Story, photos and recipes by Cynthia Nobles
With cool weather around the corner, Chuck and Jackie Melsheimer of CM Farms have just opened the gates to a much-anticipated outdoor activity for the whole family, their annual corn maze.
The Melsheimers operate a 1,300-acre farm in Dry Creek, a rural community in the east-central part of Beauregard Parish. On pastureland, the couple raises 500 cattle, which are mainly crossbreds, along with Angus, Hereford, and Brahman bulls. They also have an impressive herd of longhorns.
In the spring they operate a U-Pick-It strawberry patch on 4 manicured acres. “During summer, we grow 30 acres of watermelons and cantaloupes,” says Jackie of the enormous amount of melons CM Far produces. “We take some to farmer’s markets, but we sell most of it wholesale by the truckload.”
Since not every kid is lucky enough to live on a farm, during the fall and spring, the Melsheimers welcome in the public.
For years, many of Louisiana’s elementary-aged schoolchildren have taken field trips to CM Farms, where youngsters get to participate in a whopping 50+ activities. “Kids can pet goats, sheep, cows, pigs, chickens, peacocks, and turkeys,” says Jackie. “They can take pony rides, and we offer wagon rides to see our spectacular longhorns.”
There’s also a barrel train ride, a gem stone mine, and playground equipment, along with active games such as paint ball, laser tag, and “Aqua Blaster” water guns.
Kids can also watch live milking demonstrations at the Milk Barn. They can tour the Antique Barn, with its display of vintage tools and equipment. There’s also the Brands Wall, a display of working cattle brands of the Melsheimers’ friends and neighbors and of their own family brands that go back generations.
Adults and children alike can learn from another can’t-miss exhibit, the historic Turner homestead, which belonged to Jackie’s great-great-grandparents, Archie and Jane Turner. The restored wooden, single-story dogtrot home houses family mementos, as well as a collection of Archie’s Civil War records.
Interestingly, there’s a credible story that Archie attended the Civil War surrender ceremony on April 9, 1865, at the McLean House in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. “Archie was standing only ten feet away from General Robert E. Lee,” Jackie says of her ancestor.
Of all the activities on CM Farms, the most popular is the corn maze. “We actually have two mazes,” Jackie says. The small one is one acre. It’s best for young children, and its theme is “Spookley the Square Pumpkin,” and is dotted with easy-to-play games.
The large maze sprawls over 10 acres. It’s a towering labyrinth of twists, turns, and dead ends, all carved into a field of sorghum-sudan. “Sorghum-sudan is more drought tolerant than corn,” Jackie says of the fast-growing, heat-loving grass. “And it makes a beautiful, neat maze.”
Like the small maze, the large one features games to play, such as word puzzles and “Mazeopoly” and “Farm Scene Investigation,” which is sort of like the time-honored board game Clue.
If winding through a corn maze makes you hungry, you can visit one of the farm’s many food stands. Pete’s Place, Calf-A, Outpost, Allison’s Sweets & Treats, Sweet Shoppe, and Chris’s Place offer a myriad of refreshments ranging from cheeseburgers, crawfish pies, and chicken wings, to fresh-squeezed lemonade, fresh-baked cookies, kettle corn, fudge, and ice cream. You can enjoy your lunch on picnic tables that are shaded under a large pavilion. For souvenirs, plenty of fresh pumpkins are for sale, as well as jams, jellies, T-shirts, and gifts.
Operation of the farm is truly a family affair that depends on help from the Melsheimers’ 23-year-old twins, Christopher and Allison, as well as Christopher’s fiancée, Meredith, and Allison’s husband, J. T. Reeves. Christopher and Meredith are getting married this November. This year Allison may have to ease up a little, since she’s just given birth to Jackie and Chuck’s first grandchild, Charlie.
Jackie, who graduated from McNeese, says she gave up teaching sixth grade English to work on the farm full-time with her husband, who has a degree from LSU in Animal Science. “Chuck and I both came from farming families,” Jackie says. “I grew up close to here. Chuck is from Plaquemine, and he moved to the western part of the state to make it on his own.”
