On Saturday my beau and I headed out to the countryside to go to one of the local apple orchards, bundling up in out coats and scarves. It was a gorgeous day, crisp and brisk, and the drive was beautiful, with sunshine flooding the land stretching out all around us.
The landscape is that middle ground between the sumptuous colors and textures of fall and the spindly elegance of winter: there are still brilliantly richly colored leaves on the trees but they’re falling off, shedding fast to reveal the skeletal lines of the trees beneath. Even the daylight is different: softer, more fragile, delicate even, sluicing everything in a veil of gold. A perfect sunlight for the apple orchard, in fact.
I’ve been going to Edwards Apple Orchard since I was a child, when my family used to go apple picking together, filling up bushels with Granny Smiths, Galas, Honeycrisps and Pink Ladies. (Who gets to name apples? Because I want that job.) We didn’t go apple picking today, but much else has remained the same as when I was a kid. There’s always a crowd of people since it’s a popular local attraction, and the irresistible smell of hot, buttery apple cider donuts wafting in the breeze. We made a beeline for the little cafe-like area (though cafe is too fancy a word for the eating area), where they serve up those apple cider donuts, apple pie, hot and cold cider and other goodies.
These donuts are actually pretty legendary around this area: freshly made, the outside is just perfectly crispy, dusted in sugar, with a delicate crunch when you bite into it — and the inside is a beautifully soft and fluffy contrast, sweet but not too much so, and it really does taste like apple cider in pastry-like form: like a real idea of an apple, not a chemist’s idea of one. I’m biased, but these are the best donuts in the world — and I’ve had plenty of fancy real-deal gourmet desserts in my life, like Laduree macarons, and a pretty incredible ganache at Petrossian. I once begged my mom to Fed Ex me a dozen during the fall semester of my first year in film, and I remember how every night, I’d warm one up in the toaster oven and then have it with a pumpkin spice tea. It was absolutely comforting and rampantly delicious. If God put a gun to my head and said I could only have one baked good for the rest of my life, it’s be an apple cider donut from Edwards Apple Orchard in Poplar Grove, Illinois. Together with some hot cider and a warm fire in the Dutch oven nearby, and that’s just about a perfect Midwestern afternoon.
By of course, the day at the orchard isn’t just donuts and cider. There’s more food at the general store upstairs! (There’s also wagon rides and a petting barn for the kids, but I’m all for skipping to the grown folks’ activities now.) There’s just jars and cans and boxes full of local deliciousness: apple butter, canned peaches, sweet corn salsa, strawberry pepper preserves, pumpkin bread, jams and jellies of all kinds, zucchini chutney, all of which I fantasize filling every shelf in my pantry for the long winter.
You can also enter a big barn where you can buy sausages, cheese, homemade fudge, and squash and gourds and, yes, bags of apples!
I managed to restrain myself and made off with only some mulling cider spices and two huge jars of sweet corn salsa…which perhaps isn’t really restraint, if you think about it. Four pounds of the stuff seems pretty intense, but oh my God, it’s so good!
So that was my little weekend adventure, a nice break from Nanowrimo and work and work and work. The orchard is only open in the fall, so it’s definitely a local seasonal tradition I look forward to. I already can’t wait till next year, to have those paragons of donuthood — and stock up on sweet corn salsa!
Tags: autumn, cider, daytrips, donuts, Edwards Apple Orchard, the Midwest