Apple Picking: A Fun Family Tradition
Off to the Farm
Apple picking didn't start out as tradition for our family, but it turned into one in no time. I don't even remember the first time we had the idea for this family outing, I only remember that we enjoyed it so much, we went again the following September, and every September thereafter.
I have always thought of apple picking as a "cold-weather" activity, but, because my family was for years partial to MacIntosh apples, we would go when the MacIntosh were at their best. This always seemed to be mid to late September. Sometimes we would go and pick apples while we baked in the sun, and other years apple picking day would happily fall on one of those days when you could feel the cool air of autumn approaching. Those days were our favorite.
In upstate New York there are a great many apple orchards, so, depending on how far from home you prefer to go, you have a wide variety of farms to choose from. Before we settled on a favorite we tried several in the Dutchess County area. After a couple or so years we decided to adopt Fishkill Farms in lower Dutchess as our "go to" apple picking farm.
Leave the Tree Trunks Alone!
Apple picking day is a wonderful time to create memories without spending a lot of money. At most apple orchards there is a minimal charge for apples you pick from the trees and place in your bag. Whether you leave with your bag bursting at the seams or with just a few apples lining the bottom, the price is usually the same; you pay by the bag. The orchards are grouped by the names of the different varieties of apples. Cars line the road as people park along the dirt path and walk down the lanes looking for trees that have not been picked over. When my children were growing up, they loved the pole we were given as we drove into the farm. The pole had spikes on the end that were attached to small cloth bag. It is designed to be used for the higher branches on the trees that were beyond our reach. We would choose an apple and lift the pole up to it, placing the small cloth bag underneath it and cutting it from its branch with the spikes on the end of the pole. The apple would simply fall into the bag on the end. The kids would bicker over who would get to use it first. I think it was one of their favorite parts of the day.
Many of the trunks of the apple trees were lined with poison ivy. We only became aware of this fact the year my son decided to climb the tree to see how close he could get to the top. The next day we realized that the trunks of apple trees are better left alone! Calomine Lotion became his closest friend for the next week or so...
After we filled up our bags with apples, we would always visit the "general store". As became part of our tradition, we would buy a bag of fresh apple donuts and we would each get a cup of hot apple cider. We would buy a gallon of apple cider to take home and maybe an apple cake or an apple pie as well. The baked goods, as well as the cider, were all made on the premises, and tasted like heaven!
Back at home with our apples, I would makes plans to do some baking of my own. I would fill a large Dutch oven with water, set it to boiling, and, once a couple of dozen apples were peeled, cored, and sliced, I would place them into the boiling water to soften. When they began to fall apart at the touch of a fork, I would take them out of the pot, drain, and place them in a large bowl. Depending on the number of apples I had used, I would add sugar and cinnamon to taste and mix with an electric mixer until it was a smooth consistency. Homemade applesauce!
The children always looked forward to those years when their father would bake a "mile high apple pie". He would start making the dough from scratch the first day, and actually be able to shape it into pie crust on the second day. He would place the dough in the bottom of the pie plate and then, after peeling, coring, and slicing the apples (nice and thin), he would place the pieces all around the pie plate and pile them high above the top edges. He would sprinkle a cinnamon and sugar mixture across the top of the apple slices and then he would place the top crust over the mountain of apple slices and spice mixture. When the pie came out of the oven, the apples were still as high as they were when the pie went into the oven, and it was by far the best apple pie we've ever eaten! He had brushed the top crust with beaten egg to give it a golden brown color, and the apple and spice mixture placed on top of the apple slices would seep down through the pie as it baked.
Every year I would slice up apples to make an apple crisp that was a favorite with the family. We would eat it soon after it came out of the oven when it was still warm, and I would always have lots of vanilla ice cream in the freezer to place on top.
Apples are a very versatile fruit. They can be used for an unending number of desserts, as well as adding them to main dish recipes and even vegetables. I have found more recipes than I can use by just going online to Google and also by using the "Allrecipes" app on my iPhone. I recommend each one for delicious ideas when cooking and baking with apples.
September will be upon us before we know it! If you are looking for a really fun activity for the entire family, think about apple picking. Picking the apples is just the beginning. Most apple orchards now offer special activities that include a corn maze, pumpkin picking, hayrides, a petting zoo, and much more! Do your research before you head out so you'll know which orchard will give you the most of what your family is looking for.