Ultimate Guide to Apple and Pumpkin Picking

How (and where) to take full advantage of the classic flavors of the season

The crisp smell of cool air and the crunch of leaves underfoot trigger a desire for those familiar tastes and smells of autumn. And as fall turns the corner, it brings with it a host of new thrills, not the least of which is pulling out your coziest sweaters and heading to a pick-your-own farm nearby. What could be more irresistible than the lure of fresh apple pie, pumpkin carving, and farm-fresh cheese?

As you pick up your basket and stroll deep into rows and rows of apple orchards, it may be hard to remember what you are hunting for (and what you can use all the apples you pick for later). And the same goes for pumpkins, should you choose to stray from the beaten path enough to buy more than just one big, bright orange orb. Check out our guide to apples, pumpkins, and what to do with it all when you have it at home.

APPLES

McIntosh: Arguably one of the most commercialized apples on the market, this red and green fruit is excellent for applesauce. Leave the skin on to add a rosy color to your dish. For a seasonal take on this kitchen classic, try one of our recipe for maple applesauce.

Red Delicious: Hungry after a long day of apple picking? No problem! Easy to identify by their vibrant red coat, Red Delicious apples are an autumnal classic and are made to be eaten straight from the tree.

Granny Smith: Don’t have much of a sweet tooth? You can still join in on the fun with the tangy Granny Smith. This tart variety stands out from the rest with its bright green color and unique flavor. Perfect in pies or eaten fresh from the farm. For a twist on a breakfast classic, try one of these recipes for Granny Smith oatmeal waffles.

Melrose: When the temperatures cool and we all start to desire comfort foods and hometown classics, it’s time to step up to the challenge of an apple pie — latticework and all. Grab some Melrose apples to create a truly show-stopping dessert. Tailor-made for this dish with its firm texture and fragrant scent, the Melrose is a must-have for anyone who loves pie. Try our favorite version of salty caramel apple pie. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Navaboo)

Cortland: Cortland apples have a crunchy flesh that remains white long after cutting. Use these to create a healthier apple dish, like a crisp fruit salad with Cortland apples, sans the lemon juice! Try this radicchio salad with frisée and apples, and notice the beautiful white contrast against your greens.

 

Pink Lady: Always a winner for its charming pink hue, this candy-colored apple may never make it to the kitchen. And with a long shelf life, Pink Ladies (pictured below) are an excellent bunch for blush-colored applesauce, and yearlong snacking. Put this version of apple compote to the test — does it look even better in pink? (Photo courtesy of Flickr/iainsimmons)

Now that we’ve got you salivating over a feast of apples, you’re ready to head to the hills (er, farms). With an abundance of choices from Washington’s apple country to the shores of Michigan’s Great Lakes, we’ve picked out a few of the best farms across America…

FARMS

Riverview Orchards New York

Escape the city and head upstate to Riverview Orchards. Don’t miss the donut robot, where a fresh apple cider donut is made hands-free as you watch through a glass window. Or head over to the beehive for a behind-the-scenes look at more than 50,000 working bees. Then stop at the honey house, where you can watch them making honey. Take a load off on leisurely nighttime hayride for one last glimpse at the countryside. Then it’s time to sit down at a bonfire complete with cider, s’mores and of course, apple cider donuts.

Johnson OrchardsWashington

Johnson Orchards has honored its apple country roots for the past 100 years. Featuring programs like Art in the Orchard, where adults can sip fresh cider as they listen to music and check out local artwork, Johnson Orchards is a unique experience for all. For the kids, head to The Little Bake Shop for a slice of freshly baked pie, and some copper pot caramels.

King Orchards — Michigan

At King Orchards in northwestern Michigan, it’s not just apples you’ll be picking. With more than 130 acres of pie-perfect cherries, you can find the fixings here for a medley of fruit dishes. Climb one of their many rolling hills and take in the surrounding views of Lake Michigan. Before you leave, make sure to pause and breathe in the crisp country air, scented with the fragrance of freshly picked fruit.

Smolak FarmsMassachusetts

Get back to the basics at Smolak Farms. With one of the largest selections of apples in the Northeast region, this location is a classic example of fun on the farm. Kids have a multitude of activities to choose from, whether it is visiting the petting zoo, taking a hayride, or having a duck race. As the day comes to an end, gather around the bonfire, and gaze at the stars as you sip some hot apple cider.  

