Have you ever noticed how much the pleasure of being outdoors is enhanced in the fall? The crisp air laced with the scents of fallen leaves and wood smoke, the jewel-bright hues of foliage and flowers against a vivid blue sky, the joyful shrieks of school children playing at recess or the thumping cadence of a marching band at practice—they’re all part of the invigorating autumn atmosphere. And maybe the knowledge that winter is on its way adds to the impetus to just get out and make the most of what fall has to offer.
Since it’s harvest season, there’s so much to do outside. Visit a pumpkin farm, wander through a corn maze, or go apple-picking at a local orchard. We spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at Wilson’s Orchard (wilsonsorchard.com) just north of Iowa City (on the hilariously named Dingleberry Road). Part nature park, part orchard, and surrounded by old oak forest, the farm occupies both sides of a lovely valley with a winding creek meandering through the land.
Grabbing baskets at the barn, where you can also sample the apple varieties that are ripe now to decide what to pick, we trekked out to the trees to find what we wanted. Thoughtfully laid out, this color-coded sign is a big help as there are over 120 varieties in the orchard.
If you’re not up for a hike, free tractor rides wind around through the acres of trees on the weekends. On the way to the orchard, the driver regales his passengers with tales about gators in the creek, secret hideouts, and other near-truths. Once among the trees, you can hop off to pick apples and either walk back or catch the next trailer.
Helpful signs at the head of each row of trees provide info on variety name, ideal picking time, flavor, and best uses for the fruit. From August through October, there is a wide range of ripe apple varieties to choose from.
The Wilsons grow all kinds of apples – big ones, small ones, green ones, yellow ones, and purple ones – each with its own flavor and texture. Most are great for eating out of hand; others are best for baking or juice.
Apples here range from the classic antique varieties enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson to the most recent releases from university fruit breeding programs. Hannah is filling her basket with fruit and her day with joy.
On the way back to the barn to get the day’s pickings weighed, you can stop off in one of the patches to choose a pumpkin or two.
Or if your arms are already full of apples, there are plenty of pumpkins all ready for you to make your selections at the barn.
If you’ve worked up an appetite in the orchard, there’s a grill and picnic area just outside the shop or you can head indoors to sample the apple-flavored offerings there. They serve apple cider donuts and their famous apple turnovers, hot out of the oven—sugar-coated flaky goodness filled to bursting with spiced apple.
Fresh apple cider is on offer as well as pies, caramel apples, apple butters, jellies, and preserves, and more freshly picked fruit—just in case you missed a variety you want to take home. It was a warm sunny day so we sampled the apple cider slushies. Perfect for wetting our whistles.
Take produce home in style with one of these cool baskets or peruse their selection of other items to add to a holiday gift stash.
It was lovely spending the day in the fresh air listening to the birds sing, watching kids play among the pumpkins, and smelling the wildflowers. Best of all, we’re supporting a local grower and enjoying fresh fruit at its best.
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