Apple Picking Is the Best [UPDATED]

We Boyds like our seasonal rituals, and at this time of year that means one thing: apple-picking. Here are our recommendations.

Our Chicagoland apple-picking adventures go way back to 2004, when Jon and I celebrated our fourth anniversary and the promise of a growing family at an apple orchard in Woodstock, Illinois (perhaps “this one?”: we don’t remember for sure). Alas, we miscarried that baby just a few weeks later — but we didn’t give up hoping, and five years later we got to bring two little girls along on our orchard outing.

h2. 2009

I remember the first time we took Lucy and Rosie to pick apples. We had waited until pretty late in the season, so we were picking fruit on a very brisk October day. “Ziegler’s Farm”: treated us right, though, with some cinnamon-sugar donuts and all-you-can-eat apples while you pick. As I recall, we barely made it home before naps overtook us all.

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Ziegler’s was closed the next couple of years, so we went on the hunt for a new orchard that might fall in the sweet spot of:

* not too far from our home in Chicago
* not too crowded
* not too schlocky
* plenty of apples, varieties, and goodies

h2. 2010

Our experiment with “Royal Oak Farm Orchard”: in October 2010 didn’t quite fit the bill. Although they did have apples and donuts, they also had pretty insane crowds and a bit of an amusement-park feel. That could be the right fit for some, but it wasn’t quite right for the Boyds.

The photos sure _look_ as if we had fun, though, don’t they? :) And the day’s “other”:/news/2010/a-day-of-whys/ “adventures”:/news/2010/our-joyful-storehouse-of-memories/ turned out to be among our all-time most memorable.

h2. 2011

Last year, we struck gold with a visit to “Homestead Orchard”: outside of Woodstock, Illinois — a sweet little farm with “lots of apples”:/news/2011/sweet-apple/ and a nice homey feel. The downside of Homestead Orchard is its lack of donuts, but we must admit we get our “fair”:/news/2012/chocolate-cheese-croissants/ “share”:/news/2011/roasted-cinnamon-ice-cream/ of “sweets”:/news/2010/great-news-cookies/ in the Boyd household anyway. (And there’s always “Spunky Dunkers”:

h2. 2012

h3. Alternatives

In past years, we’ve used “this website”: as a resource (as well as good-old-fashioned Yelp) for finding orchards in the Chicago area. Sadly, many seem to be closed this year or have drastically reduced crops due to the early spring warmth which was followed by hard freezes.

But we still hope to enjoy our annual apple-picking adventure this year — and we’re especially delighted to hear that Ziegler’s (our 2009 destination) may have reopened for business! So we may have to return to both Ziegler’s and Homestead this year.

There may well be a pie or my favorite “apple cake”: in our future.

h3. Actual

“Heinz Orchard”: was our actual destination, after Ann had called half a dozen other places, to be told repeatedly that they were either all picked out or weren’t doing any picking at all because of extreme weather in the spring (both warm and then freezing). The day we chose to go picking (September 15) was hot, but we were just happy to find any orchard that had apples on the tree at all! This year was the first time we saw (or at least, used) a long-handled picking basket, which worked like a charm and really helped us to get at some otherwise-impossible-to-reach beauties. We also enjoyed a nice picnic here, and maybe there was some snoozing afterwards. We recommend this place, which claims to be the closest apple orchard to Chicago.

h2. 2013

Despite Jon’s pleas that we should go back to 2011’s find, Homestead, I wanted to try a new place I’d read about — and which has a helpful email newsletter that kept us well informed with forecasts about varieties and picking dates. So after going to Chicago’s closest orchard, we headed all the way out to Wisconsin (gasp!) to “Harvest Time Orchards”: (They say “orchards,” for there are several: apple as well as cherry.)

The deciding factor was — as it so often is — donuts. Harvest Time prides itself on its homemade donuts and cider, which tap into Jon’s happy memories of “going to the cider mill” during his years as a Michigander. Ironically, in the end we ended up not getting donuts after all, because the line was frighteningly long by the time we emerged from picking in the orchard.

We picked Honeycrisp, McIntosh (the surprise standout!), Empire, Gala, and (a new variety for us) Blondee, and despite the small yields on pretty small trees, we headed home with something like 49 pounds of apples for our $48, plus two gallons of unpasteurized, fresh-from-the-press cider. We won’t mind going back to this place, though it was a little crowded for our taste (on what was admittedly an _absolutely perfect_ day for picking). Just down the road we passed a place called Oriole Springs Orchard; maybe that’s worth checking out next year?

_Have you found an orchard that’s worth a visit? We’d love to hear your recommendations._

5 Replies to “Apple Picking Is the Best [UPDATED]”

  1. We went apple picking in Indiana while we lived in Chicago, but I can’t remember the name of the place. All the local orchards here are citrus – lots and lots of grapefruit. We’ve been talking recently about putting in a garden. The growing season here means planting over the next two months and harvesting from October to May. How weird is that?

  2. Deborah, that is so interesting about your growing season! So much longer than the Midwest’s. I bet you’ll get some awesome tomatoes around Valentine’s Day! :)

    Young — you should definitely go apple-picking!

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