Apple season is upon us, and with it comes the sometimes sweet, sometimes tart, and always crisp and juicy flavors that are the epitome of fall. And don’t even get me started on the smell of them baking. Thankfully, Vermont is full of ways to enjoy them, including picking your own right from the tree.
On a beautiful summer evening in September, Poppy Gall and her husband, Mike Cotroneo, of Morristown, picked fresh apples off of the trees at Burtt’s Orchard in Cabot.
“We picked Zestar and William’s Pride,” said Cotroneo, while he sat with his wife on a red picnic table overlooking an expansive view, munching on fresh-baked apple cider doughnuts.
“We discovered this place a couple years ago and were just blown away,” says Gall, “by the variety, the old varieties.”
“And the new varieties,” chimed in her husband. He shrugs and says, “I love apples, they’re my favorite. I eat them fresh or in oatmeal, cooked right in.” He thinks a moment, and then adds, “And pies are good.”
The apples from this day’s harvest were headed for classic homemade apple sauce to go with pork loin that the pair was planning for a weekend dinner. Gall planned to cook the Zestar apples with some lemon, cinnamon, cardamom, and maple syrup. The resulting apple sauce, she says, is out of this world.
But the list of things that can be made from apples is long, and Gall shared some of her favorite ideas, like apple brown betty, apple strudel, apple butter, apple cake, apple jelly, apple cider vinegar, fried apple rings, apples in sausage stuffing, apple pan dowdy, or apple cobbler.
The woman working behind the register at Burtt’s Orchard that day, Evelyn Daly, suggested apple chutney as well, for something different.
“I wish you had been here a few minutes ago,” Daly said, stepping outside of the farm store at the orchard to take in the view. She said the fading light of the setting sun had been hitting the land just right, illuminating the layers of trees and mountains to the west.
As for the farm store at Burtt’s Orchard, it’s full of sweet corn, apple cider, vinegar, beef, maple syrup, coffee and apple slushies, all grown or produced by the Burtt family. As the season continues, there will be massive piles of squash, pie pumpkins, and carving pumpkins, too. And, the shelves always include local honey made by a neighbor and canned pie filling made by Peg’s Pantry in Orange.
Of course, there are apples at the farm store, including labeled boxes of each of the varieties that are currently ripe. For the more adventurous, there are maps, available in a pile right next to the cash register, to help customers navigate the numerous rows of pick-your-own varieties.
Orchard owner Greg Burtt says the orchard came into existence pretty haphazardly. He moved to the farmhouse across the road when he was 3, and his family operated a dairy farm and made maple syrup. Eventually the family stopped dairy farming, and Burtt became interested in apples.
“I planted the first trees in 2005,” says Burtt, “and we opened for pick-your-own in 2009. It was fun and easy to do, and just grew from there.”
Now the orchard has grown to include many more apple trees, pears and cherries. Burtt says the pears will be ready by mid-September, and although the cherries already ripened earlier this summer, the 10-day cherry season is busier than the main apple season, he says.
The farm store itself has grown, too, going from a small canopy-covered area with crates of apples and corn outside to a four-walled structure complete with a kitchen and two public bathrooms. A playground, apple sling shot and free corn maze round out the offerings.
And then, there are the apple-cider doughnuts.
Daly recalls a day two years ago when the hosts of WDEV’s program, “Music To Go To the Dump By,” brought in Burtt’s Orchard apple-cider doughnuts. The hosts raved on air about Burtt’s doughnuts all morning. That weekend, doughnut sales skyrocketed. On Sunday alone, Daly and Burtt’s mom made 500 dozen doughnuts — that’s 6,000 doughnuts in one day. Then, they made just as many the following Sunday.
“And the very next year, we have this building,” laughs Daly, while gesturing to the farm store we’re standing in. “I don’t know if that’s what funded it, but I joke this is the building that doughnuts built.”
Doughnuts aside, it’s the apples that make this season special. That sentiment is proved by the numbers: The 2020 pick-your-own season was the best sales year Vermont’s apple growers have experienced thus far, according to a Sept. 1 news release from the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association. The group expects this year to be another successful season, despite some finicky weather during the spring and summer.
With that in mind, VTFGA has partnered with DigIn VT on an apple photo contest this fall, complete with judges and prizes. Plus, DigIn VT has loaded their site with apple resources, like a list of 28 pick-your-own orchards and a blog post that shares several ideas for celebrating apple season, including fall harvest festivals. And an upcoming edition of the Intervale’s Cooking Series, called “Amazing Apples,” on Sept. 14, will feature the apple and cooking expertise of food writer Melissa Pasanen, so that you can make the most of this fall flavor in new, unique ways.
Back at Burtt’s Orchard, Gall puts it simply: “The doughnuts are very good, but the apples are the primary draw.”
The Cheese TourWhat goes together better than apples and cheese? The Cheese Tour, happening this weekend, is a great addition to any apple outings you may have planned.
The Washington County Cheese Guild’s free two-day cheese tour is Saturday, Sept. 11, and Sunday, Sept. 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event brings together foodies and seven artisanal cheese and craft beverage producers, and focuses on delighting in samples from the makers. Plus, there will be some additional things to do at each location, including hayrides, demos, live music and how-to information for pairing cheeses and beverages.
Go to thecheesetour.com and get more information about how to plan your tour.