Fall brings new foods and flavors, and there are many beers that pair perfectly with the apples, gourds, and Thanksgiving classics you’ll be enjoying this season.
There are two spots in the Chicago Botanic Garden where beer is served: the Garden View Café and the Rose Terrace Beer Garden. Now that it’s fall, the Beer Garden is only open on weekends (weather permitting), but the new season also means there are new flavors and varieties to try there.
I sat down with Matt Sherry, beverage supervisor at the Garden, to find out what beers are best this time of year, which beverages pair well with classic fall dishes, and what interesting craft brews are available at the Garden this fall.
A basic rule in pairing alcohol with food is to make sure there is balance between what’s in your glass and what’s on your plate, so the flavors in your drink don’t overpower your meal, Sherry said. That’s, of course, true for beer as well.
Here are his fall food and beer pairings (all of the beers are available at the Garden):
Turkey chili: A darker beer like 3 Sheeps Brewing Company Cashmere Hammer would work well with a heavy dish like chili. Its creamy flavor and texture has chocolate notes that complement the cinnamon and cardamom spices usually found in chili.
Roast turkey: IPAs have a bitterness that cuts through the taste of the fat in foods like turkey. Citrus is always a good pairing with poultry, so choose Goose Island Juicy Double IPA, which is brewed with orange juice, for Thanksgiving dinner or leftovers.
Pumpkin pie: For a rich, dense dessert like pumpkin pie, a lighter beer works best. Goose Island My Shout, an Australian sparkling ale, is a limited-edition release that has hints of stone fruit, making it a good choice for pumpkin pie. If you want to go overboard with the same flavors, go for a pumpkin ale.
Butternut squash soup: Skip the beer when you have butternut squash soup and grab a cider instead. A dry cider isn’t as sweet, so it won’t overpower the flavor of your soup. Virtue Cider Michigan Brut is especially nice.
Anti-fall choices: If you want no part of sweater weather and pumpkin spice lattes, grab a SweetWater TripleTail. This IPA is brewed with tropical flavors like passion fruit and papaya, so you can imagine you’re on a beach instead of gearing up for cold weather. Another good option is Upland Brewing Company Petal to the Kettle. Part of the brewery’s Side Trail Series, a limited edition set of experimental brews, this sour has hibiscus and strawberry flavors.
When early fall feels like summer, that will going to change how long trees will show off their seasonal colors.
Deciduous trees, explains Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, respond to environmental conditions when preparing to go dormant for the winter. Just like animals that hibernate, trees slow their processes down in order to conserve energy. What we can see of this process can be beautiful: leaves change from green to vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. Then trees will drop their leaves and wait out the winter.
In a regular year, trees aren’t in a rush to go dormant. The process that we see takes several weeks. The production of chlorophyll, which produces the green color in leaves, fades away, unmasking the beautiful colors we associate with autumn. As the season progresses, the leaves will eventually drop. In Chicago, our trees usually reach peak color in the first two weeks of October, and aren’t usually bare until late October or early November.
But this isn’t a regular year. The heat we’ve been feeling lately is a factor.
“The higher the temperature, the faster the processes go,” Tankersley said. And this month’s drought is why we’re also seeing leaves dropping only a few days into fall. Local rain gauges have been virtually dry, with less than 2 inches recorded in the month of September.
“Trees don’t have minds, but they do respond to environmental clues. If there’s been little rain, they will drop their leaves early in order to conserve water and get through the rest of fall and winter,” he said.
If you’re a fan of getting family portraits done with a backdrop of colorful foliage, Tankersley suggests getting those done sooner rather than later.
“This year, we’re going to have to be a little bit more proactive about getting out there and getting photos as the trees come into color. They’re just not going to hold.”
We love nature here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, so we looked to the natural world for inspiration on how to enjoy the eclipse—here at the Garden, or in your own backyard.
On Monday, August 21, people across the United States will be able to witness a rare event: the first total solar eclipse to cross over the country from coast to coast in nearly a century.
The path of totality—meaning the area of the United States that will see the sun completely blocked by the moon—passes across southern Illinois. In the Chicago area, we will experience roughly 86 percent coverage around 1:19 p.m. This is the closest the Chicago area has been to a total solar eclipse in 92 years.
