Nothing quite matches the experience of drinking sweet, fresh apple cider, or sinking your teeth into a crisp apple covered in caramel as you sit in an orchard.
Where oh where can you do this? Well, one place I found is Tanners Orchard in Speer, about an hour’s drive south of Sterling. It might feel longer, as you begin to wonder if it will ever appear, but then suddenly there it is on the left side of the road on state Route 40.
I’ve been to Tanners Orchard several times, and this year, I discovered the owners had made some changes. It looks roomier and I loved the seating arrangements for those wanting to stay for lunch or sit down and enjoy a snack of doughnuts, caramel apples or any of the items the bakery has to offer.
The orchard’s roots stretch all the way to Switzerland where Rudolph Tanner ran an apple orchard until 1906, when he left for America, eventually settling in Deer Creek with his wife, Mina, where they started an orchard. Their son, John, with his family, found the current location in 1947 and settled in. Today, John’s son, Richard, and his wife, Marilyn, are in charge, helped by their children, Craig and Jennifer.
It was Marilyn who stopped to talk to me during my visit. She showed me the renovations that had been made and talked to me about the videos on the orchard’s Facebook page. At 3 p.m. every Wednesday, Richard presents a program on history and at 3 p.m. on Thursdays Marilyn presents a cooking show. That’s something we can check out every week.
Marilyn also pointed out a carriage on display at the orchard. They bought last year at an auction and had it refurbished. Unbeknownst to them, it turned out to have a connect to an Illinois original: John Deere. The carriage was made by the Velie Carriage Co. in Moline, which operated from 1902 to 1907. Willard Velie just happens to have been John Deere’s youngest grandson.
The carriage is on display in the market building, which is where I headed first to find a wide variety of merchandise,from soap to candles and all things in between. Staff members are easy to find if you have any questions.
I then joined a short line at the bakery to get lunch, with hot apple cider, of course. I browsed through the bakery goods and then checked out the apples, ending up with honey crisp. Here, too, a wide variety of apples were available and a tasting station lets you decide before you buy a big bag of something based on name alone.
After making my purchases, I went out to look over the grounds and what was available there. Since my visit was on a weekday, it was quiet with few children around. But that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty for kids to do at this family friendly orchard. There’s a corn maze, Back 40 Fun Acres, jump pad, gem mining – and on Festival Days a wagon, barrel train, pony rides, and pedal cars come out to play. Saturdays and Sundays in October and Oct. 14 are Festival Days, so make a note.
Back 40 admission is $3 for ages 3 to 15 on regular days and on Festival Days it’s $8 for ages 3 to 54 and free for those 55 and older. After 5 p.m., admission is $3 for ages 3 to 15.
Tanners also has pumpkins, farm animals, U-pick apples, and its kitchen is open for lunch and supper.
U-pick prices are $3 per person ages 3 and older on Festival Days only. The price for apples is $10 for half a peck and $18 for a peck. Pumpkins cost $6.99 each. The corn maze is $6 per person. On Festival Days you can purchase a Buy the Farm ticket for $15 and that’ll get you all-day admission to the Back 40, corn maze and U-pick area.
When I arrived, my first thought was, “Yes, it really is autumn now.” The decorations, the taste of your first fresh cider of the season, people picking apples, all say that this is the place to go to enjoy an autumn day.
Please keep in mind that on weekends Tanners Orchard is busy. Expect to find a lot of people there, but that’s part of the experience as well. Parking is plentiful and more people means more fun watching all their smiling faces. So go ahead and enjoy an apple a day – or a peck. You’ll be glad you did.