We are so blessed to live in an area of the country where we have easy access to dozens of U-pick farms AND beautiful views of the Cascade mountain range while picking! Over the last ten years or so, our family has established a fall tradition of heading over to Hood River, Oregon every Labor Day weekend to pick fruit. A short 45 minute drive sets us at the foot of Mt. Hood and right in the middle of Hood River's Fruit Loop.
We found that if we time this trip for Labor Day weekend, we hit the tail end of peach season and the very beginning of pear and apple season. We do have a few small apple and pear trees in our garden at home, but some are so young they are not bearing fruit yet and others bear a little fruit that we cannot always manage to beat the squirrels to. So, what we do grow at home is good for fresh eating. Our goal for picking from the orchards in Hood River is to have a large quantity of peaches, pears and apples for canning and dehydrating.
The first few years we went out for our Fruit Loop drive, we visited a variety of the farms along the loop. As traditions (or habits) go, our family has landed on our favorite farms to visit for particular fruits. We always stop at Mt. View Orchards to pick peaches and pears. Their farm also has many other fruits to pick throughout the growing season. Their orchard has Mt Hood as it's backdrop, so it is an especially gorgeous spot to pick fruit from!
The second farm we always visit is known for their apples. We love to walk the rows of the Kiyokawa Family Orchards and look at the many, many varieties of apples they grow. They grow 120 different varieties of apples, pears and Asian pears. Kiyokawa's of course has some of the varieties that you see in the grocery store like Honeycrisps, Braeburns, and Fujis. But what we love most are all of the other types of apples that you don't see as often. The Tokyo Rose, Empires and Ginger Golds are some of our favorites. This year we added in a few pounds of crabapples to try a new canning recipe!
A car load of fruit is not our only tradition. We also stop for lunch along the way, which is a favorite of our boys. For the last few years, we have stopped in Parkdale for BBQ at Apple Valley BBQ. They have a delicious pulled pork sandwich and this amazing pear coleslaw. Our last stop on the Fruit Loop is at the Apple Valley Country Store. This is the place where dessert happens! They sell some of the most amazing pies, dumplings, hand pies, and milkshakes. They also offer a wide variety of fruit butters/spreads and handmade items. We always pick up a dessert to eat on the way home. This year I chose an apple dumpling with caramel sauce. It was so, so good!
We all look forward to this trip each year. It's fun to go out and pick a TON of fruit and have some yummy food along the way. But it's after the trip to Hood River that the real work begins. I tackled the 20 pounds of peaches the day after our trip. And, I have about 80 pounds of apples and 80 pounds of pears to can and dehydrate this week. All of it will be so nice to have through the winter and spring though! Most years the boys will come into the kitchen and help me prep the apples and pears for canning, so I don't typically do all of it by myself. I guess it's more of our fall tradition!
How about you? What type of family fall traditions do you have? What are your favorite ways to preserve apples, pears or peaches?