1. Make a pinhole projector—using leaves.
Rule number one with eclipses—and with the sun every day, actually—is don’t look directly at it with the naked eye. A fun way to indirectly “see” the eclipse is with a pinhole projector, and one of the best natural projectors is a leaf. Leaves often have holes that can act as natural projectors.
During the eclipse, turn your back to the sun and hold the leaf above a neutral colored background, ideally several feet or more away. A white sheet of paper will do. You’ll see a crescent-shaped shadow that changes as the eclipse progresses.
The easiest pinhole projector you can make is with your hands. Stretch out and overlap your fingers to create a grid. Look down and you’ll see mini eclipses projected through the spaces between your fingers.
Other ideas: Use everyday objects that already have holes—like colanders or crackers, for example—or by punching a hole in a piece of cardboard or other sturdy material. If you want a more patriotic experience, NASA has 2D/3D printable pinhole projectors in the shape of the United States and each state.
2. Follow the shadows of the trees.
Find a shady spot and watch as the eclipse shadows change over the course of the event. Instead of the one shadow that a standard pinhole projector creates, you can view hundreds by standing under a decently sized oak or maple.
Another cool effect created by the eclipse is shadows that look sharper and appear to move (albeit very slowly) as the eclipse goes on. Boyce Tankersley, the Garden’s director of living plant documentation, was in St. Louis during the annular solar eclipse that passed over the United States in 1994, and witnessed this phenomenon while working at the botanical garden there. Unlike the annular 1994 eclipse, where a ring of the sun appears around the edge of the moon, the total eclipse this year will completely block the sun’s light in the path of totality (near Carbondale, Illinois, in our region). That’s because during a total eclipse, the distances between the moon, sun, and earth allows the moon to completely cover the sun; during an annular eclipse, it does not.
At peak viewing time, from roughly 12:45 to 2 p.m., we’ll see a skinny crescent of light peeking out from behind the moon, almost like it’s taking a bite out of the sun. Though it’s only a sliver, it’s still strong enough to mess with the way shadows appear to the naked eye. This will make for some amazing patterns and changing shapes under the Garden’s trees. If you want to experience the eclipse this way, Tankersley recommends heading to the Waterfall Garden, English Oak Meadow, or English Walled Garden. Even the Garden’s parking lots have big, leafy trees that would work. If you prefer seclusion, the west service road, stretching from the Regenstein Learning Campus to the Graham Bulb Garden, has ginkgo, redbud, and buckeye, to name a few trees in that area with interesting leaves. Use the Garden’s plant finder or download our GardenGuide app to seek out a spot to see the eclipse by your favorite kind of tree.
3. Come to the Garden’s Eclipse Event
The Garden has partnered with the Adler Planetarium to host a solar eclipse viewing event. Free special viewing glasses—while supplies last—will be available so visitors can safely view the eclipse directly. We’ll also have Family Drop-In activities related to the eclipse and a scale model of the moon, sun, and earth stretching across the Esplanade, not far from the Visitor Center.
The Esplanade is going to be a hub of activity, but the Garden has a number of other open spaces for great viewing. Grab your eclipse glasses and head to Dixon Prairie, on the south end of the Garden. When you need a break from staring at the sky, you’ll also see blooming blazing star, wild bergamot, prairie dock, and ironweed. If you’re lucky, you may also spot a hummingbird or monarch butterfly. The prairie is right off the section of the North Branch Trail that winds through the eastern part of the Garden, so it’s easily accessible if you bike here from the south.
Not as off the beaten path, but usually a sure bet for some private space, is Evening Island. It’s home to the Theodore C. Butz Memorial Carillon and features different landscapes on five acres. Head to the lawn overlooking the Great Basin for a clear view of the sky, as well as sweeping, photo-ready vistas. If you’re with a small group, gather in the council ring, inspired by the work of famed garden designer Jens Jensen.
If you miss this year’s total solar eclipse you won’t have to wait too long for the next one. There will be another in seven years, with the Chicago area closer to the path of totality and expected to see roughly 93 percent coverage. Practice your skills this year and you’ll be proficient in eclipse observation by 2024.
