The first weekend of October, our entire extended family caravans to Oriole Springs Orchard in Twin Lakes, Wis., for apple picking. This is a tradition stretching back to my husband's childhood, and one we hope extends to our grandchildren.
The best part of this day is celebrating family togetherness with no toys or television. It's about being together, enjoying nature, watching the kids climb trees and biting into delicious fresh apples. The views are lovely and the timing is great for pointing out the beauty of the changing seasons. And there's nothing like apple pie with ingredients you've picked yourself.
With so many years of experience, our family has learned how to make the best of apple picking. Here are some of our tips.
Dress for the day. This is the most important insurance for a good day. Sturdy shoes and socks are imperative since orchards are filled with tree roots and fallen apples. I prefer pants and long-sleeved shirts for my kids since they like to climb the trees and reach to choose their own apples.
Investigate before you go. Every orchard is not the same, and not all apples ripen at the same time. If you know what you like, Red Delicious vs. Macintosh, find out the prime picking week. We choose the first week in October because of the selection of ripe apples. Depending on how far you want to drive and how much time you want to spend outdoors, you can find orchards with petting farms, hayrides and corn mazes. Oriole Springs has a smokehouse and a market with cider and donuts. Our clan meets up for coffee and donuts, allowing the kids to run around the haystacks after the hour-plus car ride. Then we drive to the orchards for the main event.
Beware of bees. People are not the only ones who love sweet, juicy apples. Autumn is prime bee season in the Midwest so they are plentiful. Bug sprays help, but I've learned to just avoid the bees' favorite thing-pop and juice.
Don't forget your camera. The sunlight filtering through the trees makes for great photos.
Pack a picnic. Plenty of people eat lunch in the orchard, and some places provide picnic areas and hot food, but we prefer driving to a nearby state park. It's a beautiful setting, and the kids can play before the family heads our separate ways.
This is an updated version of a story that originally ran in Going Places Fall 2006.