Apples ripe for the pickin’

My “big” kids at Graves Mountain, Syria, VA

Fall started a couple of weeks ago (9/22/2012 to be exact) but it’s been rather warm around here so we didn’t really notice the change … until yesterday when we went on a field trip to Graves Mountain Lodge for a homeschool apple field trip. It was a perfect day to head toward the mountains — never got above 75-ish, blue skies in the morning which turned to overcast as the field trip progressed, and the leaves just starting to change. Gorgeous!

Seed classification exercise … just missing the pecan as there weren’t any in our bowl of seeds

We started the field trip with a seed-classification exercise that was quite fun … a bowl of mixed seeds and a chart to fill in. Much “discussion” erupted comparing the description of a pinto bean seed with that of a kidney … and then we definitely didn’t have a pecan in our bowl. But otherwise, we did pretty well and filled the extra time helping a young mother classify with her itty-bitty daughters!

We then headed to the packing shed. Graves Mountain apples USED to be packed for local grocery stores thousands of bushels a day at capacity in the 50s/60s … but are now being packed for farmer’s markets, festivals and purchase at the Apple Store (at Graves). The nice young man explained all the equipment and how they sort the size apples, separate out those which will be used for cider, juice, applesauce and apple-butter, and generally how the packing process works.

Quick — do you know the difference between cider and juice? Cider is made from peeled/cored apples that are put in a press and all the liquid squeezed out. Nothing else is added and the final product will be cloudy with bits of skin, flesh that have slipped through the sieve. Juice starts the same way but then is filtered and pasteurized, adding sugar and preservatives, and comes out a clear amber-colored. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any of their cider in stock (the bad thing about going on a Monday after a beautiful Fall weekend!) … so we’ll need to go back and get some.

Gourds in the apple shed, drying

In the shed he had gourds drying and he explained that process after first having shown us a large “apple” that was actually a gourd. They really are pretty cool (and yes, we did bring a maraca-sounding one home!). The kids want to make a bird-house out of it … but I love the rattle sound so we’ll see who wins on that one.

We then loaded up on a hay-wagon and headed to the orchard to pick apples. The trees were heavily-laden with the fruit … Stayman, Golden and Red Delicious called to us all as we picked the “perfect” apples. We each could pick five … and some, especially Hambone, really took his time (and won’t add his hand-picked selection to the family bowl since his are the “best”). It was fun … if a bit squishy with the windfall apples a tad gooshy underfoot. BTW, to keep the bears from eating the apples and irreparably damaging the trees (since the orchard is surrounded by national park forest land), the Graves Mountain folks plant fields of corn as a natural fence. It doesn’t stop all the bear-snitchers, but it slows down the process a tad.

Back down from the orchard we passed a cloned cow, the third in the world. Graves is home to this giant of a beast named Monticello:

Cloned cow who was HUGE (think black-and-white Brahma bull)

Cool, but just a tad creepy.

On our way home (after stopping at the Apple Store to get Graves’ apple butter, cherry preserves (just cherries, sugar, pectin and citric acid!), and of course the gourd … we stopped at a Mennonite grocery and bought Virginia ham and fresh pumpkin bread for dinner. A perfect fall feast for our first fall outing!

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