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Pick-your-own apples season at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford is open through late October. (Photo by Winter Caplanson )
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When it comes to fall in New England, a must-do on many people's list is a pick-your-own fruit outing at a local farm. Fall crops include raspberries, pears, apples, and pumpkins.
Sarah Bishop DellaVentura grew up enjoying her family farm at Bishop's Orchards in Guilford and now works at the farm market. Despite growing up in the industry and now working at the farm, pick-your-own (PYO) outings are still among her favorite activities.
"When we go out with family, we experience what everyone gets to experience—fall in New England, being out in the field in the fresh air. It's peaceful," says DellaVentura. "We go with my parents and grandmother and other family members and people from every generation enjoy it."
What to Wear
While DellaVentura has always enjoyed PYO season, she has come to find even more joy in it since becoming a mom. She has two children, 11 and 9, and between her experience working on the farm and enjoying outings with her children, she has discovered many tricks to making for a successful PYO outing, starting with what to wear.
"You never want to put on white clothing, especially if you're picking raspberries," says DellaVentura. "You see parents come with their kids in white sundresses or crisp white shirts for photos and knowing most kids, they're not going to stay that way for long."
With fall weather, dressing in layers is key as days can quickly warm up or cool off. Sturdy, closed toe shoes are also important as the orchard grounds can be uneven. If parents are planning on making a full day's outing around PYO, DellaVentura recommends bringing a backup pair of shoes, especially if PYO is early in the day when the fields are still wet with dew.
"Wet fields can lead to soaking socks and sneakers, which leads to miserable kids," says DellaVentura, who also suggests packing sunscreen, bug spray, snacks, and a water bottle. "You never know how long you'll be out there. Some kids are there for 10 minutes and some are on a mission and enjoy it a lot longer. The kids do get thirsty out there."
Capture the Moment
Though families may not get a full photo shoot in crisp, clean white clothing, there are many photo opportunities in the fields so parents should be sure their phones are charged and memory is cleared to make room for great fall photos. DellaVentura enjoys seeing friends post photos from the orchard on Facebook or seeing family photos from a day at PYO on holiday cards.
Savoring the Harvest
Another important thing to think about before you head into your PYO outing is what you plan to do with your fruits. Raspberries don't last long once they've been picked and DellaVentura notes that many families will come weekly to pick what they'll eat for the week.
Those who pick raspberries in bulk often use them in baking, jams, or for freezing. DellaVentura opts for freezing. She lays wax paper on a cookie sheet and places the berries in a single layer overnight to allow them to freeze individually. The next day, she uses a spatula to transfer them to containers and uses them as needed for pies, baked goods, or smoothies.
Apples have a much longer shelf life and "can last through winter if stored correctly," which is in the refrigerator at about 36 degrees. When deciding what apples to pick, though, it's important to keep your end goal in mind. Bishop's Orchards' website offers a recipe page with a searchable database with recipes for everything from jams to baked goods to main meals. Bishop's Orchards also provides a Know Your Apples worksheet, which explains the tastes and best uses for each of the kinds of apples.
"Every apple's characteristics are so different—some are meant for baking, some are horrible for baking but make really good eating apples, though it all comes down to individual preference," says DellaVentura. "I will swear Macintosh are horrible to bake with, but some swear by them. Macintosh are naturally softer, so they break down faster, so it's a softer pie. Stayman or golden delicious hold their shape so it's more of a baked apple with more texture and crunch."
Though DellaVentura has her apple preference for baking, she admits that her grandmother's baking genes were not passed down to her. One of her favorite things to do with apples is make homemade applesauce (see sidebar). The applesauce can also then be canned.
"The canning process is a long process but not terribly difficult," says DellaVenura. "I recommend that everyone try it just once. It's fun to have that experience, especially with your kids by your side."
Bishop's Orchards and Rose Orchards in North Branford offer families a full farm experience. Bishop's has a corn maze, animals, kids' activities in the pumpkin patch, a new creamery, and hard cider and wine by the glass. At Rose Orchards, guests can visit the animals, have lunch at Buck's Grill and a sweet treat from the creamery. In the fall, there are also tractor rides, a corn maze, and a hay maze.
"There are definitely a lot of activities so you can make a day of it," says DellaVentura. "It's always fun to do as a family activity because it's something everyone can participate in and they're the kind of memories everyone seems to hold onto."
pears, apples, raspberries, pumpkins
1355 Boston Post Road, Guilford
raspberries, pears, apples, pumpkins
Jct. Routes 147 and 157, Middlefield
apples, pears, raspberries
33 Route 139, North Branford
Scott's Connecticut Valley Orchards
274 Kelsey Hill Road, Deep River
Sarah Bishop DellaVentura's Stovetop Applesauce
Cut apples in quarters or halves (peel, cores, and all).
Place in a pot on the stove and cover the bottom with liquid (she uses apple cider).
Cook on low to medium until the apples soften.
Use a food mill to mash and strain the applesauce.
Flavor with sugar, cinnamon, or nutmeg, if desired.
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