There is nothing quite like Fall in New England. The trees are beautiful, the air is crisp, and apple picking abounds! We have fond memories of our earlier days when we would travel with our friends to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Vermont. With our recent move back to the Boston area, we decided it was time to expose our children to real apple picking – we tried it in California, but it just wasn’t the same.
Of course, Covid-19 makes this year different than others. You can’t taste the apples at the orchard, and many places require reservations or lines to avoid crowding. In the past, our memory was that you picked into a bucket and it was priced by weight afterwards, but this year, they just sell specific-sized bags for you to fill, to minimize contact. We skipped the (partial capacity) hayride, and the children’s petting zoo was eyes only. But it is still possible to have a lot of fun.
According to the state, there are apparently 80 pick-your-own apple places in Massachusetts, not to mention nearby locales like New Hampshire or Vermont. How to choose one? As we explored our options, we quickly discovered that same or next-day weekend reservations were mostly unavailable (weekdays are relatively easy), so we redirected our attention to places that did not require reservations. Also, pricing was a little higher for places closer to metro Boston.
Eventually we settled on a Sunday afternoon at Parlee Farms in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, near the the New Hampshire border. It was a great experience and we would highly recommend taking a family apple picking trip to this delightful farm.
On arrival, we observed a quite crowded parking lot, with the attendants telling us that there would be roughly a 30 minute wait. That said, they had a fairly decent waiting line area set up that allowed people to properly social distance. After the wait, we were in!
As we waited in line, we spent some time admiring the goats.
Then, when we were permitted entry, we were off to purchase a couple of bags to fill. The main options were 10 lb. bags for $25 and 20 lb. bags for $35. Since it was our kids first time picking apples at a place where apples looked like grocery store apples, we decided to go with 2 20 lb. bags. While 40 lbs of apples may sound like a lot (it is), it really doesn’t take much time to fill the bags and we wanted our kids to feel like they were able to pick more than a couple of apples.
We also purchased a tiny cup of animal feed, but as it turns out, the goats were stuffed, so we ended up bringing it home to feed the rabbits that hang out in our yard.
There was an option to take a hayride out to the section of the apple orchard that had ripe apples, but with Covid-19, we decided to skip. They said it was a 15 minute walk, but in reality, it wasn’t more than 5 minutes, plus it was pleasant to walk through other sections of the orchard.
Once we arrived, we took a look at the different types of apples that were available for picking and settled on Honeycrisp, Fuji, and McIntosh.
What fun! There is nothing like choosing your own perfect apple and placing it in your bag.
Most of the rows were picked over at the beginning, but as soon as we got about halfway down, there were plenty of beautiful choices.
We spent a while enjoying ourselves.
It would have been lovely to taste, but masks were required at all times and tasting was not permitted.
Once we were satisfied with our bushel of apples, we decided to head out.
In normal times, we may have tried to order lunch and eat in the picnic area, or would have picked up some of the delicious sounding apple cider doughnuts that they had for sale, but the crowds in that area were more than we were comfortable.
Using the Apples
With a full bushel of apples, we immediately placed one of our bags in the refrigerator to deal with at a later date. The first order of business was to sample our cache. As we tried to figure out which apples were which, we realized that it was much harder than we expected.
The Honeycrisp apples were mostly red with a little yellow and green. On the inside they were crisp and sweet. Yum! But in all honesty, all of us prefer a little more tartness to our apples, so we decided to set these aside for mostly baking purposes.
Fuji apples are easy to get at the grocery store, so we knew what we were getting, and were delighted. The apples were very similar in color to the Honeycrisp, but upon tasting, we were happier with both the texture (a little crisper) and the balance of sweet and tart.
The McIntosh apples were red and tart with a great texture. They were probably my favorite, and while everyone liked them, the rest of the family preferred the other two varieties.
We sliced up a bunch of apples and enjoyed them fresh, and then I started on my apple pie. I love flaky pie crusts with a bit of almond flour substituted for a little of the regular flour, but a recent almond sensitivity gave me pause and I went with a regular pie crust.
I had cut up WAY too many apples, so we enjoyed some more fresh apples, then fried up the rest of them in a little butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
Simple simmer for 5-15 minutes and enjoy warm or cold. If you want a real treat, put a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
We also had a little leftover pie crust, so I cut it into fun alpaca shapes, made a blob for the grass, sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar, pricked it all over with a fork, and stuck it in the oven with the pie for about 15 minutes. If I am in a hurry, I simply roll it into a disk. Also, you may need more or less time, depending on what temperature you are baking your pie.
The next morning, James wanted to try some Latvian Apple Pancake Fritters from a webpage that had a list of 29 Amazing Apple Dishes from Around the World. As it turns out, these weren’t so amazing. It was basically a crepe batter with shredded apples mixed in. Of course, I didn’t use the full cup of butter that the recipe suggested, and I substituted regular milk for the almond milk, so maybe that was why we didn’t like them much. It felt like the apples were undercooked, which made the whole thing taste off.
Jeremy was sick of apples for lunch, so we took a breather, but for dinner, we were back on the apple bandwagon. Deciding to try another idea from the website above, we went with the Japanese Apple Curry. Since there was no working link for a recipe, I found a Japanese Apple Chicken Curry recipe elsewhere. Oh my goodness! It was amazing! If you have time, try this recipe. Not having any curry powder, I made my own Japanese Curry Powder, leaving out the ground fennel, and frying a few whole fennel seeds the last few minutes that I was cooking the onions.
The next morning, the kids wanted more fried apples, so I cooked up some waffles and we used the apples in place of syrup. When using them for this purpose, while the apples will release some juice, make sure you add a little extra sugar so that you will have enough sauce for everyone. We also enjoy these on pancakes and crepes.
And there you have it! We still have at least 3/4 of a bushel (30lbs) of apples left, so there is plenty of room for experimentation.
If you have the opportunity, definitely try apple picking in the fall in New England!