Apple Picking at the Homestead

imageI went home to visit my mother at the old Homestead the first weekend in October, picking her up to come to a concert with us near where we live, and then bringing her home two nights later. I bought her some mums on an earlier visit, and this time we added a pumpkin to the old well cover for a little more autumn flair. 🙂image

Before I had to leave to go home myself this time, we decided to pick some apples from the two trees my father and she had planted more than two decades ago. We both love to bake/make pies, and several of my sisters still live in the area and might use some of the apples too.

imageWhen we drove up the driveway, several deer had made their way out of the woods in the back to sample the fruits as well. It was a beautiful sight, watching them. imageAll the wildlife that makes its way through the yard – deer, turkey, rabbits, the crows…even skunks (the babies are adorable) and a few times a fox – is one of the reasons my father loved this home he made for us all.

imageThe tree he planted in the back yard, where the deer were sampling, is a Macintosh , but the one in the front is a mystery. Based on the color, crispness, and flavor of the apples, we’re thinking Cortland or something similar. They’re never sprayed, which is great as far as I’m concerned. I’d rather deal with a few spots than to have pesticides all over the apples.

imageThe trees were loaded with apples this year, so 30 minutes of picking (some with the trusty apple picker on a pole) yielded multiple bags of apples.

It was a beautiful day, crisp and sunny, made all the more wonderful for sharing it with my beloved Ma and having the fun of apple-picking with her too!

imageThe end result was a pan of salted caramel apple bars…and a nice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown-sugar laced apple pie! 🙂

Hello October!

It was a pretty ride into school, on this first day of October.


Signs of the season are all around…like this wild apple tree, loaded with fruit, that I spotted alongside the road I drive to work.

imageSomething must have been going on in the Amish community near my school, because this buggy was one of four I saw in the span of less than 10 minutes this morning.

The sun didn’t stay for long, but I’m looking forward to the cooler days and nights, perfect for tea, the pumpkins and mums on the porch, and the golden and red-burnished leaves of the maples and oaks all around.

How about you – what do you love about October? 🙂


Easy Baked Apples (Courtesy of Clara’s Great Depression Cooking)


The prepared apples before they go in the oven

It’s springtime where I live, but it’s still very chilly (in the 20 degrees farenheit range) and therefore still suitable for baking all sorts of things. While apples are traditionally an autumn fruit, for me, baked apples are good any time of the year.

This recipe is both simple and delicious. And it’s been around a while. I’ve made baked apples before, but this particular incarnation of them is courtesy of a lovely woman named Clara, who had a series of “Great Depression” cooking videos and cookbooks, in conjunction with her grandson. She lived in upstate New York, and although she has since passed (at the ripe age of 98), her work lives on. Here’s a link to the website that tells all about her: It’s called Great Depression Cooking With Clara.

So here is the simple recipe:

Wash, dry, and core three or four large apples.

Fill the cavities with 1 pat of butter and as much cinnamon sugar (three parts sugar to one part ground cinnamon) as they can hold. Dot with a pat of butter.

Put into a pan; pour in a little water to prevent burning, and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Let cool a bit and eat!

You can watch Clara in action making these delicious and nutritious treats right here. I’m telling you, her videos are addictive, not only because of the simple recipes but also because she weaves in little memories of her and her family’s experiences during the Great Depression. She was such a wonderful, down-to-earth woman; I only wish I’d been able to meet her in person. Enjoy!

Early Autumn Tradition

I’m the kind of person who loves traditions.

When I was a kid, I loved – no, I guess needed – routine. I liked to be able to count on things, and I thrived on the sense of security my parents and large family of sisters (there were seven of us total, no brothers) provided. Change rattled me, so much so that when two of my older sisters left suddenly, according to my six-year-old perspective (one for college, and one who basically eloped), it threw me for a tailspin emotionally that almost prevented me from finishing my first grade year.

That sounds ominous, I know, and perhaps makes this blog post sound like it’s going to be about doom and gloom, but it’s not.  Everything worked out, and life went on more or less smoothly in the long run (well, I’m still a little odd, but that’s just me, LOL).

applepicking edited 2014

Apple Orchard near my home, picture taken in September 2014

This blog however, is about a tradition I’ve enjoyed for decades and that is one of the perks of growing up and living in upstate New York: Apple-picking! I’ve gone apple-picking every single year of my life. In fact, the joke around my house now is that if we don’t go apple-picking, I don’t make any apple pies that year. Except it’s not a joke. ‘Cause that’s my rule and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

I’m not fussy, though. We don’t have to go to a full blown “real” apple orchard like the one pictured at the left. In fact, before I was married we hardly ever went to a commercial orchard. No, we’d take a drive north to Buck Hill and the state land there, where there was a wild apple orchard, created by nature. The apples were almost always smaller than apple orchard fruit, or pocked and imperfect in other ways – but they also had no pesticides on them and they were tart and crisp, resulting in pies, applesauce, and other baked goods that tasted amazing.

Front Apples edited

Pa took this picture of the apple tree in the front yard, full of fruit

10 apple tree with apples on it in fall editedl

Shaking the tree for fruit

with the applepicker edited

Me with the apple-picker and a bag full of fruit

at the table edited

Kitchen at the Homestead, with the long table and Pa at his usual place, just before supper

My parents eventually planted two apple trees in their yard, one in the front, and one in the back, of different varieties. These ended up being very similar to those we’d find in the wild (probably because my father never sprayed them with chemicals). Still plentiful like in commercial orchards, but smaller and imperfect on the outside.  The picture on the left is from quite a few years back, when my father was still alive, and one sister and I  gathered with our families one weekend at the Homestead to pick apples and have supper with Pa and Ma.

Here I am, getting ready to use the apple-picker lying on the ground near me (more on that handy tool in just a minute) and finally just below is one of Pa in his place at the table, talking to my sister before supper.
Okay, so here’s more about the apple-picking tool: When I was dating my soon-to-be-husband, he’d come to visit me at the Homestead, and we’d pile into the van to drive up past Steuben and a Revolutionary War monument there where a tall, wild apple tree with gorgeous golden apples grew. My husband earned a reputation for his skill at wielding that awkward-but-very-useful apple-picking tool….a long wooden handle topped with a curved, coated wire “basket” of sorts, with little spiky fingers of wire to help grasp the high fruits, pluck them from the branch, and bring them safely to the ground. Maybe it’s because he’s tall and has strong arms and back (yeah, I love my guy!), but he could get to just about any apple I asked him to get for me. 🙂

applepicking with Pa

Pa and me, having a good time – and sampling the fruit – at an orchard years ago)

Over the years, apple-picking has become a beloved tradition that is more about the family and memories made together, than it is about the fruit we gather and pies  or other baked goods that result.  Pa’s death brought those memories into even sharper focus, knowing there will be no new ones to add to the collection.

Mary and Ma 2014 applepicking edited

Me and Ma at the commercial orchard near my home this past weekend…taking a ride on the tractor back to the apple barn!

And so each year the act of going apple-picking, whether at an orchard, at the Homestead, or in the wild, is both familiar and new – a kaleidoscope of images, feelings, laughter, and the comfort of sharing a simple pleasure with loved ones, and I’m so thankful for the many years I happy times I can think back on.

Traditions like these mark the moments in our lives, giving context to the whole and adding to the beauty of the tapestry. When times are challenging, such memories can bring joy that helps to balance out the rest.

As you can see, I’m a believer in the beauty and value of traditions. 🙂 Seasonal or otherwise, do you have any that you love?