Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Signs of Autumn: Our Trip to the Orchard

[Submitted to the Simple Science Strategies October blog carnival and the Outdoor Hour Challenge blog carnival.]

We're Going to the Orchard!

No autumn is complete without a trip to the local apple orchard. We live near one of the nicest orchards in Connecticut, Buell's Orchard in a little town called Eastford, here in the northeast corner of the state.

Going to the orchard is always a treat. But, like I used to tell my third grader writers, it's better to SHOW the readers than to TELL them!  

(See if you can find all the signs of autumn that we observed... I'll list them at the bottom of this blog post)

Our Trip, in Photos

Rows and rows of trees, waiting to be picked.

The news folks are telling us that the apple crop will be smaller this year, because we had an incredibly mild winter (it really didn't snow, and it felt like early fall temperatures in January), which made lots of plants think that it was spring all winter, and the apples began to break about a month early. Unfortunately, this period was followed by a brief cold snap in April, which zapped many flower buds.

I can't really say that we noticed fewer apples, but, then again, when you're picking for yourself, you're only looking for a bag of them. I'm sure growers are noticing that varieties are running out earlier than they have.

When we went, they were picking Gala, Empire, Cortland and McIntosh. We (of course) had to get some of each.

The morning air had very crisp. so we brought our sweatshirts when we left for the orchard that afternoon.

Grandma enjoys the New England day.
We had an out-of-town visitor, my mom, who flew up from Florida to take care of me while I recuperated from thyroid surgery. This was my first outing after getting a little stir-crazy at home -- it couldn't have been a better one!

My mom doesn't get to pick apples like she did when they still lived in New York, so she specifically asked if we could go when she came up. Apples in the store in the South just aren't like the ones that you pick right off the tree. Heck, apples in the store in CONNECTICUT aren't either!

The temperature was warmer than we expected by afternoon, and we ditched our sweatshirts. We often are surprised by the wind that whips through the orchard, so it's better to be safe and have the sweatshirt, than cold and miserable.

Little Man was determined to pick his own bag.
Going to the orchard is one of our kids' favorite activities. Our oldest son had a soccer game, and the middle son had a social engagement, but the Little Guy is held captive by the fact that he is eight and doesn't drive!

He would have spent the whole day at the orchard. This year, he carried his own bag ("Because I'm a big boy."). An orchard trip is such a great family activity, because a fidgety kid can run up and down the rows (but not too fast, as he has to dodge apples on the ground), and there's free food wherever you go. Sunshine... outside... running... free food... play clothes... It just sounds like the formula for fun for little boys, doesn't it?

He dressed up especially for the occasion, in his favorite clothes: one of our tie-dye shirts from the summer, and his camouflage pants. Gotta love his style.

Want some apple experiments? Click here.
 We had a brief review of the apple-picking process: turn the apple like a doorknob so you don't pull off the branch; check it all around for holes and dents (don't take those); don't worry about the color (because the side facing away from the sun might stay green, even though the apple's quite ripe); fill the bag to the top...

I love the Galas for lunchboxes and snacks -- they are crisp, don't dent in the lunchbox as easily, and you can sometimes find these teeny tiny ones that are so cute and perfect. Just enough sweetness (they don't make your left eye squint, like Granny Smiths do to me! I know you know what I mean...).

The leaves on the Galas were spectacular -- this is what I envision when I see the word, "green."

There's Grandma... but where's the kid going?

On to the next variety: McIntosh. I explained to my son that Macs were good for apple sauce, but not so good for pie, because they turn to mush. I wasn't going to pick any, but I couldn't help myself. Besides, the apples all get mixed together in a "surprise" bag eventually.

One thing I love about orchard apples is they are so fresh, you can leave them out of the fridge and they still stay delicious for weeks. This always happens to me, since I always pick too many for my fridge to hold, and have to leave the bag out. [We made lots of Apple Brown Betty -- check out my recipe.]

It's been too warm to leave the bag outside. Besides, here in the country, there are lots of critters who wouldn't mind having a snack on the back patio, if we left them out.

I love farm life...

