Last year, when Chicago Poles discovered Coldbrook Farm near Momence, Illinois, groups of women friends and some husbands picked aronia berries. In the last three weeks of August this year, entire Polish families came to pick (ColdbrookFarm.net). Children were glad to be part of the event. Little girls ran up and down the grass middles between the rows of berry bushes. One even squealed as she ran. In addition, the first guest from Bulgaria arrived. He came twice, the second time with an American friend.
The six buckets Magdalena Fraczek filled with aronia for juice for her children Kinga and Hubert last year had begun many breakfasts. She’d picked in the rain with a friend and her friend’s mother, who was visiting from Poland then. This year Magda brought her husband, Derek, and two children, along with friends Ewa and Pavel Kolodziej.
They loaded their van with buckets at the top of the field, and the men and children drove to the spot with the best berries. Magda and Ewa walked, picking berries and talking along the way.
This year, Magda’s family gathered 75 pounds for juice. Ewa and Pavel took 23 pounds home. Ewa asked if aronia berries could be made into apie (yes! http://coldbrookfarm.net/recipes.html).
Petko Georgiev had heard about aronia through his best friend in Bulgaria, who’d recommended it to increase energy. The friend had extolled the antioxidants but said aronia isn’t grown here.
Georgiev didn’t let that stop him. “It’s native to America, but I couldn’t find it in the store.” He searched the Internet and discovered Coldbrook Farm, the largest aronia farm in the Chicago area, among the “three or four other u-picks out-of-state in the whole country.” He took berries home for himself and as a gift for a friend, whose birthday they were celebrating that night. He predicted he’d return when his ten pounds were gone.
Georgiev came back a week later, reporting increased energy, which he attributed to the aronia now with his usual oats and hot water for breakfast. He and his American friend celebrated the find by carrying another 25 pounds home.
Jan Kwiecien picked 21 pounds for juice. His sister, in Poland, had recommended aronia for high blood pressure. Another Polish American customer bought 12 pounds for vodka.
Pavel seemed to find the farm to be singular, beginning with the signs in Polish that marked the route. He asked if John Pilcher, the grower, were Polish. Pilcher replied that he is not, but that he and his wife had lived abroad. When Pilcher asked how to spell Pavel’s name, Pavel replied, “It’s like Paul.” Pilcher explained the he was writing “the name your family gave you.”
Neighbors curious about signs that had sprung up dropped by to see what was going on. Some walked home armed with berries for smoothies.
(Dr. Mildred Culp is communications director at Coldbrook Farm Inc..© 2015 Passage Media.
Coldbrook Farm, Inc. 1284 Main St. Crete, IL 60417-2145