Cultivating (and Enjoying) Apples and Pumpkins, Creation’s Fall Bounty

Catholic stewards of the land offer autumnal produce and festivities to their local communities and give glory to God for his abundance.

A granddaughter of Fran Barten holds her priced pumpkin at Barten Pumpkins in Minnesota; the apples and festivies are shown at Country Mills Farms in Michigan.
A granddaughter of Fran Barten holds her priced pumpkin at Barten Pumpkins in Minnesota; the apples and festivies are shown at Country Mills Farms in Michigan. (photo: Courtesy of Fran Barten and Steve Tennes)

Did you know that St. Charles Borromeo is the patron saint of apple orchards? The Church celebrates him at the height of fall, Nov. 4.

In autumn, a new spectrum of farm-fresh crops appears on market shelves. Perhaps the most popular — in desserts, entrées, breakfast sweets and even soups — are cheerfully shiny green, red, yellow and red-orange apples. According to several sources, apple varieties worldwide total about 7,500, with about 2,500 alone in the United States. 

And plump pumpkins — not a vegetable but a fruit — run a close-second fall favorite. Fortunately for pumpkin lovers, the USDA reported that, in 2020, more than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins were harvested. Perhaps the most popular is the big, round orange variety that usually gets carved for Halloween celebrations and the flesh of which turns up in numerous recipes. Who can imagine a Thanksgiving dinner without pumpkin pie?

Thanks to lifelong Catholic and pumpkin-farm lady Fran Barten, Barten Pumpkins in New Prague, Minnesota, continues running its elaborate pumpkin (and other produce) farm; Mrs. Barten is supported in the effort by her family, following her farmer husband’s death several years ago. 

The couple started their 160-acre farm to grow soy, corn, pumpkins and other crops. Then, one year, extra pumpkins grew, and the couple turned it into a challenge to find the largest pumpkin. People would drop off their pumpkins in the challenge, and that inspired the Bartens to plant more pumpkins, growing their gourd crop from one to three acres. 

The Barten farm grows 30 different varieties of pumpkins, “some colored, such as black, pink, gray, green, blue — many colors. The orange pumpkins come in many varieties of size and shapes, and my family is so happy when I say, ‘Time to pick,’” Barten explained to the Register. 

When her husband passed, her family chose to keep the farm going, so they made playground areas for visiting kids and a log cabin, which Barten’s grandchildren built. “It is a very peaceful, happy place,” said the matriarch, who also likes to offer family recipes (see below). “And we enjoy being together.”

“Farming is a total reliance on God,” she continued, “and even without rain or sunshine, we still trust him, and he is in charge.” 

Fellow farmers Steve and Bridget Tennes, also Catholics, run the 213-acre Country Mills Farms  in Charlotte, Michigan. 

“In 2003, we moved to the family farm because it is a great environment to raise our children in accordance with our values,” Steve Tennes said. “We raise blueberries, pumpkins, sunflowers, corn, peaches and 30 varieties of apples. These include Honey Crisp, which is the most popular in Michigan, and we also grow Gala, Fuji and Crimson Crisp, plus others. … We grow close to 20,000 bushels. Our farm is also a farm market, bakery, winery and cider mill. Half of the apples get pressed into cider for drinks, apple-cider vinegar, hard cider and apple wine. And we sell apple pies and doughnuts.”

The Tennes family started a program 15 years ago called “Pick a Peck for People” that they host every fall. “Our customers picked over 11,400 pounds of apples in just four hours on Oct. 30,” he said. “This is one way we strive to integrate our Catholic faith into the farm. We donate the apples, and volunteers donate their time by picking apples for local food banks, including our parish’s St. Vincent de Paul food bank.” 

He added that he and his family are blessed to be stewards of the land: “Our mission is to glorify God by facilitating family fun on the farm and feeding families. Our goal is to integrate our Catholic faith in all that we do on the farm.”


Barten Pumpkin Bars

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 cup oil

2 cups pumpkin purée or one 15-ounce can of pumpkin purée

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12 x 18 x 1-inch baking sheet.

Mix the first four ingredients well in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture. Pour into the greased pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool before frosting.


Frosting Recipe

One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

3/4 stick butter, softened

1 tablespoon cream or milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups powdered sugar

Beat the first four ingredients until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, and beat again until smooth. Frost immediately.


Tennes Apple Pie Filling

6 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (6 medium)

3/4 cup sugar 

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine filling in crust of your choice. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until apples are tender, and crust is golden brown.

Alexandra Greeley’s new book is Catholics in the Kitchen (TAN Books).