For anyone who grew up in Cleveland, Patterson Fruit Farm is a fixture of Fall. The local epicenter of apple picking, every Autumn warranted an annual trek into the chilly fall air at Patterson’s so you could fill your arms and bags to the brim with fresh apples. McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Cameos, and Winesaps lined up single-file through their orchards just waiting for swinging children, families with ladders, and happy hands in woolen mittens. Fall means apple picking, especially at Patterson’s.
Patterson’s is a pick-your-own apple farm and apple market that makes anyone who has ever had the great fortune to visit immediately recall the smell of their famous apple fritters filling the air with sugar and spice the minute the weather starts to cool. I’ve yet to meet a Clevelander who hasn’t spent time at Patterson’s, and the day I do, I will drive this person straight to the farm and stand in line with them to treat them to a warm apple fritter. Patterson’s is just that kind of place.
No matter where you grew up, chances are high that you have your own Patterson’s, too: A place where you always went apple picking. A place that told you, in its annual regularity, that the year was really in full swing and that Fall was truly, finally upon us.
It always seems to me that in Autumn, we begin preparing ourselves for nostalgia. We reminisce about our first days of school as the children head back for theirs, we let our hearts get warmed by the simple act of pulling out our favorite fuzzy slippers, we ready our tables for our feasts of thanks. All of Fall feels like one big prelude to the season of joy and giving that follows it, and for me, there is no moment so full of tradition and sentiment as the day we all pile into an orchard to fill our arms with apples.
Only, my eyes are always a little bigger than my stomach. In fact, they’re always bigger than my whole kitchen. Apples galore!
How is it possible to pick so many apples in such little time? Has anyone ever figured this out? Surely there’s some rule of wisdom that says you shouldn’t be picking more apples per hour than one can possibly eat in the same amount of time, but if such wisdom exists, I have never heard of it nor adhered to it. I remember getting to the market at Patterson’s every single year to pay for our overload of apples and we would decide to grab a baked good for the ride home. You would think that after all the apples I’d consumed in the process of picking, there would be no humanly possible way I could stuff one of their famous apple fritters into my stomach, but every year, of course, I managed to. And no matter where Fall finds me, I always want more.
To this day, apple fritters remain one of my favorite things, and they’re a terrific way to use any apples you have from apple picking. In fact, there are good ideas aplenty for how to put all those apples to use.
My favorite non-fritter (or pie, which I believe is perfect year-round) use for apples has to be apple cake. It’s a great breakfast food, snack, and dessert, and when it comes to tasting like fall, it puts the pumpkin spice latte to shame. (Sorry, Starbucks!) This apple spice cake is topped with a dark and sticky brown sugar merengue that could not be more perfect. Because you bake the merengue with the cake, a light pudding layer forms between the hearty cake bottom and the merengue top, which serves double-duty by keeping the cake moist and delicious. It’s the kind of cake you make and people call you ten years later looking for the recipe. It’s that good.
Also really good are apple cider donuts, which, thanks to Patterson’s, my friend Laura cannot live without. This recipe is incredibly close to those we had growing up, although there’s something about having to wait in line for a donut along with a dozen other apple pickers that makes it taste almost marginally more delicious. Waiting for these donuts to cook is a close second.
I also like apple, brie, and sprout sandwiches, apple and squash soup, and apple pancakes… all good way to use up the leftover apples still lingering around your kitchen days after an apple picking party. As to an apple picking party, it’s getting time to have one again and make our yearly trek into the orchards, where we will load our arms with apples so that we, too, can fill our homes with bounty and our hearts with tradition before the chill of cooler days sets in.
Tell me: Do you look forward to apple picking, too? What do you do with all of your apples? Are you smart and pick only what you can eat with a standard human size stomach? Or are you like us, overflowing your home with apple abundance and wondering what on earth to do with it?