Mid-Winter Break Camp 2013 – Day 4

You, perky Peppers tired me out today!

Firstly, let me extend my warmest salutations to our newest Peppers! It was so wonderful seeing bright-eyed first-timers at Tollgate Farm. I hope you enjoyed your day, just as much as I enjoyed mine. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Murphy and I am the calf here at Tollgate Farm. I love meeting new friends, being fed with my bottle and journalism!

Today was jam-packed with so many activities; I can’t wait to recap all of them with you!

It was a special day for the Peppers because they had a very important guest. This guest has one of the most important jobs on the farm. He oversees all operations and other projects that are constantly taking place. It’s our farm manager Mr. Roy Prentice! Mr. Roy set aside a part of his busy day to show us a few things about Tollgate.

Hello, Farmer Roy!

Hello, Farmer Roy!

First, we took a trip outside to the pasture to meet Noah. Noah is one of Tollgate’s two Percheron draft horses. A draft horse is especially big and built to haul heavy loads. Many years ago, Percherons were the horse of choice for several knights because they were strong enough to sustain the heavy weight of the knight’s armor. This particular horse breed originated from France and ways around 2,000 pounds. Noah and his friend Webster both decided to retire to Tollgate after a long career working at Greenfield Village.


Peppers have great listening skills

The Peppers took turns petting Noah and feeling how soft and thick his coat is. While the Peppers were petting, the well-mannered Noah was nonchalantly munching on some grass. Van noticed and replied, “He would be a good lawn mower.” Mr. Roy and the others just chuckled in agreement.

After Noah was put away, Mr. Roy took the whole Pepper group out to the woods for a Maple syrup tour. Mr. Roy knows a lot about making Maple syrup because he took the little Peppers through the whole process. To begin, they had to pick out a Maple tree. He says it is fairly simple to find a Maple tree in the woods at Tollgate because of the branches. The branches of maple trees are directly opposite each other (think of your arms or legs), unlike others that have alternating branches. Maple trees also have easily identifiable leaves. And if that stuff doesn’t help, look for trees that have been tapped before! Many of the trees in the forests at Tollgate will have old holes in them from being tapped in previous years.

Stretching out like a Maple tree.

Stretching out like a Maple tree.

To tap a tree, the Peppers had to drill a hole about two inches deep and six inches away from all previous tap holes on the tree. Once the hole was drilled, they inserted a tube so that the sap could drain from the tree into a bucket. Peppers of all ages were so excited to help Mr. Roy with the power drill. From what I heard, little Julia L. has quite the grip!

Yellow Peppers

There she goes!

Though they did not see any sap today, if weather permits, there might be some sap collected in the Peppers’ buckets by tomorrow.  It was a little too chilly today to yield the best sap results. Once the weather maintains temperatures below freezing at night and above freezing during the day, those buckets will be over-flowing with sap! And once we have lots of sap we can start making syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup, so that is a lot of buckets!

After learning all about how Maple syrup is made, it was only natural for my Pepper friends to want to try some syrup. Over in the Garden Kitchen Mr. Alan was busy with the first snack of the day. The Peppers were going to pop their own popcorn with Maple syrup! Mr. Alan filled the popper with corn kernels and some oil and let magic do the rest. He pulled out his trust thermometer to measure the temperature of the popcorn kernels. The thermometer reached 250 degrees F before the first kernel popped. That is so hot!

It's getting very hot!

It’s getting very hot!

Once all the kernels were popped, Miss Mandy divided the corn out onto plates. She then went around with some warm Maple syrup for the Peppers to try. Everybody wanted a small drizzle of syrup on their popcorn, and boy was it good! Alexandra even asked politely for seconds!

Alexandra likes it.

Alexandra likes it.

After their yummy time in the kitchen, the Yellow peppers had a few moments before their next activity, so Miss Mandy decided to bring out a special treat for them. She came walking in the back door with a white, furry creature in her arms. This creature had black fur around his eyes and face and longer hair around his long ears. His back feet were much bigger than his front feet and his teeth were nice and flat, good for eating vegetables. His name is Alexander and he is a rabbit. The Peppers were so polite, waiting their turn to pet the little guy and staying nice and quiet so they wouldn’t scare him. My friends were sad to see him leave, but understood that he had to go back into his cage. “Goodbye, Alexander!” they piped up in unison.

