Persimmon Hill Farm, a homegrown taste of the Ozarks

When Earnie and Martha Bohner planted their fields of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, plums and more, they wanted to provide top quality berries and fruit in the scenic lakeside country near Branson, Missouri. The concept worked and tourists began flocking to the pristine you-pick farm where the blueberries hang like clusters of grapes from seven-foot tall bushes and the blackberries are huge – but thornless and in neatly trimmed rows.

Berry picking is a great family outdoor activity,” Earnie says. “You can bring the kids or the grandkids, participate in a family harvest experience together in our peaceful environment, and pick the ripest, most delicious berries you’ll ever put in your mouth, plus you can eat all you want while you’re picking.” The berries are not sprayed with anything and sampling them right off the bush is encouraged – one of the reasons many people enjoy picking their own berries.

Blueberries ripen first, usually around June 1, then gooseberries and blackberries. The farm is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays. The farm provides buckets and bags, everything visitors need to pick. Come early for breakfast before you pick, Earnie suggests. The farm bakes huge Blueberry Thunder Muffins, and guests can enjoy coffee and muffins hot from the oven on the shaded porch overlooking the blueberry field. Additional farm specialties available daily include fresh-baked cobblers, whole or in individual servings with ice cream, and frozen “Blueberry Sleet” drinks.

Already picked berries are offered as well. The Bohners suggest calling to check on availability before driving out.

Since beginning the farm in 1983, the Bohners found fresh berries to be a hit, but the challenge was to come up with something to take the business year-round.

Earnie and Martha started with blueberry, blackberry and raspberry jams so full of berries and rich berry flavor that the products gained an immediate following. When the couple added Shiitake mushrooms to the foods grown on the farm, they enlisted the aid oflocal Chef Bob Nicol to develop a signature product, their Shiitake Mushroom Sauce, a flavorful sauce for chicken, beef or pasta. Then came their Blueberry Barbecue Sauce, a tangy sauce which garnered first place in the American Royal International Barbecue Contest in Kansas City in 1994. A spicier Raspberry Summer Sauce followed, a rich apple butter, a sweet Blackberry Glaze for grilling, “Croutakie” mushroom toppings, and more awards for their products, including two more first place ribbons in the American Royal.

In 1999, the farm added Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, a Gooseberry Walnut Jam and a combination blueberry, gooseberry, black walnut jam the couple calls Nutty Blue Goose. A delicious Blueberry Syrup was added, and then Blueberry Amaretto Syrup.

Today, the farm’s food products, made in the commercial kitchen the couple built adjacent to the blueberry field, are shipped all over the United States. A huge picture window on the porch of the farm’s store lets customers watch as Earnie and his crew make the delicious jams and sauces, hand poured, with great attention to quality given to each jar. Summer visitors can also see the gigantic Blueberry Thunder Muffins and cobblers being made. The couple’s daughter Savannah, 14, helps in weighing berries, filling to-go boxes of muffins and cobblers, stocking the shelves and ferrying customers’ purchases to their cars.

“What we like most is providing our customers with the best products that can be produced,” Earnie Bohner said. “We’re a small farm operation using an old-fashioned system – farm-fresh, top quality ingredients, top quality taste and individual service.”

Persimmon Hill Farm offers mail order packages of jams, sauces, dried mushrooms and more in attractive wooden gift crates during the holidays (as well as year round). A Shiitake Mushroom log kit, inoculated with the flavorful Shiitake Mushrooms and ready to grow, is a unique and productive gift. Also available during the holiday mail-order season are a half-dozen Blueberry Thunder Muffins, fresh-baked and shipped in a muffin tin – a great change from fruitcake.

The farm’s fresh-baked specialties can be produced at home with The Persimmon Hill Farm Cookbook. The cookbook has recipes ranging from the farm’s signature Blueberry Thunder Muffins and Crunch-top Cobblers to Raspberry Ice Cream Pie, Jam-filled Scones and Berry Cheesecake Tarts.

Products and information are available on the farm’s web site, a mail order brochure, call or write Persimmon Hill Farm, 367 Persimmon Hill Lane, Lampe, Mo. 65681; (417) 779-5443.