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Apple Picking Fun For All Ages

By the time summer turns the corner into Fall each year, I’m ready for it! I’m ready for chunky sweaters, tall boots, football games, backyard bonfires, crunchy leaves, pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING and one of our family’s favorite fall traditions: Apple Picking Day!

Apple Picking Day!

When my daughter was 4 she wrote a song called “It’s apple picking day” that has become a Fall anthem in our house, sung at random until Apple Picking Day comes around again. 

The day arrives and we break out our boots and flannel and pile into the car, often with other friends and family in tow. Here in Lancaster, PA we head to Cherry Hill Orchard to gather the first fruits of Fall. Excitement builds as we pull up to the orchard. We roll down the windows to let the warm sunshine, crisp air and tart apple scent reassure us that Autumn is indeed here, and it’s Apple Picking Day! We greet our instant friends and apple experts at the orchard gate who give us cardboard crates for the picking and direct us further into the orchard to park. 

When we get out of the car there are rows of apple trees stretching out all around us and we check the directory to guide us toward the trees that hold some of our favorite varieties. Then we are off!When they were little, the kids would run up and down the rows looking for the perfect pick, now there’s less running and more iphone picture taking, but either way our crate fills up with spheres of red and yellow and green until it takes two people to carry it. 

There is fruit low enough for the littlest ones to pick from, but every year there are a few perfect apples, just out of reach and glistening in the autumn sun that beg us to climb, and reach and stand on ladders or shoulders until we can twist it free and take it home!

When our crates and hearts are full we pile back into the car breathless and giggly and head to the weigh station to check out, all the while listing all of the things we’re going to make with our apples this year: dumplings, crumbles, apple cider, apple sauce.

Some years we invite our friends and neighbors over for a great apple feast, other years we just stock up on raw honey, caramel and peanut butter from the Orchard store for dipping and munching our apples around the fire.  No matter what we do with them, we all agree that somehow they taste better and go faster because we picked them ourselves. Some years we invite our friends and neighbors over for a great apple feast, other years we just stock up on raw honey, caramel and peanut butter from the Orchard store for dipping and munching our apples around the fire.  No matter what we do with them, we all agree that somehow they taste better and go faster because we picked them ourselves.

Over the years, at home and in my 2nd grade classroom, I’ve found some fun ways to stretch out this fall family fun and make Apple Picking Day even more fun, no matter your age! As kids and families grow and change, the traditions we’ve built have had to grow and change too. Some years are a bigger apple ordeal than others. There is no wrong or right way to do it as long as we are enjoying the weather, the harvest and most importantly each other! For whatever stage of life and family you are in, here are some of my favorite ideas to make Apple picking day extra sweet.

For the Kids

Orchard Races, Scavenger Hunts, Eye Spy, Sing Alongs, and taste-test-as-you-go always kept my kids engaged and entertained while actually picking.  Once you get the kids and apples home, here are some of our favorite ideas to keep that autumn apple magic going.

Apple Sailboats

Bobbing for apples is fun, but have you ever tried making apple sailboats? All you need is sliced apples, paper to make sails of different sizes and toothpicks to secure the sail to the apple slice boat. My 2nd graders loved this activity to tap into our STEM (not apple stems, but Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)  mindset and experiment, test, design and engineer different fruity floats. This year, I suggested we put a bunch of apples in the swimming pool for life-sized bobbing but my big kids claimed they were too civilized for my idea. If you try it, Tag me! I stand by the silly-brilliance of my idea. 

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Apple Playdough

Honestly friend, I can barely imagine it now, but once upon a time I was totally the mom who scoured my imagination and Pinterest to find ways to entertain myself and my toddlers. Making Apple Play Doh was one of the few times that the juice was worth the squeeze (pun intended) mostly because the smell of actual play doh is *barf* but the smell of THIS play doh, is moldable fall magic! 



