The early bird gets the worm... or in the case of visitors to Barrie Hill Farms, the apples.
Due to spring frosts, farms across the province are anticipating a smaller apple crop this season, which is why Barrie Hill Farms owner Morris Gervais says there is no time like the present to jump on the apple wagon.
“When you see apples available at a local farm market or want to come out and pick your own, try to be timely because this isn’t a bumper crop across the province," said Gervais. "There will still be apples, but you’d better make sure to get them as soon as you can so you don’t miss them."
Recent visitors to the orchard at Barrie Hill Farm have enjoyed picking some of the early season varieties including sunrise and zestar apples, which he noted are just about finished.
“Now we’ve got some McIntosh available and what everybody is waiting for, hopefully by this weekend, we will have some honeycrisps for picking,” he said. “This year, our honeycrisp crop is not very big, which is how that crop tends to go.”
The farm produced a big crop last year, he explained, which means this year their supply will be a little bit less. Luckily, Gervais said the farm also has a good crop of Cortland apples coming along, as well as some Ambrosia apples, which he anticipates will be ready by the end of September or early October.
“People are excited, and the early apples are kind of neat, but … everyone thinks about apple picking season (as being) in September and October, so we are anticipating lots of people coming out for those crops," he said.
Fun family time
While they don’t have any way to get an official headcount, Barrie Hill Farm typically sees thousands of people make their way out each season with their families to enjoy the chance to pick their own apples - and other fresh-from-the-farm produce.
“We have hundreds of families come out every day. It’s very very weather dependent, but it’s a great family activity for a beautiful weekend in the fall," said Gervais.
"The apple orchard is quite a ways from the main parking lot here at the farm, so when you come apple picking, it’s a bit of a day's adventure because it’s about a 20-minute wagon ride each way,” he said. “It's fun, because you drive through the fall colours and past the pumpkin fields. It is just a really nice outing and there are lots of things you can pick fresh on the farm throughout the fall.”
Whitney Campbell-Burke went apple picking at Barrie Hill Farm with her oldest daughter over the Labour Day weekend, and told BarrieToday they go apple picking yearly.
“My daughter wanted some one-on-one time. It’s a fun activity with the wagon ride and all the walking around,” she said, adding the tradition started several years ago when her best friend was visiting from Newfoundland. “She’d never been apple picking as it’s not a thing out there, so we went out to the Meaford area and it’s become a tradition ever since.”
The pair came home and quickly put their delicious findings to good use, making homemade applesauce in the crock pot and setting some aside to make a few apple crisps.
She recommends doing your research before heading out on your adventure, as different apples have different uses.
“Some are for eating, and others would be for cooking. Your Cortland and McIntosh, those are predominantly the ones you want to use for cooking, whereas the harder ones you’d store for eating,"said Campbell-Burke. "You also want to use softer apples up sooner rather than later because they can go off on you.”
While applesauce, apple pies and apple crisps are a few of the most popular items to make once people get their bushels home, one of Gervais’ favourites is a little more simple. He told BarrieToday he has fond memories of his mother making him baked apples when he was growing up.
“You take the core out of the apple, and you bake it in the oven packed with some brown sugar or a little bit of maple syrup. Then you top that with some ice cream," he said. “I can always remember having baked apples as a kid.”
Pop goes the … popcorn!
For the first time, Barrie Hill Farm will have popcorn available for picking later this month, noted Gervais.
“If you drove by the field, it would look like grain corn (corn for cattle). It has to dry out just like that," he explained.
"It has to reach maturity, then the plant kind of withers and dies and then you have to wait for it to dry out to a moisture content of about 14 or 15 per cent,” he said, noting if it’s too wet it won’t pop. “You can pop it right on the cob! You can put the cob in a paper bag and in the microwave and it will pop right off the cob if it’s at the appropriate dryness.”
After getting home with it, Gervais suggested knocking a few kernels off the cob and putting them in the microwave to see if they pop.
“If they do, then you can do the whole cob,” he said. “We have quite a bit but we don’t know what the harvest is going to be like but we are excited to try it. We are always looking for something new and exciting for our customers," said Gervais.
"I talked to some other farmers in different parts of Canada and abroad that have done it, and it’s been a really popular addition to their pick-your-own farms so I thought people would love to give it a try.”