Pickin’ and grinnin’

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 just about being together and enjoying nature, watching the kids climb trees, the older ones helping the younger ones, and then 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 hot 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 also prefer pants and long-sleeved shirts for my kids since they like to climb the trees and reach into the branches 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 (plus the availability of fresh-cut pumpkins). 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 an attached smokehouse with sausage and cheese, plus a market with cider and donuts. Our extended clan meets up for coffee and donuts, allowing the kids to run around the haystacks and visit the goats after the hour-plus car ride. Then we drive into 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. We stick with water and watch those bees climb into other people’s pop cans.

• Don’t forget your camera. Something about the sunlight filtering through the trees makes for great photos.

• Pack a picnic. We make a full day of it, with a picnic. Plenty of people eat lunch in the actual orchard, and some places provide picnic areas and even hot food, but we prefer driving to a nearby state park. It’s a beautiful setting, and the kids can swing or toss a football before the family heads our separate ways.

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