Apples

Have you ever had one of those days where even while you were experiencing it, you knew that it was just perfect? That is what Saturday was. I am lucky enough to live a short drive from Lancaster, Pa. Lancaster is best known for the Amish, Mennonite and general Pennsylvania Dutch culture from the large population of those groups who make it their home. It is also some of the best farmland in the country. I met up early with one of my best friends and we hit the road.

Even the drive out was beautiful. The leaves are just starting to change here, so the colors were nice to see even if they aren’t yet putting on the full Autumn show. Want a glimpse of what a full, action-packed day in Amish country looks like?  Here it is:

First stop: Farm stand. I got some enormous mums to plant in the front garden, a couple of pumpkins,and a bit of locally grown produce. I will be making plum cake, roasting some true white-fleshed sweet potatoes and having fresh green beans in the next few days.

Second stop: The Ephrata Cloister. This religious cloister that had its heyday in the 1740s & 1750s felt that the more you suffered on earth, the greater your reward would be in heaven. They used wooden blocks as pillows, and only ate the blandest of food. Against this tradition, they haved an apple dumpling sale each year on this weekend and having gotten these in the past, it was a necessary stop.

Third stop: Landis Valley Harvest Days. Always fun. Landis Valley is a museum set up like a small village and preserves the culture from the 1740s to the 1900s. During their Harvest Days weekend, they have demonstrations of old tools and techniques, apple butter and sauerkraut making, heirloom apples to taste, spinners, hair jewelry, fraktur,.. the list is so long I don’t think I could name everything. The food here is always delicious, and we had lunch of chicken corn soup, followed by pieces of bread smothered in apple butter, and the some home-made ice cream

Fourth stop: The fruit market. This place has the best deals on apples. In the front of the store, they have bins with easily 10 different varieties. You can purchase a peck or half peck bag and then fill them up with whatever you desire. I got a bushel of apples for sauce making, as well as some yummy baked goods to take home.

Fifth stop: Old Country Quilts Fabric and Quilt Shop. This is one of the only places I know that sells wool felt on the bolt. Sadly, they were out of black, which is what I was looking for, but we sent a bit of time looking at all of the locally made crafts also offered in the front part of the store.

Sixth and final stop: Hershey’s Farmers’ Market. Hershey may be best known for their chocolate, but their farmers’ market is a place I love to stop. Here I picked up some chicken pot pies and some fresh barbecued chicken along  with some of the last of the summer corn on the cob to have for dinner.

(Dinner, by the way, was the chicken, corn on the cob, and apple dumplings. After which I was told that I should feel free to go out to Lancaster any time I want by a very happy husband.)

I did a bit of crocheting, but with a full day and a full tummy, I did not get too far.

On Sunday I planted the mums and I made my first batch of apple sauce. Each year I buy a bushel of apples and aside from at least one apple crisp, they get made into sauce that we eat through most of the rest of the year. My husband had a cousin who was like a sister to him. She made applesauce, and every time he would visit, she would send him home with a container of it. Sadly, she left this world far too early when her fourth battle with cancer was too much for her. In her honor each year, I make applesauce. It’s a small thing, but it make me think of her during the process, and it honors her memory.

Through the years, I’ve used a lot of different methods. I used to have an apple peeler and corer that I loved, but the blade eventually gave out on it. Now I use an apple slicer/corer and then peel the slices by hand. You use odd muscles in your hand when doing this, so I’ve also learned that it is better to do it over a couple of days, or risk weird thumb pain if you make it an all-day affair.

It was cool enough Sunday morning, so the first batch got done. In past years I’ve used a single apple variety, or maybe two if I was feeling wild. This year,because the orchard/fruit market didn’t have my tried-and-true staymans, cortland or winesaps, I am trying a sauce made of FIVE different varieties. The beauty of making applesauce is that you can always add some lemon juice if it needs to be tarter, or sugar if it needs to be sweeter.

Although I generally mourn the start of fall because it means summer is over, this was truly the perfect fall weekend!

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