Fall is the favorite season in our house. We love the colored leaves, cooler temperatures, football, pumpkins and apple picking! Apple picking is something that kids young to old can enjoy and makes for a fun family outing. My boys love picking apples, but more for the fact they have an instant snack that they picked (they love apples). We go apple picking any where from three to six times during the season. We make a lot of applesauce, which I freeze, and other apple goodies, as well as just getting plenty for eating. I try to pick strategically, so that we end up with a lot of the apples that keep well. Some varieties, if stored properly, will last until the spring. That is another bonus to the apple picking family fun, it's cheap and you can have apples for months to come!
Pickyourown.org is a great resource for apple orchards (and much more) by county in central Ohio. I've used this site for years.
Here are some of the orchards we have been to:
Legend Hills Orchard. This nice sized orchard is located in Utica, which we have been to for several years (for strawberries and apples). They have a large variety apples throughout the season. It's not typically too crowded, though it is a popular apple picking place. They also have a farm market were they sell other produce, as well of some Amish cheese, meat and other things.
Windy Hill Apple Farm (also known as Charlie's Apples after the owner). We went to this orchard, located in Newark, for the first time a couple weeks ago. This orchard has organically grown apples, so many of their varieties aren't your typical ones. Instead they focus on apples that are more resistant, since they grow their apples without the use of pesticides and insecticides. I was really drawn to this fact. The atmosphere was so nice there, so peaceful and welcoming. It felt as though we were picking apples in our backyard and really, we were picking apples in their backyard. It's really a good sized orchard even though it feels so personal. And the price of apples is less than some of the bigger orchards, like Lynd's. The only "downside" is, since they are organically grown, it takes a little more time to find apples without blemishes... if that even matters to you (for applesauce, pie, crisp, dumplings or other things... the blemished ones work just fine!). Really though, the benefits far out weigh that "downside." The owner, Charlie, is very warm, sweet and knowledgeable. It takes some talent, education and a lot of passion to grow apples organically in the mid west. I loved this place, for the atmosphere and the fact that the grow without pesticides and insecticides. This will definitely become a frequent stop for us.
Lynd's Fruit Farm. We have been going to this very popular, well known orchard, located in Pataskala, for years. I really like the apple variety, the amount of trees they have and the farm market. Because it's so popular though, it's always extremely busy so you might be sharing a tree with other families. They do have a great farm market with lots of produce and Amish baked goods. In October they also have a pumpkin patch and many fall activities.
Buckingham Orchards. This orchard is located in Sunbury and is probably medium sized. It's gotten smaller over the years as they downsized due to the aging owner, as he told me. He is a very nice man, who knows every inch of that orchard, and walked us to the trees that had the varieties of apples that we wanted. This is a cross hybrid orchard so the varieties of apple trees are mixed among each other, meaning there are no rows of the same apples like other orchards. They have fewer varieties than some of the larger orchards, but are very conveniently located. It's quiet and peaceful and the owner, Bill, is very sweet. They do not have an official website, but at pickyourown.org, there are many comments, as well if you google their name you can find more great comments, as well as the phone number. They do have a little farm market as well.
Apple Hill Orchard. This orchard is located in Mansfield (not too far off 71) and is the one we always go to when meeting family/friends from NE Ohio (it's about half way). The picking orchard they have (they also have one solely for commercial sales) is probably medium sized, but always has tons of apples. They have a good variety of apples, including some August variety u-picks. They have a nice little farm market with other produce, as well as some meats and cheeses.
We have not yet been to these places, but I hear that Granville Orchard and Barnstool Orchards (in Utica down the street from Legend Hills) also have u-pick apples. I know that our Farmer's Market pie person (fabulous!) picks her apples from Granville Orchards and really loves it. Barnstool Orchards just started coming to our farmers' market this year with cherries, peaches and now apples. I have purchased cherries and peaches from them, and have been pleased.
Since I have asked each orchard we went to (some once a year just to see if they have changed) if they spray chemicals, I'll share what I know in case that is of any importance to anyone. Obviously, Windy Hill Orchard grows using organic methods, so there is next to nothing used there. Apple Hill uses integrated pest management, which means they have someone assess the orchard every couple weeks to determine what chemicals are needed and therefore are only using what they need on trees/varieties that need it, versus covering them all with everything whether or not they need it. Buckingham and Legend Hills orchards both spray, but tell me it's more minimal and "watered down" though they don't follow integrated pest management. One of the Lynd's, when I asked in an email, told me "Heck yes! And lots of 'em!" (and really, it shows because their apples are big and mostly flawless). Based on our (back and forth) conversations, via emails, and the other responses given to me in person by the owners of the other orchards, I would say Lynd's uses chemicals close to levels of commercial growers. Most of the above using chemicals don't spray past flowering, unless needed. Regardless, by buying local from any of these places, you reduce your carbon footprint, get the freshest apples, support farmers in our community and have a great time together as a family. Just be sure to wash those apples well!
My boys at Windy Hill Apple Farm.
I am sure there are many great reference sites for making applesauce and apple butter. The one I used for applesauce was the pickyourown.org website.
Apple butter: They also have tips for making apple butter, which I have never done.
Apple use charts:
These are great for giving you an idea of what apple varieties are best used for making certain things. Some you probably already know, but all of these charts/resources list ones that are not common as well. Between the three, it should cover just about any apple you might pick this season.
Ohio Apple Growers
Lynd's Fruit Farm - this one used to also list how many months they typically kept, but now it's just a rating (still useful).
Windy Hill Apple Farm - in with the details on their apples, most of the descriptions tell you the length of time they keep in storage. Click on the link for "September Apples" or "October Apples" to see this information, as well as how they are best used. Since their apples are typically a different variety than the other orchards, this is a great resource.
Apple Picking tips, from pickyourown.org.
Storing apples: I have found that it works best to put your apples in bags (like quart size bags that seal), three to four to a bag, don't completely seal it and put it in your refrigerator's fruit and veggie drawers. We have one in the garage, which quite honestly turns into the "apple refrigerator" in the fall/winter. I also read on a site that you should rinse the apples, leave them slightly wet/damp and put in a bag (like a plastic store bag), tie it loosely and store in the refrigerator (again fruit and veggie drawer). This is contradictory to what I have read saying not to store wet. I tried it with some of our apples, so I will find out soon enough if that works too or not. If you don't bag them, I have found they definitely do not last as long at all. And if you put too many together in a bag, especially if they are highly acidic, that if one goes bad, all of them will get bad (told to me by an orchard worker and proven true by me). The stellar keeper apple, for us at least, has been Fuji. Those will keep into the spring (if stored correctly). Also, if you don't have the extra refrigerator, you really don't need it. They just need to be stored in a cool somewhat humid place, like some basements are.
p.s. If you do go to Legend Hills or Barnstool, be sure to visit the Velvet Ice Cream Factory. It's only a mile or two down the road from both of those places. It's about five or ten minutes from Windy Hill Apple Farm.
How about you? Do you have a favorite apple orchard, either listed above or one that is not? Why it is your favorite? Know of other great apple resources? Other tips for storing apples? Great apple recipes? Or have a favorite apple picking family tradition? Share it with us! Comment below or email it to us.