Lexington, KY – The time has come to trade our glass of lemonade in for a mug of hot-spiced cider, and apple pie takes center stage over summer’s key lime pie for the cool months ahead. Yes, fall has arrived and brings with it the joys of all things apple. Families in the central Kentucky area are blessed with an abundance of orchards offering not only a variety of apples, pears and squash but also a memorable day of old fashioned fun easily resembling a tale from a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.
Reed Valley Orchard is just seven miles from Paris and their booth is a fixture at the Lexington Farmers Market. The orchard grows over 25 varieties of apples as well as unique varieties of pears. Whether it’s taking a stroll through the orchards pumpkin patch or hiking down the historic Stagecoach Trail that the notorious Jesse James and his brother camped along, this orchard is a step back in time.
Boyd Orchards in Versailles is packed with great fall activities and many varieties of apples, pears, gourds, pumpkins and squash. The onsite restaurant, Apple Blossom CafÈ, is open seven days a week with a large selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts. The orchard is known for their weekend festivals throughout the fall season.
Evans Orchard and Cider Mill grows over 12 acres of fruit trees with over 20 varieties of apples on their farm in Georgetown. Each weekend, through the end of October, a variety of fall themed events are happening at the orchard. Although there is plenty of fun to be had for free, there are additional charges for the kids’ play area, wagon rides and corn maze.
Beyond the basic grocery store varieties like Gala and Granny Smith, these local orchards grow many distinctive and tasty apples with countless uses in baking and cooking. Here are a few unique varieties:
Arkansas Black is a long lasting tart apple. These are best for storing and eating after Jan 1.
Honeycrisps are firm and predominately sweet. This apple is perfect for eating right off the tree.
Melrose is a cross between Red Delicious and Jonathan. They have a slightly acidic flavor that gets better after Christmas. This is great for apple butter and apple pies.
Mutsu (Crispin) are one of a small number of varieties which serves a dual purpose -
they are great for eating and cooking with.
Apples can be stored for quite a while in the right environment. Keep the apples at 32-40∞F in a root cellar (if you are lucky enough to have one), a second refrigerator, or a garage. Granny Smith, Stayman Winesap, Rome Beauty, Braeburn, Gala, Jonathan, Melrose, Mutsu, Newtown Pippin and Red Delicious are all apples with shelf life longevity.
Undoubtedly you will arrive home from the orchard with more apples than you originally anticipated, so here are a few ways to store the bountiful harvest.
Canning apples is extremely easy and requires very little additional kitchen supplies. Unlike some foods that need pressure canning, apples only require water bath canning. Apple butter, applesauce, cinnamon apples, and so forth can be made in big batches either on your stove top or in a crock pot (see recipe below), canned and enjoyed throughout the year.
Using a food dehydrator is the easiest way of drying apples. Dried apples are fantastic as a snack, in trail mix and in desserts.
To prepare apples for drying, core, peel (depending on the variety -
if it’s thin-skinned, leave the peel on) and slice thinly. To kill any bugs that might be lurking, blanch the slices in hot water or steam them for three to five minutes. Applying a citric acid powder is also a good idea to help keep the color bright and to retain nutrients. Follow the steps provided in your food dehydrator instruction manual.