The Best Fall Apples and 3 Great Recipes!

Learn where to find the best fall apples and 3 great recipes. Enjoy an apple cake from the pages of the West Oaks Farm Market cookbook. Or try these recipes from two distinguished Taste of Blue Ridge Chefs.

Fall = Apple Season

Apple on top of crateSeptember marks the height of the apple season. And whether you PYO (pick-your-own), hit a farmers market, or visit a community store, these orchards have some of the best fall apples in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Blue Ridge. Whether it’s commercial or retail, these orchards are all family farms operating with the hopeful help of Mother Nature.

Honeycrisp apples are extremely popular because of their sweetness. Middleburg’s Salamander Resort Executive Pastry Chef and Food Network competitor Jason Reaves gives us a tasty recipe for a classic apple strudel. And Executive Chef Jeremiah Brooks of Hamilton’s Tavern 1840 shares a family heirloom –  how to make baked apples. Plus you know you can count on a terrific cake recipe from a farmer whose family has been growing apples in the Shenandoah Valley since the 1800s. And it works with any apple variety!

How the Apple Came to the Shenandoah Valley

Orchards originated in the Shenandoah Valley during Colonial settlement. Some would even say they are the result of good government as the Virginia General Assembly enacted a law that a garden and orchard be grown on a patent for 100 acres or more. And apples were originally produced for drinking, not eating, purposes as the water purity could be questionable. But from these cider orchards came grafting and breeding for apples that would be enjoyed for their taste.

The Commercial Grower – Twin Ridge Orchard

Apple in hand at Twin Ridge OrchardEver grabbed a can of Whitehouse, Lucky Leaf, Mott’s, or Mussleman’s applesauce off the grocery store shelf? Well, it may have contained apples from Twin Ridge Orchard located in the Harper’s Ferry WV area. Twin Ridge owners MK Robinson and Gordon Hockman, along with their sister Judy Hockman, represent the fourth generation of orchard farmers.

Gordon is Twin Ridge’s orchard manager. He tends to several apple varieties for commercial and retail sales. You can find MK at the Charles Town and Shepherdstown farmer’s markets on the weekend. Right now, says Gordon, Honeycrisp apples are the most popular variety with consumers. “They’re not a pretty apple,” explains Gorden, “and they’re hard to grow. But they are juicy and crunchy.”

Growing for commercial and retail is a balancing act. Commercial products are graded by size. Yet consumers are looking for taste which is directly impacted by moisture. “West Coast apples are bigger because of irrigation,” Gordon says. “But they’re not as sweet as East Coast apples. Not as much water makes the fruit sweeter.” And moisture isn’t the only element that affects the orchard. One or two degrees in temperature or feet in elevation can make the difference between escaping a frost or losing a crop to a freeze.

And over time, it’s not just the fruit but the trees themselves that change. Growing up at the orchard, one of Gordon’s childhood memories is the size of the trees. “There were no dwarf trees like now,” says Gordon. “They were big standard trees. They were giants. We had 22’ ladders. The lower branches were trimmed so the trees were shaped like giant mushrooms.” And with their height, “It was like driving through a cave.”

Honeycrisp Apple Strudel

If Jason Reaves says Honeycrisp apples are one of his favorites, believe the 5-time Food Network competitor. “I really like the Honeycrisp apples because they are firm, crisp, and hold up to baking. This apple has some tartness, but has an added sweetness that you don’t find with a typical baking apple,” says the Salamander Resort’s Executive Pastry Chef. “The Honeycrisp apple’s natural sweetness means that recipes don’t require as much processed sugar. To me, it’s the best of both worlds. It holds up really well for baking, but is also sweet enough to eat on its own.”

Ingredients: (1 Strudel)

5 Honeycrisp Apples                         ¼ cup raisins
¼ granulated sugar                           1-½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ cup Panko bread crumbs            4 tbs. melted butter

Strudel dough (see recipe below)

Instructions:

Peel and core the apples. Cut into slices that are 1/4” thick. Toss together the apples, raisins, cinnamon and sugar. Toss the bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Cover the work surface with a linen tablecloth or large dish towel and dust lightly with flour. Place the dough on the cloth and roll out with a rolling pin into a rectangle that is 12”x 8”. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
After the dough has rested, start to stretch the dough (2 person job) by placing your hands under the dough, lift and stretch very carefully from the center out. Continue stretching until the dough is paper-thin and almost transparent. Brush the dough with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Sprinkle the dough evenly with the dried bread crumbs.

