On one of the last sunny and warm days that the Pittsburgh region will see for several months, I traveled with 3 other food studies students, Alyssa, Teresa, and Jenalee to Sand Hill Berries Farm in Mount Pleasant, a small town 45 minutes outside of Pittsburgh. Although I was nearly drowning in schoolwork, I didn’t care. Berries, wine, and sprawling farmland were calling my name. Teresa, with curly hair and infectious smile, drove us fearlessly through the Parkway east rush hour traffic. Before we knew it, we were out of urban Pittsburgh, and surrounded by rolling green hills and quaint houses shadowed by changing hues of the Laurel Mountains.
For the past several weeks I have worked with Rob Schilling at the Market Square Farmer’s Market, helping him sell various baked goods, apples, and jams to his happy and addicted patrons. (It is a well known fact that his raspberry chocolate cookies and blackberry pie are addicting). I was really excited to come out to the farm and see where everything I sold (and ate) on a weekly basis was made. As we pulled on to the property, we were greeted by Rob and his friendly adopted black lab.
It was the perfect fall day, with just a small nip in the air as we walked upon the expansive grounds at Sand Hill Berries Farm. Rob’s dog followed us around, running through bushes and wagging her tail as we were lead around. We learned about the history of the farm as we walked the grounds, with 12 guinea fowl pecking the ground nearby. We toured the apple orchard, berry fields, and vineyard with a small tour of the processing plant (aka the bakery). The smells emitted from that building were short of heavenly. Buttery, fruity goodness wafted upon every molecule of air. As if I wasn’t hungry enough…
Sand Hill Berries also has a winery on site, called Greendance Winery. We tested wines from a rhubarb fruit wine, their famous Isabella wine, to a smoky dry red called Barbera which I couldn’t help but take home. They had a seasonal special libation called Applejack cider that was phenomenal. A homemade apple cider spiked with their dry syrah wine and spices served warm that was like drinking in a crisp fall night by the fire. PA wines get a bad reputation sometimes, but Greendance Winery blasts away all of that negativity. PA wine can be great, which is evidenced by their growing customer base, and the fact that between the 4 of us, we took home 8 bottles.
After our tour, we stopped in the Farm Store to check out their baked goods, fresh apples, jams, and other goods. Even though I work with Sand Hill every Thursday, I couldn’t stop myself from getting some of their famous raspberry vinaigrette, and a raspberry chocolate cookie (of course). Everyone we met that day, from workers in the kitchen, the winemakers, the tasting expert, and of course Rob mirrored the kindness and warmth that all of their baked products exude. It’s truly a family run operation that cares about their products, land, and community.
After our day of walking the fields, processing plant, and winery, Teresa, Jenalee, Alyssa, and I sat outside on the patio devouring Sand Hill’s homemade Cheesecake that was smothered in a fresh raspberry dessert sauce. The creaminess of the cheesecake paired perfectly with the sugary tartness of the raspberry sauce. A few honey bees wandered by and tried to taste some as well. The heat of the late October sun poured down upon us as we enjoyed our dessert, and I nearly exploded from the enormous cheesecake serving. The enormous calorie load that I just ingested was totally worth it.
With bellies full of cheesecake and berries, we started our drive home, chasing the sun, and returning closer to the stacks of readings and homework that awaited us. At least for a few brief hours we had a break from the intensity of academic work, surrounded by berries, animals, and good company. I vow to go back, because the Farmer’s market is almost over, and I’ll need my fix of chocolate raspberry cookies and local wine. If you are ever interested in some local baked goods, jams, wines, and other fruits check out Sand Hill Berries. You will not be disappointed!
All photos courtesy of Jenalee Schenk