan and coat w/ 1/2 cup raw sugar.
- Whisk flour, baking powder, ground ginger, salt in medium bowl
- Beat butter until smooth
- Add sugar – 2 minutes
- Add eggs one at a time, beat, scrape
- Add vanilla
- Add flour mixture and sour cream alternately, ending with flour
- Stir in chopped ginger
Cool on rack 15 minutes, tap pan on counter and remove to cool completely.