As the days get shorter, the leaves get brighter, and the air gets cooler, I get this irresistible urge to celebrate Fall. Sometimes this urge gets me into the kitchen, eager to bake something heavy with spices and the smooth flavor of pumpkin. Sometimes it prompts me to go outside and gather leaves to press between the pages of a book for a year-round reminder of the season. One of my favorite things to do to celebrate fall, though, is to pick out a pumpkin (or two!) and fill our fruit bowl with ruddy apples plucked right off the tree. On our recent visit to my sister in Chicago - just before the birth of Baby James - we found the perfect place to do just that.
|Even the windfall apples were gorgeous!|
Royal Oak Farm and Fruit Orchard, located in Harvard IL, is to Fall what the North Pole is to Christmas. Okay, so there aren't any elves churning out caramel apples and pumpkin pies, but there is a full-service restaurant, a gift shop and bakery, a cider stand, a pick-your-own apple orchard, and a pick-your own pumpkin patch. They even have a play area for kids, complete with a carousel and kiddie train! What more do you need for the perfect fall day?
We visited the orchard on a beautifully sunny Saturday with my sister, my aunt and uncle, and my mom. Our first stop was the tasting table, where we sampled the various types of apple on offer. Then we treated our taste buds to some still-hot and sugary apple cider donuts from the bakery (they also sell breads, pies and other pastries and are pretty generous with their samples) and browsed the offerings in the gift shop. From there, it was on to the main event - apple picking!
|More windfall apples!|
Royal Oak Farm has tractor-drawn wagons to help you navigate their extensive property, and they're a fun ride for kids and adults too (they're also handy if you happen to be in your ninth month of pregnancy like my poor sister!). We took the tractor to the edge of the orchard, and together we wandered the rows of apple trees, stuffing our bag with different varieties. The Cortlands were our favorite - massively round and juicy, with tart, white flesh.
|A perfect, shiny Cortland|
Our bag of apples full to bursting, we wandered through the pumpkin patch, comparing favorites and looking for the ever-elusive 'perfect pumpkin.' I didn't find mine, but my sister picked a few squash to bring home to her husband who had to miss out on our outing because of work. We carted our purchases back to the parking lot where we indulged in a delicious carside picnic (disclaimer: the Orchard asks that you don't bring your own food into the Entertainment area, but tailgating seems to be okay).
In all, we had a great day at Royal Oak Farm. It's an impressive compound with lots to do and than enough different activities to keep every member of your family occupied. It's also a great place to pick some apples, get a great price on pumpkins and just celebrate fall.