This past weekend we went apple picking. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in the time of COVID even apple picking requires planning, social distancing, and reservations.
PYO apples, it’s what we do in September
Our plan was to head to our favorite PYO location, Nashoba Valley Winery, Distillery, Brewery, and Restaurant. Yeah, that’s a mouthful when you consider they also offer orchards and fields to pick peaches, apples, and even be a “vintner for a day” assisting to bring in the Chardonnay crop. That experience is scheduled for 10/11 (that’s next weekend BTW) and can be booked online for just $40. Go to the website, then look for the Vine to Wine section. The information sheet says you’ll be part of a team of 40 and pick 3 – 4 TONS of grapes in 2 hours. That sounds like a huge task, but the experience includes then enjoying the fruits of the previous year’s harvest as part of a wine & cheese reception, and a BBQ luncheon with orchard-fresh apple crisp for dessert! So it’s a deal for sure.
But we just want to pick apples!
And we discovered that trying to coordinate picking date, time and also reserve a table so we could grab a glass of wine and a bit of lunch can be a matter of timing. Unfortunately for us, we booked the picking online and then looked for a table. They were booked. Our friend Sandy jumped online and discovered there were picking times AND tables for the following Sunday. So we went apple picking last week and brought home a peck of McIntosh. Next Sunday we’ll probably be out picking any of the following because they carry more types of apples than I’ve ever heard of:
- Cox Orange Pippins
- Rhode Island Greening
I’m so tempted to just pick a mixture of all the ones I’ve never had and create a yummy dessert to make with them.
If you’re planning to go to the winery
I know there are still many people worried about social distancing, masks, and washing your hands. It’s serious business, and truly, Beth and I limit our outings to groceries every 2 – 3 weeks, our Saturday morning hikes (we wear masks), and curbside takeout. Yes, we’ve gone to the pet store, or a random visit to Kohl’s or maybe the hairdresser (I went last in April and haven’t been since), and we did visit our friend on the Cape a couple weeks ago, but I just want to assure you, if you’re trying to live carefully, the winery is taking every step possible to keep people safe. Reservations are required for the orchard and are separate from the picnic table area, or the restaurant reservations. They only allow 35 people into the orchard every 15 minutes, and while we were picking, we saw other people but chose rows where we were the only ones, and this was not difficult.
What trip to a winery is complete without wine??
We then went into the winery store to buy some wine, and were two of maybe four people in there. Hand sanitizer stations are everywhere, and there are outdoor port-a-potties. There are no wine tastings or tours allowed at the moment, and seating at J’s, which I highly recommend, offers plenty of outdoor seating in the herb garden. So if you’re looking for a special weekend trip, this might be it! We went home with 6 bottles of wine, a few old favorites (Maiden’s Blush, Estate Vignoles) and some new ones (Messenger Rose, Gewurtztraminer, Renaissance, and Pinot Gris). There are so many wines we love from Nashoba.
If you go, check out the frog pond with some very sweet residents, and make time to just soak up the beauty of the place.
No weekend is complete without a hike!
Did you really think we’d go apple picking and skip our hike? By the end of the day my legs and feet wished we did, but nope, we also headed up to NH to hike at Mine Falls Park for a somewhat early morning start. Now that the sun is rising later, our hikes are starting at 8 am! This is a park we’ve been hiking at for 7 or 8 years. It has 325 acres of forest, wetlands, and open fields and runs along the Nashua River, the Millpond and canal system, and several sports fields. We’ve hiked both sides of the river, and both sides of the highway, and it is a safe, mostly flat, friendly place to hike, Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall.
The dogs are welcome and so is fishing, biking, boating…
Depending on the time of day, we’ve run into some dogs off-leash that are not well-behaved. Meaning they glom all over our leashed dogs, and their owners refuse to recall them. Annoying! But on this hike (and we haven’t been to this park for probably 3 years) walkers and runners were masked, dogs were leashed, and everyone was friendly. It’s not unusual to see cross-country runners out for an early morning run, or a wheeled flatbed being pulled by a team of sled dogs.
Women alone, senior citizens, families with little ones, everyone is welcome and seems perfectly comfortable to enjoy the wide clear trails. If you bring a dog or two, make sure to keep them leashed, and clean up after them.
Check the map of trails
It also helps to check the map of the park. It’s big and spread out. Fishing access and the boat launch are on the far side of Mill Pond behind the police department. We ended up walking about 3 miles, looping back and forth between two of the trails. We caught a bit of Fall foliage, a hawk dipping across the trail right in front of us, and a foggy look over the waterfalls at the Hydro Dam.
It’s a beautiful place to wander and chat. Don’t forget to bring your camera, and water if it’s a hot day as there are no locations for snacks. Also remember, it’s pack in pack out. We haven’t noticed a lot of trash barrels around the park. But thankfully there is also very little trash to worry about. Just beautiful streams, picturesque bridges, and peace.
But what about the pie?
My nephew Max used to love pie when he was little. No matter the time of year, if you asked him what he wanted for dessert (or lunch for that matter) he’d always look at you with a wide two-year-old smile and gleefully utter that sweet treat, “PIE!!!!” When we finished our hike on this trip, we stopped off at Pressed for coffee and breakfast, then drove straight to the winery. But I knew “PIE!!!” was in my future. We had hoped to pick Gala or Macoun apples, but none were to be found, so we moved to the McIntosh rows and filled our bag. The following recipe can be made with a variety of apples. Just make sure they’re crisp, fresh, and ripe!
Coconut Cardomom Apple Pie with Walnut Streusel Topping
- 2 pre-made pie crusts (yes, I was going to make a deep dish, but was exhausted!)
- 1 ½ cups chopped walnuts
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 6 TB butter melted
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup coconut skyr (or any coconut yogurt)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 TB all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp vanilla
- ½ tsp coconut extract
- ½ tsp ground cardamom (I used fresh ground!)
- ¼ tsp salt
- 7 McIntosh apples, peeled, cored, and sliced about 1/4” thick
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
- In a large bowl, whisk all filling ingredients except the apples
- Add apple slices and stir til well coated
- Carefully spoon apples and custard mixture into pie shells, dividing evenly.
- Press the apples down firmly so they fill the crust
- Mix all streusel ingredients together with a pastry cutter or fork until well combined
- Press streusel mixture on top of apples, distributing evenly and covering as much of the apples as possible
- Place pies on a large baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes
- Take pies out of the oven and cover loosely with foil. Lower heat to 350 degrees F. Return to pies to oven and bake for another 35 – 40 minutes until apples are cooked through. If you’re doing a deep-dish single pie, this may mean another full hour of baking, not just a half-hour or so. Crust and streusel should be golden brown.
- Cool completely before serving. If you’re making them ahead of time, chill in the refrigerator for a few hours.
If you’re impatient like I was, you can go ahead and cut a slice while it’s warm, but the pie will crumble and fall apart rather than giving you a nice clean slice. But after refrigerating, the pie pulled itself together and sliced well. And tasted amazing!!!
I actually wrapped my second pie in foil and a Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer for another time. Can’t wait!