For me, Fall is bittersweet. The days grow shorter, the air crisper, and as we were so brutally reminded last weekend, winter looms just around the corner. At the same time, the season does have some redeeming qualities. Fall brings us football and tailgating, 60-degree temperatures perfect for running along the Charles, and my personal favorite, Apples!
Apple picking is the quintessential Fall activity and no place takes it more seriously than our very own New England. A simple Google search finds dozens of pick-your-own orchards within a 1-2 hour drive of Boston. However, orchard owners must be reading Michael Porter during their spare time because several of the local orchards have created differentiated value propositions for their customers. Typical orchards, such as Carver Hill and Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stowe, Massachusetts, offer one-stop shops for Fall fun. Activities include: apple picking, hay rides, pumpkin patches, petting zoos, corn mazes, and bakeries complete with hot apple cider, pie and those famous apple cider donuts. While this is seen as the current industry standard, those looking for a less family-oriented event can head on over to Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton, Massachusetts. This vineyard/orchard offers pickers 13 different apple varieties. When you get tired of picking, or worried that if you keep picking you’ll be eating apples clear through winter, take a break and drink some wine while enjoying the scenic view. Yet, for apple purists like me, Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton, Massachusetts provides the ideal experience.
Autumn Hills is about 40 miles NW of Massachusetts in Groton, Massachusetts, a charming New England town with a long history of growing. A few miles past the town center we found Autumn Hills Orchard. The humble sign and dirt drive up to the barn house sets the stage for this old-fashioned picking experience. My husband and I parked our car beneath a Macintosh tree, a little taken aback by just how quiet it was. Used to the fanfare and crowds at other orchards, we were surprised and delighted to see that there were only four other cars in attendance at 11 a.m. on a Saturday. After taking a quick look around, we wandered into the barn and were greeted by two helpful employees. There, we were given a bag to accommodate up to ten pounds of apples and were instructed on what varieties of apples were ready to be picked.
Off to the trees! We hiked the gradual hill to the first trees, taking in the fresh air and scenic views. Every seasoned picker knows that the best fruit is up high, so without a soul in sight, we hopped up onto the branches in search of the perfect fruit. Perhaps it’s the pure joy of climbing a tree without anyone there to scold you, or memories evoked from years of picking, but once I’m in the tree twisting and ducking between branches, I can’t help but smile. We easily filled the first half of our sack with a variety of apples, some tart ones for baking (RI Greening), followed by some great tasting Empire and Macouns. Then, we reached the summit.
At the top of the hill, the farm has provided picnic tables spaced far apart so we could sit down, enjoy an apple, and take in the landscape. The 360 degree views of changing leaves and gorgeous rolling hills provides a perfect escape from cases! After enjoying the views, we found some sweet Galas and finished off our sack with a few Macintosh. We also took the liberty of hiking through other orchards, exploring the different varieties of apples (20+!), pears and plums ripening on the vine and we went back in time as we watched an employee drive an old-fashioned tractor through the orchard and hand-pick Galas for delivery to their local markets. Our day was complete when we stopped back into the barn to weigh our booty and pick up a half-gallon of fresh apple cider.
While some may scoff at the idea of apple-picking without sampling some fresh apple cider donuts, or taking a trip through the corn maze, we were delighted by the tranquility and beauty that met us at the Autumn Hills Orchard. Even better, since we weren’t tempted by ready-made pies and donuts, we actually got around to making a homemade apple pie for dessert!
Overpicked? If you’ve given up on your apple a day mantra and your sectionmates are also flush with apples, try the following recipes. Enjoy!
Simple Apple & Goat Cheese Salad
1 apple chopped in bite size pieces
1 oz. goat cheese crumpled
2 cups Fresh Spinach
1 part Balsamic Vinegar
2 parts Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fill salad bowl with spinach, top with apples, cranberries, walnuts and goat cheese. Dress Salad with simple oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste, enjoy!
Pasta di Mele
Compliments of Katie and Matthew Grayson
1 « lbs. ravioli (fresh or frozen – recommend 1/3 pound per person)
« lb. Italian sausage, sweet or spicy
2 small to medium tart apples (green works best)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cook ravioli according to package instructions.ÿCore apples and slice into thin pieces.ÿ Place apple pieces on lined baking sheet and roast in oven for 12-15 minutes, until soft and juicy. In the meantime, cook sausage in pan over medium heat until completely browned.ÿWhen apples are finished roasting, place them in pan with sausage and stir over low heat for 2-3 minutes. Place ravioli on plate and top with sausage and apple mixture.
Garlic Butter Sauce:
1/3 cup butter
2 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon fresh-cracked pepper
Melt butter in saucepan over low heat.ÿ Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.ÿ Add basil, oregano, and pepper and stir for 1 minute. Pour sauce over each serving of ravioli.
Easy Apple Tart
5-6 Cups of apples (pared, cored and thinly sliced) – sprinkle lemon juice over the sliced pieces to keep their color while you continue cutting the others
2/3 cup of brown sugar
« cup of white sugar
1/8 tsp of salt
« tsp of cinnamon
2 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of flour
Extra: ¬ tsp of cinnamon and 1 tbsp of sugar to sprinkle crust
Save time by purchasing Puff Pastry Dough, or Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a cookie sheet with a parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.
Roll out dough onto cookie sheet.
Place a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter and add in sugar, apples, salt, and cinnamon. Stir to coat all apples and let cook for 10 minutes, until apples are slightly softened. Remove from heat.Stir in flour to thicken filling. Gently pour apple mixture onto rolled out dough. Fold edges over filling about 1 inch all around. Sprinkle dough with extra cinnamon and sugar. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown.
Joanne is from Hawthorne, NY (go Yanks!). Apart from being an apple connoisseur, Joanne is Publisher of The Harbus.