The couple married in 1997 and moved onto 100 acres that Chuck bought six months earlier. Through the years they acquired more and more land that was scattered in four locations. They first opened the corn maze in 2009. By 2011, they had relocated and consolidated to their present location, where they moved buildings, animals, maze equipment, and their family.
Jackie says that her family is living a life they love. And she hopes that the children who visit her working farm not only have fun, but leave with a better understanding of farm life.
CM Farms is open to the public this fall on weekends from September 30-November 26. Weekday visits are by reservation only. For ticket prices or to reserve a spot for your group check out their website: cmfarmsllc.com. Address: 252 CM Farms Road, Dry Creek, Louisiana, 70637.
Do you have a Louisiana agriculture story or a recipe you’d like to share? Contact me at email@example.com
Cynthia Nobles is the cookbook editor for LSU Press and the author/co-author of several historical cookbooks, including A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook, The Delta Queen Cookbook, The Jay Ducote Cookbook, and The Fonville Winans Cookbook.
Makes 4 servings
Unlike most sandwiches, the muffuletta only gets better when it sits a few hours, after the olive salad juices have soaked in, making it perfect for any fall picnic.
1 cup coarsely chopped pimento-stuffed green olives, drained
½ cup pitted black olives, drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped red onion or pickled cocktail onions
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 (9- to 10-inch) round loaf of Italian-style bread
6 ounces thinly sliced salami
6 ounces thinly sliced provolone cheese
6 ounces thinly sliced ham
1. Combine all Olive Salad ingredients in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a container and refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Keeps tightly covered in the refrigerator 1 month.
2. When ready to make sandwich, split bread in half like a hamburger bun. On bun bottom, layer on salami, cheese, and ham. Keeping the juice, use a slotted spoon to top the ham with the olive salad. Spread the reserved olive salad juice on the cut side of the top piece of bread, and put the bread on top of the sandwich. Press down gently to compress. Cut sandwich into quarters. Tightly wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Let sit at least 1 hour.
Makes 4 servings
4 cups green cabbage, shredded
1 cup bok choy, Napa cabbage, or red cabbage, julienned
1 large carrot, grated
¼ cup minced green onion
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
Honey Sesame Dressing (recipe follows)
½ cup roasted peanuts
In a large bowl, combine green cabbage, bok choy, carrot, green onion, and cilantro. Up to 12 hours before, toss with Honey Sesame Dressing and peanuts. Keep in the refrigerator or an ice chest until serving time.
Honey Sesame Dressing
Makes about ⅔ cup.
¼ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
Combine all ingredients in a covered glass jar and shake well.
Peanut and Pecan Cracker Jack
Makes 3 quarts
This caramel-coated treat is always a hit with kids and adults alike.
3 quarts popped corn
2 cups toasted, shelled peanuts
1½ cups pecan halves
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1½ cups light brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a sheet pan or large cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Combine popped corn, peanuts, and pecans in a large metal or glass bowl and set aside.
2. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, stirring constantly, until butter just starts to turn tan. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, vinegar, and salt. Return to medium-low heat, bring to a boil, and cook, without stirring, until mixture reaches 250°F, about 5 minutes.
3. Remove pot from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda. Pour syrup over popcorn and nuts and stir until syrup is evenly distributed. (Be careful, syrup is extremely hot.) Spread popcorn on sheet pan and bake 15 minutes.
4. Remove from oven and stir well, making sure to scrape up and blend in any accumulated syrup. Spread popcorn evenly in pan again and bake 15 more minutes. Remove from oven, stir well, and allow to cool. Break into pieces. Store tightly covered at room temperature up to 2 weeks.
Cranberry Pecan Pumpkin Bread
Makes 2 loaves
3½ cups all-purpose flour
2½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
⅔ cup orange juice
2 cups chopped pecans
2 cups dried cranberries
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat insides of two 9x5-inch loaf pans with oil, then dust with flour.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In another bowl mix together pumpkin, oil, eggs, and water. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined. Gently stir in pecans and cranberries. Batter will be thick.
3. Divide batter between the 2 prepared pans. Bake 60-75 minutes, until a large crack develops on the top and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on a rack.