Tis the season! The fall harvest, U-Pick, all autumn everything season! And we sure are jolly about apples. After all, we take our food seriously — there’s been no doubt about that — so what could be better than tasting and collecting our raw ingredients straight from the source?!
Last weekend we schlepped over to Baugher’s Orchards and did just that.
“40 minutes tops,” said the most local member of our crew. He was painfully wrong, but perhaps the pain was more due to our poor navigational skills (read: inability to use the Maps function on an iPhone, and, yes, we’re embarrassed) than anything else. In any case, our day got off to a lovely, if lazy, start with a stop off at Greg’s Bagels in Belvedere Square for some apple-picking arm muscle fuel.
We arrived at Baugher’s Orchard — well, actually, first we arrived at Baugher’s Fruit Market and Restaurant where, as we looked around and noticed the average age at about 70, we realized we didn’t mean to be... but we digress. We arrived at the Orchard and quickly popped in line and purchased a ticket for the mandatory hay bale ride aka the wagon that would be our transportation. We city gals were secretly excited about the opportunity to pile onto bales of hay and feel “authentic” about our apple experience.
After a bumpy and breezy ride, we unloaded out of the wagon and were ushered over to an Apple Expert Man, who eagerly awaited our arrival. He proceeded to explain the differences between the varieties of apples, of which there were three types available for picking that day: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Mutsu. We were somewhat disappointed, we both confessed later, by the slim selection, but it by no means detracted from our enjoyment of the place or the flavors. Mutsu, he explained, is the best for cooking. That said, we actually enjoy it raw for its intense juicy bitterness — that is, only one of us does since Alex is allergic to apples “in the raw form.” (A. usually asserts this fervently, and G. has been witness more than twice.)
The Mutsu is a fan favorite, and we’ll attest to its cookability later, but we were also pleasantly surprised by the Red and Golden Delicious. Usually we think of Delicious apples as a daily cafeteria offering, and often they are mealy or flavorless. Obnoxiously skeptical (really, who do we think we are and what do we know about apples?) we got a few red and gold for variety and, tasting them between rows of trees, realized that they are actually quite good, particularly the golden. Nevertheless, we’ve never been able to find a Mutsu in a grocery store, so it maintains its first place podium at least for now.
With our bags chock-full of apples, we boarded the next wagon back to civilization. The apples are pay-by-weight, and, upon being declared proud owners of two overflowing bags of apples, we wandered on to see what else Baugher’s had in store for us.
There was a band playing an eclectic mix of country songs and some Dispatch throwbacks — we thoroughly enjoyed these guys and became their number one groupies (groupies who somehow forgot the name of the band). We danced our way into a small covered market where a slightly broader variety of apples was for sale from wicker baskets (not exactly the real deal) as well as other treats like pulled pork sandwiches (simple, good, delish) and apple butter in jars.
There were tasters laid out for the apple butter, and we totally fell for the marketing ploy. Next to a bowl of cinnamon graham pretzels were two jars of apple butter — one with sugar and one without. We must have stood there for 10 minutes tasting one and then the other, back to back, until we decided on the sugar-free one as our favorite. The apples are sweet enough on their own! We bought a jar each. (You could definitely make this at home too, but what can we say, those tasters got us!) Note to readers: apple butter on open-faced sourdough toast with a few generous slices of Gruyere = an excellent lunch. The eating wasn’t over yet. Apple fritters and cider doughnuts and house-made ice cream awaited us, and we could barely wait. In order to maximize tasting opportunities, we split all three: a fritter, a doughnut and a scoop of fresh peach ice cream. Usually we are doughnut people, but the Baugher’s fritters were well done, with big hunks of apple baked into the soft dough. The peach ice cream was also quite good. Even though fresh local peach season was coming to an end — if not already over — the ice cream tasted like summer, and it was creamy and sweet in balanced, indulgent amounts.
In addition to good eats, there was a wide selection of pumpkins and gourds as well as a face-in-hole of two happy Baugher’s apple pickers (we did it, of course). And with that, happy as could be, we deemed our Apple Picking Excursion a grand and gourmet success.
Phase two of apple picking was just as fun and delicious as phase one. As soon as we got back to campus, we pulled out our cookbooks and got to planning. Anti-appleists, this is where you come in. Those of you who do not like apples (or can’t eat them due to your pollen allergy that is so severe it prohibits you to enjoy fresh fruit, ehemm, I’m not bitter, or am I...?) must have no fear. We believe that apple pie can be even more satisfying than the apples on their own, especially when you use Ina Garten’s famous deep-dish pie recipe. We didn’t follow her instructions exactly, but instead used it as a foundation for our own pie creation, which, dare we say, was even better than that of the one and only Barefoot Contessa.
Starting with her “Perfect Pie Crust,” we gathered unsalted butter, all-purpose flour, kosher salt, sugar, cold vegetable shortening and ice water into a food processor. After a few pulses, we removed the dough and formed it into a ball, which we then stored in the fridge as we prepared the apple filling. For those of you reading this thinking “homemade shmomemade, what kind of time do Alex and Georgina think I have?” THINK AGAIN. This crust is well worth the extra five minutes of preparation that a greasy Pillsbury prepared crust would save you.
Next we moved onto the apple filling. The most tedious part of this recipe is peeling one pound of apples (approximately five small apples and three medium ones). But hey! Make it into a game like we did to pass the time! Whoever peels the fastest gets to decide the ice cream to pair with the pie (Disclaimer: Alexandra Barbera and Georgina Rupp are not responsible for any fingers you lose in the Apple Peeling Game). Once the apples were peeled and cut into one-inch slices, we combined them with orange juice (instead of the Barefoot Contessa’s lemon and orange zest, as well as lemon juice), sugar, all-purpose flour, kosher salt and pumpkin pie spice.
Once perfectly mixed, we took out our chilled dough, separated it into two balls, and rolled them out into half-inch wide circles. We carefully placed the first sheet of dough over a normal sized pie dish (sorry, Ina, we didn’t have any deep-dish pie plates lying around) and filled it with our spiced apples. Next, we positioned our final dough piece over the apples and, after much deliberation, decided on a classic scalloped edge to join the two crusts. We brushed on melted butter, made five slits in the top, sprinkled on some extra sugar and stuck it in the oven at 400.
About an hour later, we removed it and impatiently waited for it to cool to a perfect warm temperature so that the Talenti Vanilla Bean gelato we chose (together, in the end, but was it ever a question?) would just begin to melt over the flawlessly flaky crust. The pie was divine, if we do say so ourselves. The crust (thank you, Ina) is the best in the business, there’s no arguing that. We can’t even find the words to perfectly describe it — not flaky, not crunchy, maybe velvety, maybe smooth — you’ll have to make it for yourselves! The apple filling had an unbeatable fall spice that made us want to roll around in a pile of leaves. Ina’s recipe has been critiqued on the Food Network’s website for it’s intense citrus flavor, so if you’re not big on mouth-puckering tang, definitely go with ours. We finished our entire apple pie in less than 24 hours... not sure if we have to say any more to convince you: start baking it now.