This weekend’s baking adventure is the “Salted Caramel Apple Pie” from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. Rather than just going to my local Whole Foods and using whatever apples they had, I figured it was an opportune time to visit some local orchards and see what they had in their farm stores. (Sorry, PYO is not for me; I’m happy to pay other people to do the picking!) The recipe calls for a balance of tart and soft baking apples, so my first challenge was to figure out which orchards had the right kinds of apples — which turns out to be difficult if you don’t actually care about specific varieties. @adapples pointed me at the Orange Pippin directory of orchards, but unfortunately they don’t provide a “location x availability x ultimate use” search.
Since I had nothing else planned for Saturday, I figured I’d drive around to several orchards and see what they had on offer. I started out at Bolton Spring Farm (159 Main St. [Route 117], Bolton), which turned out to be a big win. Not only did they have hot apple dumplings, but they actually signed the apple varieties in their farm stand with indications of what they were good for. Unfortunately, I’m not sure which apples I actually bought: I know I got some Gravenstein, but I don’t remember the others (maybe Macoun?). Bolton Spring Farm also had some late-season peaches for sale, so I bought a small container of those as well.
My second stop was Carlson Orchards (115 Oak Hill Rd., Harvard), which is one of the biggest wholesale operations in these parts, in addition to having pick-your-own and a farm stand. I bought some honey (although not apple-blossom honey, which would have been wonderful) and a rather insipid cider donut. (I always make this mistake this time of year. I’ve never had a “cider” donut that tasted like anything, but FRESH DONUTS always seems to override my experience.)
After Carlson I headed back down I-495 to Northborough, where both Davidian Bros. and Tougas Family Farm are located. Tougas was my first stop (234 Ball St.), and on my way there I passed the Davidian Bros. farm stand (on Church St., I think). At Tougas I bought some eating apples (three different kinds — I think one was a Mutsu and one was a Honeycrisp; not sure about the third). At Davidian Brothers I bought a pumpkin donut — much better than the cider donut I had had earlier — some macaroni salad (terrible), and some exceedingly large baked goods. (When I got home, I cut the giant brownies into quarters before freezing them. I had to add some wine vinegar to the macaroni salad to cut through the heavy, greasy mayonnaise, but even then it still wasn’t very good.)
Finally, I drove home, and then a little farther, to see what was on offer at Dowse Orchards (98 N. Main St. [Route 27], Sherborn), which is actually my “local” as it were. Their farm stand is much smaller than many of the others, but what they had that I hadn’t seen anywhere else was proper unpasteurized cider. Their cider is UV-treated to kill pathogens without cooking, and as someone who grew up on unpasteurized cider I’m looking forward to trying it.
Overall, the apple orchard industry seems to be thriving in the region between Boston and Worcester. I visited five out of perhaps two dozen orchards, and all were reasonably busy (Tougas Family Farm and Carlson Orchards having particularly large crowds doing the pick-your-own thing). One thing I did note was that all of the farm stands except Carlson’s carried a very similar selection of fruit products, which appeared to all have been made by the same private-label manufacturer. Checking the labels, I noted they all said “Made for (insert orchard name here)”, which leaves me wondering whether any of them actually were made with fruit from the orchard in question. (Some of them obviously were not, based on the composition.) Likewise the same brands of honey, frozen chicken pies, and other non-fruit products were seen everywhere. I suppose there are good business reasons for fluffing out your orchard’s selection with other locally-made products from a grocery distributor, just as other farm stands sell out-of-season vegetables from Chelsea Produce Market to supplement their own produce.
I’ll have a post on the pie Monday evening.