October 2010 Issue
Red, Ripe & Delicious
These orchards offer much more than apples: Corn mazes, special events and tasty treats draw families looking for a fall outing.
As the air cools and leaves change from emeralds and jades to vibrant russets, golds, gingers and crimsons, Ohioans know fall is here. And besides the crisp air and pumpkin patches full of orange orbs, nothing embodies autumn as much as a crunchy bite into a tart-sweet Honeycrisp or the warm and truly American scent of a homemade Melrose apple pie.
October is peak apple-picking season and orchards across the state offer many varieties of the fruit, not to mention irresistible ciders, pies and butters.
But in addition to offering the down-home taste of this ultimate autumn fruit, orchards provide an experience in Ohio nature, history and culture, say orchard farmers and their fans.
“One of our first outings with my new daughter, Alea, eight years ago was a visit to Lawrence Orchards,” says orchard regular Sonja French. “It’s important for kids to understand where their food comes from and learn an appreciation for our dependence on the earth.”
Now more than ever, as technology advances further and faster each year, family outings that teach children about the outdoors are important, agrees George Lawrence, owner of Marion-based Lawrence Orchards. “Once we lose our connection with the land, we lose the connection with how things grow, and we’re lost as a society,” he says, adding that an apple orchard’s mission is to preserve the past. “When you visit an apple orchard, you are visiting a working family farm. You are stepping back in time to a simpler life.”
A Warm Reception
Imagine six bushels of cored and peeled Melrose, Golden Delicious and Ida Red apples and 15 gallons of fresh cider made from 11 or 12 apple varieties melding together in a 35-gallon copper kettle over an open fire. Starting at 7 a.m., the liquid batch thickens slowly, requiring constant stirring for seven or eight hours. By early afternoon, the homemade apple butter is scooped into jars and ready for purchase.
On Oct. 30, Lawrence Orchards will host its annual Apple Butter Stir and Horseradish Grind, which allows visitors to participate in the stirring of the butter before buying some jars to take home.
And though the sweet smell of apple butter in the air is certainly a draw, so are the shocked faces of the brave visitors who dare to taste the freshly ground horseradish.
“The second we start to grind the horseradish root it releases a pungent odor and becomes extremely hot to taste,” Lawrence explains. “It’s always fun to watch the macho men step up and take a big bite and then sulk away with tears in their eyes, wiping their tongues.”
Lawrence Orchards is a third-generation establishment, and Lawrence says apples are in his blood. “You have to enjoy what you do and growing apples is it for me.”
During a visit to Lawrence Orchards, families can explore the straw maze for little kids as well as the three-acre sorghum field maze winding through four- to five-foot-tall grass.
Not sure which of the nine to 12 October varieties you want to pick? Lawrence says Melrose, a cross between the Jonathan and Red Delicious, which is also Ohio’s state apple, is the most popular, followed closely by Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Fuji and Gala.
Some newer varieties that are growing in popularity are Jazz, Ginger Gold and Pristine. “I can already see that Pristine will be a great variety,” Lawrence says, adding that his Pristine trees have only been in the ground for two years and it will be a few more before their apples will be ready for picking and purchase.
“It’s like the Honeycrisp and Ginger Gold,” he says, “an apple with high acidity that lets you know right away that you’re biting into something with a lot of flavor.”
Sweet and Spicy
As the weather starts to cool in autumn, Ohioans throw on sweaters and head inside for warmth.
Visiting Rouster’s Apple House in Milford is one way to escape the cold. Step inside the farm market and stop by the bar made from rustic logs to pick up some cider and a tasting board of apple wedges. Choose from more than two dozen varieties, then take your treat over to one of two fireplaces built from creek rock. Take a look around the room at the wagon-wheel lights and lanterns and other antiques the original owners, Henrietta and Merrill Rouster, collected over the years and enjoy stepping back to the frontier days.
If you happen to visit on an Indian summer weekend, try an icy apple cider pop made from Rouster’s homemade cider, which combines at least six apple varieties to pack a flavorful punch.