You’ll Need:

  • Produce Protector (or lemon juice)
  • 1 cup + 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoon cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 2-3 large apples (we like to used any bruised or blemished ones)
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To Make Apple Play Doh: 

  • Peel and dice the apples. Pour on produce protector or lemon juice to prevent browning. Purée the apples in a food processor or blender.
  • Pour the puréed apples, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, 1 tablespoon cream of tartar, and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil into a pot. Mix all together, then heat the dough on medium heat for 5-10 minutes.
  • Stir the play dough while it’s warming up. After a few minutes, sprinkle a handful of flour onto the dough and keep stirring. The dough will be a little mushy at first and you may feel like it looks more like apple sauce than play-doh. This is normal. Don’t panic. After 5-10 minutes you should start to see the dough thicken and come together into a ball.
  • Once the play dough no longer sticks to your finger when you touch it, transfer it to a cutting board with flour.
  • Knead the dough with some flour and add in 1-3 tsp of cinnamon, if you want to up the autumn ante’, throw in some pumpkin spice too! 
  • This Apple Play Doh will keep for about a week in the fridge in an airtight container or ziplock bag.

For the Grownups

What’s more fun than finding the perfect flavor combinations and sharing your findings with loved ones? For the grownups, we love taking our apple harvest and other fun finds from the orchard store to make a grazing table or charcuterie board.

Apple Pairing Party:

Some of my favorite items to include are of course sliced APPLES, soft and hard cheeses, honey comb, pralines, blackberries, red grapes, jams, mustard, prosciutto, pomegranate seeds, sunflower seeds, hummus, and anything else that might add color or interest. Grab a few fall ciders (Our faves this year from Wydridge & Winding Path, some apple wine (we’re loving ours from Waltz Estate Winery) and farm fresh apple cider (warm with a shot of bourbon we recommend Thistle Finch

Aged Cheddar, Havarti, Raclette, Gouda and goat cheese are some of our favorite cheeses to pair with all varieties of apples.

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Apple & Cheese Combinations

Here are some other stellar apple-cheese combinations we’ve loved over the years: 

Perfectly sweet and crisp, Honey Crisp apples counterbalance the fuller, complex flavors of smoky, nutty Gouda.

The mild, sweet flavor of Gala apples pairs classically well with rich, balanced cheddar.



Juicy, slightly tart, with a sweet finish, Pink Lady apples are perfectly complemented by Monterey Jack.



A famously tart apple demands an expressive cheese with just a touch of heat. 



This one is a kid favorite. Delicately balanced sweet and tart apples sing next to the creamy, mild, classics.



If you nerd-out on complimentary flavor combinations, You’ll love these combos!

Other Ideas

Have a cookoff with apples as the main ingredient. Amateur chef’s can face off and everyone is entertained to watch and help and delighted to be taste testing judges when the feast is complete. 

Apple Brunch or Breakfast for dinner: Apple Pancakes, Apple Cider Mimosa’s, Apple Themed Pjs, there are no limits to this apple-monium! 

Spend the day baking, singing and seeing who can list the most apple-centric pop culture references: Remember Good Will Hunting’s “How about them apples?”, Apple Bottom Jeans, Apple Jacks…

We’ve pinned a bunch of Apple Recipes on the board linked below, but our quick and easy (amended from several recipes) Apple “Crisp” makes a comeback after every apple picking day, year after year. We love the fun of finding and tweaking recipes on our own, but if you’re pressed for time or don’t relish the hunt, here’s our family fave:



Apple Crisp/Dump Cake Recipe:

You’ll need: 

  • 7 cups chopped and peeled tart apples (about 7 medium-large apples)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Dash salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 package (9 ounces) yellow cake mix
  • 3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Vanilla ice cream

Place apples in a greased baking dish. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt; sprinkle over the chopped apples. Drizzle with water. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, oats, butter, brown sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Sprinkle over apples.

Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 45-50 minutes or until the apples are tender and the topping is golden brown and bubbly. Serve warm with ice cream and then cold in the morning with a splash of milk! 



We hope these ideas help get you started in planning your next day of fall fun! If you live here in Lancaster, we highly recommend starting your day with a visit to Cherry Hill Orchard and farm store! Where do YOU go to welcome the Fall? Need some ideas on what to do with your apple harvest? Check out this Pinterest board for some more of our favorite Apple Ideas and recipes!

Traditions that grow

 It’s Apple Picking Day, time to welcome fall with open arms, breathe in the sweet and sour notes of a changing season, reach for the one you want, and keep stretching until it’s within your grasp. It’s time to slow down and notice the way the air and trees are already changing and take a look at how the people you’re picking with are growing and changing too. As for me, I’m evolving with apple picking day and hanging onto the memories at the same time. Last year, as we walked back to the car humming our apple picking song, a much taller and more eloquent girl than the one I started this tradition with, slipped her slightly sticky hand in mine and sighed, “I love that we do this. I love apple-picking day.”

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