Place the apple mixture in a strip along one edge of the dough. Roll up the dough using the edge of the cloth, then continue rolling until the dough forms a tight log. Transfer the roll to a parchment-lined baking pan and brush the top with the remaining melted butter. Vent the top of the dough in a few places by making a 1 inch cut every few inches. Bake at 350F until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Strudel Dough

¾ cup + 1 tbsp. bread flour
⅜ tsp. Salt
¼ cup + 2-½ tbsp. water
1 tbsp. vegetable oil

Instructions:

Stir flour and salt together in a stand mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook. On low speed add in the water and oil until blended. Change to high speed and mix until the dough is shiny smooth and elastic about 10 minutes. Gather the dough into a ball and roll in a little oil. Tightly wrap in plastic and allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Generations of Orchard Goodness – West Oaks Farm Market

Red Delicious Apple Tree at West Oaks Farm MarketThe Snapp Family has been growing apples in the Shenandoah Valley since the 1800s, says 10th generation farmer Levi Snapp. So these folks know their apples. Now in the midst of their season, West Oaks is harvesting the Honeycrisp as well as Gala, Ginger Gold, Ambrosia, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious.

You can purchase their apples at the Middle Road farm store in Winchester or PYO (pick-your-own). The PYO orchard opens Labor Day Weekend (Friday/Saturday 9-2, Sunday 12-5). WOFM has an active Facebook page so be sure to follow them for PYO updates.

Before you PYO, take a look at these WOFM tips from Levi:
• Look for an apple that has a firm exterior with no bruises or soft spots to maximize shelf life.
• Apples should have a rich color.
• Shelf life depends on how the apples are stored, but stored in your refrigerator at home they can last up to two weeks.
And here’s an apple cake recipe that’s a keeper.

West Oaks Apple Cake

1. In a large bowl, cream together 1 cup butter and 2 cups sugar until well blended. Add 2 eggs and mix well.

2. Grate 6 apples (any variety is fine), peel on and stir into mixture. It may seem like the grated apple is completely taking over the dish – this is a good thing :).

3. In a separate bowl, mix together: 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda,  2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves. Add to the wet ingredients and mix, just until mixed evenly.

4. Bake at 350 degrees F in a greased 9×13 pan for 40 min-50 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. (Depending on how large your apples were, you may need to cook it a little longer than 50 minutes).

Allow the cake to cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm with a caramel sauce and whipped cream or ice cream!

PYO By Appointment – Mackintosh Fruit Farm

Apple on tree at Mackintosh Fruit FarmTucked just off Route 7 in Clarke County you’ll find Mackintosh Fruit Farm. This too is a multi-generational farm and community store. Lori is a whiz at canning (see her on Taste’s YouTube channel for a fool-proof method) and Bill is a well-regarded master of grafting trees.

Mackintosh offers a PYO experience by appointment only. This orchard and farm also have a great Facebook page, so keep up with their picking updates. And be sure to watch Bill’s video on how to pick and protect the trees.

At the farm’s community store, dried apples are a best seller, says Lori, along with cider and apple cider doughnuts. “We use only Honeycrisp apples for drying. For cider, we use sweet and tart apples. It’s not pasteurized which we can do from our farm (and sell directly to the consumer). It cannot be sold to wholesale.”

The Chef’s Choice – Chef Jeremiah Brooks

Diners at the July Root to Table event experienced a superb soup and salmon pairing by Harpers Ferry, WV Restaurateur and Executive Chef Jeremiah Brooks. He is a great believer in using locally sourced ingredients. Maybe these Honeycrisp Baked Apples, made from a family heirloom recipe, will pop up on the menu at Hamilton’s Tavern 1840. Give them a try!

Baked Apples

Serves 4
Honeycrisp apples x 4
4 sheets of pie crust (3-2-1 dough; or for the home cook, get the Pillsbury pie dough from your local grocer)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cayenne
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup crushed walnuts
1/2 cup caramel sauce (store-bought works for the home cook)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Using an apple corer, core each apple. Mix dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl with a whisk or fork. Layout pie crust. Coat apples thoroughly in the dry mixture, and use remaining to fill the empty core. Dice the butter and distribute 2 tbsp. per apple and place inside the core. Add crushed walnuts and caramel sauce. Wrap apples in pie dough, ensuring that it is firmly sealed – trim any excess dough and place the apple onto a greased baking sheet. Continue with remaining apples. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the apple is easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and cool for 3-5 minutes before serving with ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

A Taste of Blue Ridge – Root to Table’s “Pickled & Roasted”

Both Chef Jason and Chef Jerimiah are part of the October 11th Root to Table Autumn Open Air Culinary Experience at Celebrations Farm in Bluemont. Taste will salute the fall harvest of the Shenandoah Valley by bringing together top regional culinary talent and local farmers. The menu is inspired by our farmers’ favorite harvest crops with a twist from our top chefs who’ll be using pickled and roasted cooking methods. Get ready to enjoy the perfect pairing of vibrant vegetables accompanied by roasted fall meats, all locally sourced. In addition to being held outdoors, a variety of physically distanced seating options are available, from tailgate to farm table. These dining experiences sell out quickly! Purchase your tickets through Eventbrite.

Chef Steve Ferrell plating his dish at a Root to Table Event