Abel’s Apple AcresCalifornia

Apple season isn’t exclusive to the Northeast! California has some truly scenic farms, including Abel’s Apple Acres. After you rustle up your apples, head over to the bakeshop and indulge in custom-flavored fudge, choosing from more than 22 flavors. For something apple-y and savory, try the chicken, apple, and walnut sandwich, made fresh in their country kitchen. Spend the rest of your day getting lost in the hay maze, and reward yourself with a fresh glass of cold apple cider.

Now that you’ve picked enough apples to last you through winter, it's time to focus on the other fruit of the season: pumpkins. With their bright, fall colors, pumpkins conjure images of fairytales and spooky stories. Whether you are planning to carve your pumpkin into an eerie jack o’ lantern, or scoop out its insides to use for a pie, this treat can be used for fun and feasting for the entire family.

 

PUMPKINS

Aladdin- The Aladdin pumpkin is the classic choice for a carving party. With its giant, round shape and long-lasting quality, this pumpkin is the standard jack o’ lantern option. The best part comes after you’ve created your spooky lawn decorations. Take your leftovers and whip up a quick and easy dish of pumpkin-filled pasta.

Baby Bear- With a pint-sized name, Baby Bear pumpkins are a great size and shape for all kinds of fun. Cut the outer shell in two pieces, scoop out the innards, and you’ve got a decorative soup bowl that’s perfect for the holiday season. Need a snack for the little ones? Baby Bear’s semi-hull-less seeds taste delicious after a good roasting with some fresh spices. Eat them plain or go all out and create this pumpkin seed, feta, and champagne grapes salad.

Baby Pam Sugar Pie- With a taste as sweet as its name, Baby Pam Sugar Pie has a dry skin that actually holds itself together during the baking process. Perfect for pumpkin pies, picking these sets you up for trying Bobby Flay’s pumpkin pie with cinnamon crunch and bourbon maple whipped cream. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/B0nes)

Howden- If you’re ready to super-size the holidays already, the Howden pumpkin is the way to go. A large, bright orange variety with a firm outer shell and large, even ridges, this pumpkin is perfect for carving contests. Check out these tips to host an unforgettable pumpkin carving party.

PATCHES

Ring in autumn with a trip to your local pumpkin patch and some farm-time fun. With activities for the whole family, including petting zoos, hayrides, and killer country views, these farms across America serve up a classic taste of fall. Here are our picks for your next pumpkin patch adventure…

Mr. Bones Pumpkin Patch — California

Sitting in celeb-heavy West Hollywood, this pumpkin patch is perfect for kids and star-sightings. Mr. Bones Pumpkin Patch has every detail covered — zoom down the Mr. Bones super slide and land right next to the Jumpin Pumpin, an inflatable giant pumpkin the kids can bounce on for hours. Race your friends out of the straw maze, let the kids get colorful face painting, and there are even pony rides. Setting the gold standard in pumpkin picking, Mr. Bones will leave you wishing for an extra month of autumn.

Plumper Pumpkin Patch & Tree Farm — Oregon

Plumper Pumpkin Patch (say that five times fast!) adds an extra step to their picking options. Pick up your “whopper lopper” and race down to the pumpkin patch, where you can cut your favorite right from the vine. Or sign up for the pumpkin flinging contest, where you can compete against other visitors or use the giant cannon. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to join a Punkin Chunkin competition next year!

Thistleberry Farm — Indiana

For a swashbuckling pumpkin adventure, make your way through the “Pirates of the Cornibbean” corn maze at Thistleberry Farm. After you race against the clock, watch your little ones ride in style on the cow train, stop by the petting zoo, or choose a family-friendly hayride, which gives you a leisurely view of the entire farm.

Swan’s Pumpkin Farm — Wisconsin

Get into the Halloween spirit at Swan’s Pumpkin Farm, where you’ll wander through Wanda’s Spook House, but beware! You never know what, (or who!) is waiting around the corner. Then, stroll through Corn City and ride through the cornfields on the barrel train ride. Enjoy the harvest time with some freshly baked goods, like a classic slice of pumpkin pie, from The Cauldron Café.

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