I recently had the great pleasure of giving May her first ever experience with apple harvesting. It was a lazy Sunday, but the finest of fall days, so we made sure get ourselves outside and do something. We were coming up on the end of the picking season, and this was pretty much going to be our last chance at getting out for this classic, Midwest fall activity. We jumped on US-14 and rode over to Crystal Lake where the signs advertising various orchards began popping up. Here is an unexplained picture of gourds, which I really think sets the mood for this seasonal post.
Our quick internet search had turned up information on the All Season Orchard, but just as soon as we pulled in the parking lot we were ready to leave. The place was a circus, and seemed more like tourist trap. I wouldn’t have cared if it didn’t come with an exorbitant entrance costs, but the whole of it just didn’t fit the image I had for the outing. Instead I drove us down the road a few minutes until we hit some little local place with almost no one else there. The Prairie Sky Orchard was jaaaaaaaaaast right.
We checked out the shop to get our bags and receive a rundown on what we were supposed to be doing. The lady at the register said that they were pretty much picked out for the season, but that we should be able to find enough. We weren’t really looking to walk away with bushels full, and the 1 dollar a pound price was so much better than what the other place was asking. The first thing I noticed was that the trees were significantly smaller than what I’m used to, an expectation that is based on the only other place I had ever gone picking back in my youth, Crane’s. I also noticed that there were no apples….until we got to the back of the small grove. We found a nice Polish couple willing to snap a picture for us.
Many of the fruit still on the trees was well past its prime, and lots of it had been attacked by birds and bugs, but there were still enough suitable for eating. We ate as we picked, and I was reminded how much the taste of apples can vary. It is easy to assume that they are simply red or green varieties, but when you can sample them back to back to back the taste profile becomes more pronounced. Honeycrisp are the best, though these were not those.
After ringing up our 3ish pounds of apples each, we were back on the road. May wanted to hit up a Michi no Eki equivalent, and Tom’s Farm Market was perfect. There was a roadside market loaded up with local produce, handicrafts, and fall treats. We got some hot apple cider, pumpkin cheesecake, and also walked around admiring the gourds and pumpkins. We were also salivating at the thought of the Chinese food we were going to get on the way home. This mini adventure was indeed a success, and we were both happy to have fit it in before the end of the season. The ride home was a treat for the senses, with the vibrant colors of fall on display, and the wonderful aroma of Sweet Pineapple Chicken. I assume that this was Tom himself, and I felt pretty cool.