Fall means many things to different people, but for me it’s all about the apples. During this time of year, I can’t get enough of anything made with apples – cider, pie, turnovers, applesauce, butter, and the list just keeps going on. I love eating apples, but I’ve never picked apples. I know that sounds crazy because I seem to pick everything from peas to strawberries, but there are no orchards that let you pick them yourself where I come from. Over the summer, my wife told me that she really wanted to try to make applesauce this year and she’s been waiting for October to get here ever since. There are many apple farms to choose from in New England, so we decided to make a day of it and drive into New Hampshire. This gave us the opportunity to not only pick apples, but to also see the leaves at their peak. We’ve always traveled to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to look at the leaves, but have always dreamed of being in this area to see the changing of the season. Though it was a great opportunity, the weather, as we have come to learn, doesn’t always cooperate.
It’s usually sunny when my wife and I go to a farm to pick the produce of the moment, but we happened to choose a rainy day for picking apples, but it didn’t matter. We drove for just over an hour to the town of Concord, New Hampshire. This town is famous as the home of the 14th President of the United States, Franklin Pierce. However, when you go outside of the town you find that it’s one of those beautiful places that make you want to lose your map and get lost for hours. A few minutes outside of town we found Carter Hill Orchard (www.carterhillapples.com) sitting at the end of a dirt driveway on top of a hill.
From the moment you step out of your car you know that this place knows what they’re doing when it comes to growing apples. There are trees as far as the eye can see (I’m serious, they really do go on forever) with a huge variety of apples from Macintosh to Macoun, Empire to Golden Delicious. If the fields of apple trees aren’t enough proof, the painting on the front of the building makes it clear that you’re in Johnny Appleseed country.
That’s right, he was real. John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed, was born in Massachusetts, but did spend time in New Hampshire. We summoned our inner Johnny Appleseed and walked into the farm store to find out what we had to do to start picking. Very quickly we were delayed in our picking adventure by another fall weakness of mine: apple cider donuts. Lets be clear, these are some of the best that I’ve ever had and I’ve had many over the course of my life. They are baked fresh and we were lucky enough to buy them when they were still warm. We also found out that the orchard also offers unfiltered, unpasteurized apple cider, which is heaven for any cider connoisseur. With donuts and cider in hand, we made our way to the fields.
We picked a large variety of apples to eat at home, but most of the picking was in preparation for making applesauce in November (we froze the apples and I’ll tell you how later in the post). One of the owners told us that we should use equal parts of Macintosh and Macoun for making applesauce. We figured that she would definitely know what she’s talking about and took her advice. In total, we ended up picking over 40 pounds of apples, including a variety of other eating apples to snack on at home. The best part is that their price per pound when you pick them yourself is $0.90 per pound (as of fall 2014). You can’t beat that! Their cider and donuts, as well as everything else featured at their store is equally well priced and worth the drive.
The farm also features something that I wasn’t expecting: a raptor observatory. I was lucky to have grown up with red-tailed hawks and bald eagles literally right outside of my door. I would sometimes walk outside and see eagles in the field across the street or hawks in my yard grabbing a mouse for their meal. Raptors are a major part of our ecosystem and they are growing in numbers thanks to laws and regulations that have been put into place to protect them. This platform, known as the Carter Hill Raptor Observatory, provides an amazing, jaw dropping 360 degree view of the farm. From here, you have the opportunity to look for hawks and vultures. You can also get a great view of the surrounding countryside during leaf season. Take some time to check out this great feature and you’ll be amazed.
Once we got the apples home, we had to figure out what to do to keep these apples tasting good deep into winter. As frequent visitors to this blog know, I am a huge proponent of freezing fruits and vegetables for later use. This is especially true when I’m going to be making something like jam or sauce with them since the freezing helps them to break down faster. If you’re making applesauce, this method is perfect.
All that you have to do is get a large bowl of cold water and squeeze the juice of one or two lemons into it. Now clean and core your apples, then cut them into pieces that are about one inch thick. Put your apple slices into the bowl of water to keep them from turning brown. Place them on baking sheets that have been lined with parchment paper and place them in your freezer overnight. All that you have to do the next day is measure them into quantities that work for you, place them in freezer bags that have been clearly labeled, and stack them in the freezer for future use.
Going to a farm with your family and picking produce is an experience that I believe everyone should have. It lets you know where your food is coming from and you can feel good about supporting your local farmers. In Delaware, I would always see bumper stickers that read “No Farmers, No Food.” It’s something that you don’t think about walking into a regular grocery store, but it rings true when you’re talking to a farmer. U-pick apple season may be drawing to a close, but farm stores will still be open long into those colder months. Take some time to load your family into the car and visit a farm. You’ll get some delicious food along with some great memories.