He's so soft, Miss Mandy!

He’s so soft, Miss Mandy!

My favorite camp game is camouflage. This game is a little hard for me to play though, considering I’m black and white. There are a lot less things in nature that I could successfully hide behind, unlike a lot of my friends. I saw the Orange Peppers out playing this today, and they did so great! Chloe and Aaron stood on their perch trying to find the other hiding Peppers. With each blink of an eye, they moved closer and closer to their food source. Sydney and Matthew mastered this game pretty easily. They might have success living in the wild (if only they had nice fur like me, or thick wool like Buddy!).

The camouflage game!

That's great camouflage!







The final activity of the day was one of the sweetest. My young Peppers made Tollgate Farm SB & J (Sunbutter and Jam)! The jam was handcrafted by all the young Peppers, taking turn mashing the berries, measuring the sugar and adding the pectin to preserve it. And everybody knows, you can’t have strawberry jam and not have peanut butter! Well, we didn’t have peanut butter. We do things a little different here at the farm, so Mr. Alan challenged the Peppers to make their own “butter.” The Peppers met that challenge head-on. They ground up the sunflower seeds in the food processor, added some oil and a dash of honey to get a slightly sweeter flavor. And presto snack-o! Sunbutter and jam on wheat crackers. This stuff was so delicious, I heard my polite little Peppers started licking their plates clean! For the record, you didn’t get that from me!

I can’t wait to see you all again tomorrow!

A natural-born star!





With lots of licks…I mean love!

Murphy the Calf




Today’s Recipes

Popcorn and Maple Syrup

  • Popcorn popper
  • Popcorn kernels
  • Oil
  • Maple syrup


  1. This one is really simple. Add the kernels and some oil to the popcorn popper. not too much oil, but enough to cover the bottom.
  2. Turn on and wait for the popcorn to pop! Listen to the popping; turn off the popper when there is 3 seconds between each pop. You can count it out!
  3. Microwave syrup or a few seconds or until it becomes a little runny.
  4. Put popped corn into bowls and drizzle syrup over the top. Enjoy!


Strawberry Jam

  • 4 cups crushed strawberries or blackberries (about 1 quart)
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 2 packages of powdered pectin
  • 2 cups water


  1. Sort and wash the ripe berries. Remove caps and stems and them crush the berries. You can also use frozen berries instead (like we did), just make sure you let them thaw a little bit before you try crushing!
  2. Place prepared berries in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, mix well and let stand for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dissolve pectin in water and boil for 1 minute.  Ad pectin solution to berry-and-sugar mixture; stir for 2 minutes.
  3. Pour jam into freezer containers or canning jars, leaving a half inch headspace at the top. Close covers on containers and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
  4. Store uncooked jams in refrigerator or freezer. They can be held up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator or up to a year in a freezer. Once a container is opened, jam should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a few days. If kept at room temperature they will mold or ferment in a short time.


Sun Butter

  • 3 cups sunflower seeds
  • Oil
  • Honey
  • Food processor


  1. Process into a fine powder consistency.
  2. This is where many people trip up when making sunbutter. Do not add olive oil yet, or you will end up with a mealy, grainy, unappetizing mess. Sunflower seeds need to process for quite a while, about ten minutes. The reason being that they will eventually begin to release their oils. This will turn your sunflower powder into sunbutter. So after about finve minutes, your mixture will start to get a teensy bit moist, but still crumbly.
  3. Keep processing it. Soon it will release more oil, and get a sheen to it, and look more moist. At this point, add a teaspoon of honey because the flavor is nice, but you don’t have to. Keep processing and watch as more oils are released, until it starts to resemble peanut butter. Now have a taste, so good, right?!
  4. Think about what consistency you prefer your sunbutter to be. While the processor is running, drizzle olive oil into the mixture until it reaches the consistency you desire. Enjoy!
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