I'm never one to turn down a great theme party. So when friends sent out an invite a few weeks ago for "apple-harvest festivities," I signed on right away. What better excuse to get people together than a full day of fresh air, exercise, and amazing food made with local produce?
On Saturday, our group headed up to Westchester County for an adventure in apple picking at the family-owned Outhouse Orchards. For several hours, we wandered amongst the trees, filled our half-bushel-bags full of fruit, and snacked on farm-fresh goodies like pumpkin cheesecake and delicious fudge.
1 This orchard is dog-friendly, but not all are. Call ahead and ask before bringing your four-legged friends on any apple-picking adventures.
2 Outhouse Orchards had all kinds of apples for sale, including Shizukas (green) and Courtlands (red).
3 I've owned this thermal tee with apples on it for years, but this is the most appropriate place I've ever worn it!
4 We had fun checking out the farm animals before heading across the street to the orchard.
5 Did you know that goats have rectangular pupils? It's true!
6 I didn't get the name of these crazy gourds. Any ideas?
7 More cool squashes and gourds.
8 And very pretty multi-colored corn!
9 A pre-harvesting snack of apple-cider donuts.
10 Robie was super excited to get a bite of apple-cider donut.
11 This chart doesn't tell the whole story: There are actually more than 2,500 different varieties of apples across the country.
12 Outhouse Orchards wouldn't be complete without an outhouse! (This one was just for show.)
13 Giant turkey legs!
14 My first apple find of the day. This reminds me of Whole Living's September cover!
15 This tree was easy to reach, even at my height!
16 Our friends borrowed this apple-picking device to reach the fruits on high branches. If you're headed to an orchard, find out if they will supply these handy helpers.
17 These empire apples were smaller than the ones we'd buy in the store, but they had a crisper, fresher taste.
18 One hazard of apple picking: Watch out for bees and yellow jackets!
20 These bags (half a bushel) cost $25 each and it's up to you to fill them yourself.
21 I made this picture my computer desktop when I got home.
22 Apple picking is hard work! Good thing snacks are included.
23 The apples at the top of the tree were bigger and redder than the ones on lower branches.
24 Such a beautiful day -- not a cloud in the sky!
25 This lovely rainbow chard was for sale in the orchard's market.
26 The beautiful colors of fall!
27 Back at the house: Peeling and slicing apples for dinner. The Chef'n palm peeler worked wonders.
28 Charlotte made a giant salad of mixed greens and walnuts ...
29 ... and topped with apples and goat cheese!
30 Our appetizer: Warm brie topped with apples and a dash of cinnamon. Totally addicting when spread on tiny crostini.
31 This bourbon-caramel dipping sauce was supposed to be for dessert, but we couldn't resist sneaking some during dinner prep.
32 The main course -- lots and lots of chicken.
33 The chicken recipe Charlotte used -- times five!
34 Chicken, chicken sausage, and prunes.
35 Topped with apples, of course!
36 The whole spread -- even the mashed potatoes had apples in them!
37 Here's my plate, along with a corn muffin and a bowl of butternut-squash-and-apple soup. The soup is topped with a blue cheese sauce and sunflower seeds.
38 We even had apple napkins! Even though it was a bit chilly, we sat outside in the candlelight to celebrate the end of summer.
39 Dessert, made the night before with farmers'-market apples. Yummmm.
40 Whipped cream, applesauce (sent from upstate by our friend's grandmother), and an upside-down apple cake.
41 My boyfriend and I sent some of our bounty home to our families in New Jersey, and we each brought bags into work. We've certainly got enough to share!
42 On Monday, Anthony whipped up this pandowdy -- basically a cobbler, or a pie without crust on the bottom.
43 He found the recipe in November's Martha Stewart Living, but swapped out pears for apples, and used a store-bought pie crust instead of homemade.
44 Here's the glazed apple-spice cake from Whole Living's September issue (get the recipe in the last link below), and an almost-empty jar of Anthony's sister's amazing apple butter. Good thing we just sent her a new bag of supplies for another batch!
Once we left the city, I went camera crazy with color-shock, taking pictures of the orange autumn leaves and the red and green apples. I think I did a pretty good job recreating Whole Living's September cover, in fact!
Then the real fun began: We carpooled back to a friend's house for a full-on apple feast. Charlotte, our wonderful hostess, had been hard at work the night before, prepping several courses that would all include apples. Some were purchased and prepared the night before; some were waiting for our fresh-picked bounty.
That's right -- every dish we ate that night included apples, even the mashed potatoes! (Check out the photo gallery above to see them all.) I asked Charlotte if there was a nutritional reason for adding chopped apples to mashed potatoes, but she said she just didn't want them to be the only apple-less odd dish out. I say, even if it wasn't intentional, it's a great way to sneak in some antioxidants -- and they seemed to add a mild sweetness, as well.
If you're looking for something to do this weekend, round up some friends and head to a local orchard; if you're into hard apple cider, here are three worth checking out if you happen to live in the area. Otherwise, check out PickYourOwn.org to find one near you. (Call ahead, though: Some orchards are already picked clean by this time of year!)
Bring everyone back to the house and start slicing, baking, and sampling your harvest. Or, ask everyone to prepare an apple dish in advance, and then compare recipes. Here are a few to get you started. Have fun!
Amanda MacMillan is Whole Living's web editor. Follow her on Twitter @amaconamac.