How did the Chicago Botanic Garden end up sharing one of the most sought-after strawberry plants in the world with a three-star Michelin restaurant?
The collaboration and conservation initiative began after Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg happened to meet Aaron Keefer, the culinary gardener for the renowned French Laundry restaurant in California’s Napa Valley. At a conference in Iowa, their conversation turned to the rare Marshall Strawberry, known for its exceptional flavor. Keefer mentioned that he would love to grow the plant at the French Laundry, where the prepaid lunch tasting menu begins at $310 a person.
What is the Marshall strawberry?
The Marshall strawberry has a storied history. In the early twentieth century, it was a widely grown strawberry variety. James Beard, the legendary cook and television personality, once said he thought the Marshall was “the finest eating strawberry in America.” But by the 1950s, the Marshall had largely been replaced by other cultivars because, due to disease and its short shelf life, it became an expensive strawberry to produce. By 2007, the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repositoryin Corvallis, Oregon, was one of the few places to even have Marshall strawberry plants. Now, a handful of private growers is trying to bring it back to prominence.
The Garden’s role
Leah Gauthier, an artist from Maine, is one of the only certified distributors for the once critically endangered berry. Through her website, marshallstrawberry.com, Gauthier sells the plants as they become available. Only nine are available for order this year, and once they’re sold out, the next batch won’t be available until 2019.
In 2012, Hilgenberg was given three Marshall plants from Gauthier, who was living in Indiana at the time. Gauthier drove to the Garden to personally deliver the fragile cargo. Hilgenberg got the Marshall plants into the ground right away at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden; one was promptly stolen. But by 2013, Hilgenberg was able to propagate 50 of the strawberry plants, thus helping to preserve and conserve this unique strawberry.
After her chance meeting with the French Laundry’s Keefer in summer 2016, Hilgenberg agreed to send him some Marshall plants. Coincidentally, the same week that Hilgenberg sent the plants to the French Laundry, Aaron Bertelsen, the gardener/chef at Great Dixter House & Gardens in the United Kingdom, was visiting the Garden. When Bertelsen also expressed an interest in the strawberry plants, Hilgenberg shared some with Great Dixter as well.
Hilgenberg said she hasn’t heard of any other public gardens that have shared plants with culinary gardens like those at the French Laundry and Great Dixter. But to her it seemed like a great opportunity to be part of “a conservation effort connecting more people to this plant.”
See photos of the beautiful fruits and vegetables being grown at the French Laundry, Great Dixter, and the Chicago Botanic Garden by following Aaron Keefer (tfl_culinarygarden), Aaron Bertelsen (aaronbertelsenofficial), and Lisa Hilgenberg (hilgenberg8) on Instagram.
Alongside the stunning flora of Brazil, visitors to the Garden can taste the flavors of Brazil in two ways this summer.
The popular Garden Chef series, where visitors can watch cooking demonstrations by local chefs and sample the fare, will include Brazilian chefs and chefs from Brazilian-inspired restaurants cooking authentic dishes. Join us for Brazilian-themed demos at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. on the following dates:
June 17 – Jorgina Pereira from Sinhá
July 1 – Cristiane Pereira from Taste of Brazil Café
July 30 – John Manion from La Sirena Clandestina
September 10 – Tony Castillo from Longitud315
Visitors can also enjoy Brazilian flavors at the Garden View Café throughout the run of Brazil in the Garden. Favorites like caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil, and brigadeiro, a sweet, truffle-like dessert, will be served. Some regular menu items, including salads and pastries, have been reimagined to include flavors found in Brazilian cooking. Highlights from the menu include a misto quente sandwich, Brazilian beef picanha skewers, and Brazilian nut cake.
The Café’s Brazil-inspired menu items are as follows:
Brazilian superfood chopped salad: Baby kale and spinach, quinoa, fresh mango, broccoli, black beans, radishes, flax seed, Brazil nuts, orange-agave dressing
Citrus salmon salad: Local greens, hearts of palm, cherry tomato, Vidalia onion, spring onion, avocado, citrus vinaigrette