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CHEF'S TABLE: Take your pick of apple varieties at local orchard

'With eight different varieties, there is certainly no shortage of sweet possibilities,' food columnist says of Barrie Hill Farms

"The goldenrod is yellow, The corn is turning brown, The trees in apple orchards With fruit are bending down." — Helen Hunt Jackson

It's hard to believe our summer has slipped by. Here we are in the first week of fall — the season of warm sweaters, pumpkin spice and leave-spotting tours is upon us.

I love this time of the year. Our gardens filled with the last of the season’s harvests, pumpkins are starting to come in from the fields and the apple orchards are ripe and ready for picking.

Our family has so many fond memories that have apple and apple picking as a catalyst. From stories of my family's roots growing up in and around Meaford, surrounded by amazing orchards, or taking Tyler and Abbi and the grandparents out to pick apples and spend time enjoying the fall sun.

Our family has been lucky enough to have had the opportunity of visiting and getting to know many of our local apple farmers. For me, it’s been a little sad to watch as our community has lost some amazing orchards over the years, and to know that future families will never get the experience of a visit to places like Avalon Orchards or Carpe Diem in Innisfil.

These two orchards hold a special place for me. I got to know both through work with Simcoe County Farm Fresh Association and people and those places carry very fond memories for me.

But, lucky for us, there are still special spots where we can go to enjoy the beauty of an apple orchard full of ripe fruit ready to be picked. Another of the spots that we have come to love is Barrie Hill Farms in Springwater Township.

Purchased in 1968 by Adrien and Evelyn Gervais, the farm first started with tobacco growing. In 1979, the Gervais family moved away from the tobacco industry and began the transition into strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and asparagus. Over the years, the farm has seen great success and has become one of our region's pre-eminent agri-tourism operations.

Drawing pickers and families from all over the province and under the stewardship of Adrien and Evelyn’s older son, Morris, and his family, the farm continues to offer customers new and exciting products. In 2015, the apple orchard was established and first opened for picking in 2017. With eight different varieties, there is certainly no shortage of sweet possibilities.

With our kids now grown and busy with their teenage lives, Kim and I found it was just the two of us to go and pick some apples this season. On a beautiful and sunny Saturday morning, and with my favourite apple picker at my side, we set out to grab a bag full of our family's favourite apples — the honey crisp.

Honey crisp apples are well known for their large size and unique flavour. With a very sweet taste and a noticeable crunch when biting into them, these apples are great in salads and for eating fresh.

The farm was busy with crowds of eager pickers waiting to jump on the next wagon heading out to the fields. It was certainly a perfect day.

Once we got out to the apple orchard, we were greeted by rows and rows of well-manicured apple trees loaded with beautiful ruby red apples.

It did not take us long to pick a few bags and enjoy a leisurely stroll through the rows. After a quick tour through the market, a visit to the Silo Café for a snack and our apple haul loaded up, we set off for home.

A simple recipe that Kim loves to make is apple crisp. Warm, sweet apples with a hint of cinnamon and spices and the satisfying crunch of the crispy oat topping.

When she makes a pan, it never lasts long in our house!

Classic Apple Crisp

6 tart apples — peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup quick-cooking oats
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, divided
1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Place apples in a 9x13 inch baking dish. In a bowl, mix melted butter, flour, sugar, oats, and one tablespoon cinnamon to form a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle over apples. Dot with remaining 1/4 cup butter, and sprinkle with remaining one tablespoon cinnamon.
Bake 50 minutes in the preheated oven, until lightly browned and apples are tender.

Apple crisp is a relatively new apple dessert first found in a 1924 cookbook. According to Canadian Living, "a crisp is a baked fruit dessert topped with a crisp and crunchy layer of ingredients. The topping may include a proportion of sugar, butter, oats, nuts, flour, and a spice such as cinnamon, tossed together to gain a somewhat granular look. The dessert is baked just until the topping is crisp and golden."

While apple crumble is synonymous with apple crisp in the U.K. and Australia, here in Canada and in the United States, it's a slightly different dish. Like crisp, an apple crumble is a baked fruit dessert with a layer of topping. But unlike the crisp, the crumble topping rarely includes oats or nuts. Instead, a crumble is covered with streusel topping, made with flour, sugar and butter.

But really you can’t go wrong with a warm fresh apple dessert, and most are close to one another in taste, texture and appearance.

So, whichever you choose, I encourage you to get out visit the orchard pick you favourites and get baking!

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Daniel Clements

About the Author: Daniel Clements

In his bi-weekly Chef's Table column, Daniel will be looking at everything from local crops and trends in the business to seasonal delights and the local restaurant scene
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