Monday, October 8, 2012

Rule-Breakers Pick Apples. (Spoiler Alert: No One Dies.)

Yesterday, the chill arrived in South Carolina. Just Saturday, the kids and I sweated through horseback riding lessons. (It's very strenuous for me, watching them from the shady gazebo. Seriously. They might be hot because, well, they're actually exercising—but my sweat is more anxiety induced. Little people, big horses, cantering and jumping...I earn my sweat, too.)

Then Sunday arrived, overcast, gloomy, and Halloweenish. The chill in the air announced that it was time to head up to the mountains for our annual apple picking.

It's a family tradition. Apparently, judging by the hundreds of families on the mountain, it's not an unique tradition.

But sometimes traditions change.

This year, for instance, our family expedition grew.

Tyler's sweet girlfriend of a year, Val, joined the party. It's good to have more female companionship!

And Tyler sports a serious mountain man beard.

(Dear Val: please make Tyler shave. Thank you.)

Traditionally, we visit the orchard on a gorgeous day, enjoying breathtaking views of the 60 acres of apples, pears, peaches, and cherries.

This year, dense fog blocked my photo ops.

Bad, bad fog.

Typically, we walk to the far back section of the orchard in our quest for the perfect apples. Then we walk...and walk...and walk...back to the store, little legs complaining about the distance and little arms too tired to carry the full baskets.

This year, we broke tradition—but only because few varieties remained to be picked. Most of the trees were bare, with their fruit prepackaged and ready to purchase in the store. We found a few rows of trees, picked a few baskets of apples, and then bought the other required varieties in the store.

Traditionally, apple picking is a time that kids can run free in the orchard, with us keeping an eye on them. Watching kids have the freedom to play hide-and-seek among the rows, to climb a tree to pick the prettiest apple, to taste a just-picked fruit at its freshest—those are traditions I cherish.

This year, we were greeted with rules:
No climbing trees.
No eating apples.
No riding on wagons.
Honestly, I understand people can be thoughtless. After all, this orchard is the livelihood for a family, and visitors need to treat it with respect. Still, it made me a little sad that the owners needed to post rules, like “No throwing apples.” Shouldn't that be commonsense?

But I must family, which I usually insist follows all rules, broke several:

It's a tradition to eat an apple just-picked from a tree....

...and to take a cheesy photo with the just-picked apple. 

It's a tradition to send our little climbing Kristen to the top of the trees for the best, out-of-reach apples...

It's a tradition for the kids to play among the trees...

And it's a tradition for the kids to whine a bit when carrying their apples back to the store. This year, we wised up and used a wagon.

(We took the photo only to tease about the “no riding on wagons” rule...I can assure you that Peter did NOT pull them along with the baskets of apples! But Mikey is definitely eating an apple. Oops.)

It's also a tradition to gorge on hot apple cider doughnuts...

You can see some traditions never die!

It's definitely not a tradition to find apple blossoms in October...poor, confused tree.

Apparently, it's become a tradition to buy a ridiculous amount of apples. We now have several bushels of apples residing in our refrigerator. Fuji, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Cameo, Arkansas Black, plus a small bag of Asian Pears...all waiting patiently to become  culinary delights.

(Although, at the rate Mikey is eating them, we might need more apples before Thanksgiving baking begins.)

A final tradition of the day: the season's first apple pie.

When the first semi-cool day arrives, Kristen requests apple pie—and hot chocolate. It's a fall tradition. She's actually been asking for both since October 1. Now, with the temperatures requiring sweaters, it's time to make my girl happy.

I must admit—I cheat. I'm sure I'll lose all credibility admitting this--but I use a prepared pie crust. 

I remember too vividly my mother's anxiety over making pie crust. She always fretted that it wouldn't be right.

I don't know why she worried—it was consistently delicious. Still, I think her worry causes my hesitation to prepare homemade crust.

We have so many apples, though, that perhaps this will be the year I attempt to make a pie crust from scratch.

But after a long day of apple picking, I chose the easy route.

Apple Pie
Homemade or refrigerated box pie crust (2 crusts)

7 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (approximately 7 medium). I like to mix varieties, and in this pie I used Granny Smith, Cameo, and Arkansas Black.
3/4 cup sugar 
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I sometimes sprinkle a bit more—we like a lot of cinnamon) 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Heat oven to 425°F. Place 1 pie crust in ungreased 9-inch glass pie pan. Press firmly against side and bottom.

In large bowl, carefully mix filling ingredients and place in crust. Cover with second crust. Tuck excess top crust under bottom crust edge, pressing edges together to seal. Flute. Cut slits in top crust.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes on middle rack in oven until crust is golden brown. After 25 minutes, place a sheet of aluminum foil on top of crust to prevent burning. Cool at least 2 hours before serving.
NOTE: Because I tend to be overzealous when peeling apples and fill my pie crust a little too full, I always place a cookie sheet on the lowest bottom rack in the oven to catch spills.

While not exactly a delight from our garden, perhaps next year's traditional first apple pie of the season will start with our little backyard apple trees.

Happy fall!

XO ~



  1. how absolutely marvellous, i now really want to go out and buy an apple tree and i now really want an apple pie heheheh :) thanks for the inspiration and i wish that stuff like that happened here in Oz, glad you had a good time

    1. You know, last year I was inspired, too--and bought two heirloom apple trees. Now, I can't wait for them to start producing--hopefully next year!

  2. Apple picking season is already over at the orchard that always advertises on my favorite radio station. Seems our early summer brought early harvests.

    Your pie looks yummy. I always used the prepared crusts when my kids were the age of yours... Then this woman who baked amazing pies at our church told me these tips... Roll it out between 2 sheets of waxed paper. You won't add too much flour which makes it tough, (but is necessary if you hope to peel it back off your counter). Roll it out cold, and lastly - don't overmix the shortening into the flour - it isn't important to be super-well mixed and actually reduces the flaky texture.

    That being said... I have a package of prepared crusts in my freezer - in case I don't feel like scattering flour all over my kitchen. I'm a messy baker.

    1. Amy, thanks for the tips! I think I'm going to be brave and try a homemade crust for the next pie. I'm the world's messiest cook. I like to cook, love to bake, but I just wish someone would clean up after me! And I think you're right--the early heat this year impacted many crops. Typically, we go to the orchard a little later in October and still have plenty to pick. Happy baking!

  3. Wonderful! We went apple picking this weekend too. What fun

    1. Deanne, I hope you found lots of delicious goodies! Apple picking is such a seasonal tradition--I'll probably keep going well after the kids are grown.

  4. That's amazing apple picking experience! Full of apple recipes! What's next on the list? apple cake? ;)

    1. Malar, I'm actually making an apple cake tomorrow--with a caramel glaze! Thank goodness I'm taking it to my bookclub, because I'd probably eat the whole thing myself. ;-)

  5. Where did you go to pick apples Julie? Looks like a lot of family fun. We have been eating a lot of apple is quick to make and no crust to make. I do have a crust recipe that is easy...don't use pre-made ones.

    1. Janet, we went to Skytop Orchard in NC. It's become very popular over the past few years--almost too crowded. I love apple crisp...since the first pie is gone, I might make one today. It feels like an apple-crisp day.