Back in college, I remember a friend telling me about an apple orchard that she and her boyfriend at the time went for the day that wasn’t too far from our small college town. It was the perfect place to go indulge in all things fall, and a welcomed distraction from the looming mid-term exams. One October Saturday morning, a couple of friends and us piled into her car and headed west towards Charlottesville. We spent the morning roaming through the orchard, sipping apple cider and returned with more apples than we could eat.
The following fall, I took Jody to the very same orchard with a couple of friends. That was six years ago and we have gone every fall since! After moving to Maryland four years ago, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to keep this tradition going, but every fall, something calls us back to Virginia and we’ve been able to squeeze in a trip to Carter’s Mountain Orchard every time.
Each fall, our apple picking trip is one of the most-anticipated activities of the season. We typically try to go mid-to-late October to have the best selection of available apples. It doesn’t work every year, but Carter’s Mountain has always had a great selection for picking, plus they also have pre-picked apples available at their country store. Our favorites to pick are Winesap, Fuji, Granny Smith and Stayman.
We made our annual trip last weekend, when we were in Virginia for my best friend’s baby shower. I wasn’t sure if they were going to open for picking this year, considering many of our local pick-your-own berries were closed due to the pandemic. However, Carter’s Mountain did a great job of maintaining safe practices – a limited number of tickets were available for three allotted time slots on the weekends, which are usually their busiest days. Everyone was masked in crowded areas, and several hand sanitizer stations were positioned near the barn.
The weather has varied with each year. We’ve gone on days where it was too warm to feel like fall, days that were incredibly windy and cold, and days where it rained the entire time. This year, we had the perfect temperature – in the upper 60’s – but it was overcast and misty the entire day. It honestly didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. A bit of a chill in the air and cloudy skies just felt like fall. It did make walking through the muddy orchard challenging at times, but I was happy to be putting my Bean Boots to work!
After picking our fair share of apples, we stopped at the Mountain Grill for a cup of hot cider and a half-dozen apple cider donuts. We found a covered picnic table and enjoyed sipping on the cider and a few donuts before heading back down the mountain. We soaked in the view, overlooking Charlottesville and the color-changing mountains. Bold Rock Cider does have a small tasting room on the property that we’ve enjoyed many times that share the same view. While we chose not to indulge this time, we did make a stop in the Country Store, which is filled with jams, butters, seasonal decor, and of course, apples and fresh cider.
Apple picking is one of our favorite fall traditions and I love that we’ve been able to do it (at the same orchard!) for so many years. I’m not sure what’s more fun – strolling through the orchard, finding the perfect apple, tasting the apple cider donuts, just being in the mountains, or all of the delicious apple treats I get to make when I get home! I make this Cider-Braised Pulled Chicken Sandwiches often in the fall, usually whip up an apple pie, or snack on slices with this dip. Last year, we used our apples to make this Cranberry Apple Moscow Mule! This year, I’m thinking about attempting homemade applesauce. Mmm, my stomach is growling just thinking of the possibilities!
What is your favorite fall tradition? Do you have a favorite apple recipe? Tell me about them in the comments below!