On the way to the Macs, we passed the garage where they kept the tractors. This one had been freshly hosed down, so we spent some time gazing at it. My eldest was a tractor expert as a preschooler, and had an incredible collection of Matchbox-style farm equipment. He could name all the brands, by sight: John Deere (this one), Farm-all, Caterpillar, Kubota...

The Little Guy was more interested in being independent, so we sent him back for four more Macs to fill up one of the bags. We gave him a brief on how to pick the best ones, and sent him off. He likes being asked to do jobs like that.

The pumpkin fields were just starting to be picked when we were there. I'm sure that pumpkin picking is in full force now. We told the child it was too early for a pumpkin. But I think a pie is calling me now...

Lots of bloom on this Empire.

As we looked over the apples, we noticed the differences in the varieties. The Galas had "feet" like Delicious varieties do, and a deeper red color (although not nearly as deep as Red Delicious), and the skin was a little tougher than the others (but not as tough as Red Delicious, again). The Macs were cute and almost totally round, and had more green on them. The Empires had the waxy bloom that rubs off on your shirt (love shining up an apple...). And the Cortlands were the biggest of all ("This one is HUGE!" exclaimed the boy.)

So is a Cortland as good as a Granny Smith?

We headed down the road to the orchard with the Empires and Cortlands. Empires are an in-between apple -- multi-purpose. My son was looking for his favorite Granny Smiths, but those are a later variety, and they weren't ready yet. I showed him the Cortlands, which are a good pie pumpkin, and explained to him that even though apple pie was sweet, you needed a tarter apple in order for it to taste just right. So he tried one, and declared it delicious (although Grannys are still his favorite).

I think that's so funny how little kids love Granny Smiths, which I find to be so sour, and they're not red. I wonder what it is?

I know that last year, when we were picking pumpkins, I let Little Man choose his, and he selected a cute green and white one. Not an orange one. Kids are funny.

You might have seen the photo to the right, on my "Favorite Photo Friday" post last week.

Crates ready for apple shipping.

There is something so "New England" about an orchard.

I took this photo of the storage facility, and when I looked at the photos back at home, I was struck by how much this resembles shots I have taken at the lobster docks in Maine. If you just glance at the photo, it looks like a big stack of lobster pots, doesn't it?

Whenever I think about moving elsewhere, I should look at this photo...

One more pass by the Macs before we hit the country store...

With our bags full (and already paid for), we loaded our apples in the car and headed to the store, to check out the fresh vegetables (I resisted the temptation to buy a Rubbermaid tub full of Japanese china that a gentleman was selling at a tag sale along the road -- I love dishes, and that can get out of control if I am not strong! I was...)

At the store, we bought fresh corn (FRESH FRESH corn), Italian frying peppers, orange and black bell peppers, and two "personal size" melons. Mmmm... We put the peppers to good use when we got home...

One more for the road...

Last fall, Little Man asked why orchard apples taste so good. I explained where we get apples here in Connecticut: fall are local, and tasty, winter are storage from here (not as tasty), spring are shipped from South America, where it is fall, and summer are storage from South America. I explained that stored apples lose some of the sweetness, and become a little softer and mealy. When apples come right off the tree, they are at their best.

He blinked at me as if I told him too much. So I summed it up: "Apples fresh off the tree still have the sunshine in them."

Do you know that is what he has remembered that all year? I love kids...

I am glad they don't weigh kids before and after they go to the orchard. Little Guy remembered that, last year, when he ate one of each variety (four then) he had a stomach ache. So he limited himself to three this time.

What Signs of Autumn Did We See?

Changes in the Weather

  • Chilly mornings and warm afternoons

Changes in Nature

  • Pumpkins ready to pick
  • Apples turning red
  • Apples on the ground

Changes in People

  • Jackets and sweatshirts in the mornings, t-shirts in the afternoons 
  • People going to pick apples and pumpkins
  • People making apple pies
  • Vegetable stands selling fresh vegetables
  • People visiting New England (for the changing seasons)

Did you find any others?


We are almost ready to empty out the first batch of compost from our All Seasons Indoor Composter, and are very excited about bokashi as a compost aid! Stay tuned -- on around 10/15, the compost should be ready, and we will be blogging about our project!

All Seasons Indoor Composter, by UncommonGoods