Keeping The Prairie Past Alive with First-hand Stories and Heirloom Recipes

A family gathers around their patriarchs, who each hold Midewin 25th Anniversary poster copies


Photo: Four generations of the extended Shumacher family in summer of 2021. USDA Forest Service photo.

Preserving Farm History: Keeping The Prairie Past Alive with First-hand Stories and Heirloom Recipes

September 15, 2021

Alvin (“Al”) and Robert (“Bob”) Schumacher recently brought together four generations of their extended families to the Iron Bridge Trailhead to share their stories of growing up there on the Schumacher family farm – "Fairview Farm" – in the 1930s.

“Those were the years of the Great Depression,” Bob recalled. “People would come out from Joliet on foot to work on the farms out here for a dollar a day.”

Amid osage orange trees and black walnut trees, they raised white rock chickens and sold their eggs for 10 cents a dozen. Today, farm-fresh eggs cost about $5 a dozen.

Al recalled how his dad took a creative approach to cool milk faster at milking time. He attached a milk stirrer to an oscillating pump that was in place as a mechanism for a well. “The action of the milk stirrer cooled the milk much quicker than just setting the eight-gallon can in water,” Al said.

A man gives a talk next to a historic picture of the Shumacher Homestead
A man and a woman pose in front of yellow wildflowers.
A golden apple pie sits atop a patriotic picnic display.

Photo captions: Family members listen to a presentation from Bob Shumacher on the history of the site. Al Sumacher and family pose along a trail. Verna Shumacher's recipie recreated. All photos USDA Forest Service photos.

“The better cows provided two gallons of milk twice a day,” Al said.

He told the story of the day when a group of men from Joliet made an unexpected visit to the one-room schoolhouse where he went to school. The schoolhouse was located about one mile southeast of the farm, in the area where the bison sometimes graze now. The men had escaped from prison, had survived a big snowfall the night before and now they were looking for a place to warm up. “They picked the wrong day,” Al said. 

This year, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie volunteers – including Al and Bob – received the National Grasslands Council award for self-guided interpretive hikes on the prairie, which include recordings of Al and Bob telling their stories. A tour through the farmsteads, where foundations of the Schumacher house and more are visible, is a screen-tap away on your mobile device.


By Verna Schumacher

Pumpkin Pie
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 and 2/3 cups whole milk
  • 1 ½ cups cooked pumpkin (or 15-ounce can)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Beat together eggs and sugar; then add in salt. Blend all this and pour into a deep-dish 9-inch pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, and then decrease temperature to 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Rhubarb Custard Pie
  • 3 to 4 cups of rhubarb, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Put into 8- to 9-inch-deep pie shell.
  • Mix together 1 ¼ cups sugar and ½ cup flour, and sprinkle over rhubarb.


  • 3 eggs and 3 tablespoons sugar
  • a dash of salt (about ¼ teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon or nutmeg.

Hand whip until well-mixed; pour over rhubarb. Bake at 425 degrees until bubbles, then decrease to 350 degrees for 40 minutes. 

Springerle Cookies

A traditional German cookie made with an embossing rolling pin.

4 eggs and 1 ¼ teaspoon anise flavoring – beat, then add 2 cups powdered sugar and 2 cups flour.

Beat well and turn out on a lightly floured board, and knead. Roll out dough to ¼-inch thick. Using a springerle rolling pin or mold, cut cookies and leave them out overnight. Bake them in the morning at 300-325 until just light straw color.

Cut Sugar Cookies
  • 1 cup lard
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Cream lard and sugar. In separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Mix in eggs, vanilla and sour cream. Then add dry ingredients; add flour to stiffen; chill for 1 hour. Roll out dough. Use cookie cutters for shapes. Bake at 350 until straw color.  


  • In the Schumacher farmhouse, there were two stoves. One was a wood-burning stove that Verna she would use to bake her pies during the cold winter months. The other was a modern electric stove she used during the summer months to bake.
  • Verna Schumacher made pie every day. The Schumacher family had pie each day and sometimes twice a day. Sometimes breakfast was pie!
  • For her pie crusts, Verna Schumacher utilized eggs and lard that came directly from the family farm.
  • When rhubarb was in season, Verna Schumacher made Rhubarb Custard Pie. She also made rhubarb sauce, (much like apple sauce), cakes and more

More Information on the Schumacher Heritage Farmstead

Self-Guided Interpretive Tour Of The Rodgers-Schumacher Heritage Farmstead Sites

Experience the prairie farmstead site how it is today! A tour through the farmsteads, where foundations of the Schumacher house and outbuildings are visible, is a screen-tap away on your mobile device.

In 2021, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie volunteers – including Al and Bob Schumacher – received the National Grasslands Council Award for the self-guided interpretive tours, which include recordings of Al and Bob.  

Printable Guide

You can print out a Heritage Farmstead Guide at home to bring with you to the Iron Bridge Trailhead

Prairie Farmer Display

Historic Schumacher family farm items are on display at the Wilmington Island Park District community center, which is located at 315 N. Water St., Wilmington, IL 60481. Get a close-up look at history right near where the items were utilized every day.  

History and Culture

Our History and Culture section contains more about the history of the Heritage Farmsteads at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

Genealogy and Ancestry

View our index of pioneer cemeteries and single burials dating back to the Euro-American settlement period.