At Rouster’s, Henrietta and Merrill’s son Dan and co-owner and wife Donna grow apples on 16 to 20 acres. They encourage visitors to taste different varieties they don’t normally see in the grocery store, from sweet to sour.
And if you’re looking for a completely original apple, try the Krispy, Rouster’s very own variety that Merrill hand-pollinated in the late 1950s by crossing Jonathan, Red Delicious and York Imperial apples to form the tart-sweet customer favorite that “snaps” when bitten.
“Merrill was a scientist, so he was always experimenting with things,” Donna says. “His end result was the Krispy, and it’s our most popular variety.”
Rouster’s doesn’t offer pick-your-own apples, but while perusing shelves upon shelves of varieties, visitors can also shop for peanut brittle, maple syrup, popcorn, apple and fruit butters, honeys, jams, pickles, relishes, fresh Michigan cranberries and more.
Trails and Treats
Don’t walk into Charlie Beckwith’s apple orchard with a full stomach, because samples for every guest may be one of his biggest attractions.
“How do you know if you’ll like it if you don’t taste it?” he asks, as he wheels a Jonagold through the corer/peeler/slicer, pops it into a plastic bag and hands it over to the customer, free of charge. Beckwith can also take you through the history of apple growing at his Franklin Township-based Beckwith Orchards, where five generations of Beckwiths have grown and sold fruit for more than 125 years.
Charlie’s daughter and manager, Sally, says one of her father’s favorite signs to point out is: “Beckwith Orchards customers are forbidden to hurry.” Many say that the best thing about Beckwith Orchards is the visitor experience, whether it’s getting to see the “quality control guy” who sits at the end of the apple washing machine’s conveyor belt, or taking a bite from a complimentary Honeycrisp.
“You give someone an apple, you make a friend for life,” Beckwith says.
Customers are encouraged to taste every variety before they make a decision on their favorites. Melrose is the most popular in October, but some new varieties Beckwith offers are Snow Sweet and Zest Star.
Although Beckwith doesn’t offer pick-your-own apples, Ohioans who are looking for a fall adventure can stroll through the orchards and country store, stop in the bakery for a home-baked pie or send their children running through a two-and-a-half acre corn maze.
The bakery is the newest attraction. Pies are available for purchase all week, but visitors can stop in on Saturdays and Sundays to sit down and enjoy a slice, along with dumplings, cookies and coffee or warm or cold cider. Favorite pies include caramel apple nut and apple, made fresh with Northern Spy apples.
“My grandfather always says an apple pie is not a pie unless it’s made with Northern Spy,” Sally says.
And for people who enjoy bike paths in the fall, the Portage County Hike & Bike Trail runs adjacent to Beckwith Orchards, making it the perfect place to stop for an apple treat along the way, Sally says.
When You Go
1617 Lake Rockwell Rd., Kent 44240, 330/673-6433. beckwithorchards.com
. Open daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
2634 Smeltzer Rd., Marion 43302, 740/389-3019. lawrenceorchards.com
. Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Rouster's Apple House
1986 St. Rte. 131, Milford 45150, 513/625-5504. sites.google.com/site/roustersapplehouse
. Tues.–Sun. 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
The Art of Apple Picking
Ready to go apple picking? Just approach the tree, grab the apple and pull, right?
George Lawrence, owner of Marion-based Lawrence Orchards, says there is more to it than that.
First, listen to the orchard farmers — they know which trees are the ripest and can guide you in the right direction.
“When the apple is truly ripe, the stem on the branch becomes brittle,” Lawrence says. “As you lift the apple and bend the stem, it should just break off and land in your hand. As long as you’re picking ripe apples, this is the easiest way to do it.”
Some other advice for apple picking this year: Go soon. Lawrence and other orchard farmers say the season is approximately two to four weeks ahead of schedule because of the early spring, so they recommend heading out earlier in the month.