Friday was a picture perfect day, hot and sunny. My lucky little kids had the day off, so we went apple picking. Two years ago, my neighbor suggested our family try Edwards Orchard in Poplar Grove. A trip to their farm is a long standing tradition with Elaine; she has been going since she was a child and now takes her young family. I fell in love with Edwards. The kids had room to run and play; the apple cider donuts were fresh and delicious. When we took the tractor out to the orchard to pick apples, I was in heaven. Three different varieties were available. The tractor pulled up in front of trees that were ready and the kids hopped off. They eagerly ran to the trees, where red and golden apples were within everyone’s reach. Before we knew it, my beautiful children had filled our basket and we were waiting for the tractor to take us back to the barn.
With the bright sun shining down on them, the kids and their friends ran from tree to tree and piled apples into the half bushel baskets. They filled them quickly with Empire and Jonathon apples, then we drove back to the barn to pick out pumpkins. That's my adorable Margaret in her dress and pink sparkly Toms picking apples - what else would you wear?
If you are thinking of making the trip to Edwards Apple Orchard, here are a few tips:
- There are two Edwards orchards. We went to the one in Poplar Grove (about 90 minutes from our home in Chicago). It does not have a web site or facebook page, but you can call ahead to find out which varieties of apples are ready. Edwards West is located in Winnebago (they do have a facebook page).
- In addition to apples, you could also pick raspberries and blackberries.
- The orchard takes cash or checks, but not credit cards.
- A basket of apples was $40. If you want to keep the basket, it will be another $3, but you can transfer the apples into your own container once you get back to the barn. We picked two baskets. They each held between 20 and 25 pounds of apples.
- Edwards makes delicious donuts - light, fresh and covered with cinnamon and sugar. You can pick up a dozen or half dozen to take home. Be prepared to wait in line for a few minutes! My older girls had school on Friday and couldn’t go with us. Bringing them donuts was a nice consolation.
I love to make homemade caramel, so here is my easy version of that classic orchard treat. I like to make caramel using the dry method - you sprinkle sugar in a skillet and watch it melt. It takes a bit of time, but I am always rewarded by rich, deeply flavored caramel. Don't stray from the pan while your sugar is melting. It can burn very quickly. Warm the cream to prevent the caramel from seizing; if the cream is cold, you are more likely to get lots of hard bits of caramel is your sauce and it will take a longer time to get a smooth sauce.
- ½ cup white sugar
- ½ cup whipping cream, warmed on 50% power for about a minute in the microwave
- ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Heat on medium until sugar begins to melt and the edges start to caramelize. Sprinkle with another tablespoon or two of sugar. Once that has started to melt, sprinkled with more sugar, repeating the process until all the sugar has been used.
Once all the sugar has been added and the edges have started to brown, use a heat proof spatula to draw the edges into the center. Once all the sugar has melted and turned a deep brown, remove pan from heat.
Slowly add about half of warmed cream. It will bubble up - stand back! Once the bubbles subside, add rest of cream, stirring to melt any hardened bits of caramel (if necessary, you can put the pan back on low heat to help the melting process). Once the caramel is smooth, add vanilla, salt and butter. Stir until butter is melted.