If you could squeeze Ontario into a glass, it would be apple cider. Apples are the quintessential fruit of the province. Ontario’s Macintosh apple inspired the computer logo. Ontario’s Apple Pie Trail around South Georgian Bay, Grey County and the Blue Mountains inspires the most fun-filled adventures for families, couples, friends and apple lovers of all ages.
Do you remember your first sip of apple cider? I’m not talking about filtered, processed, concentrated juice. I’m talking about the real thing: unfiltered, crushed fruit, fresh from the orchard. My son’s first cider, the one that lit up his palate like citric TNT, was from the award-winning T & K Ferri Orchards. This is where our Apple Pie Trail adventure begins.
Row upon row of sweet decorative orbs hangs from the trees; 58 000 trees across 22 acres. The scent of apples perfumes the air, and the quiet lush acreage infuses a sweet calmness. I feel like I’m in a Robert Frost poem watching my son climb an apple tree just how I loved to do when I was a kid. This apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He jumps on a platform that elevates him to the top of a tractor, and joins the crew in pruning branches and picking healthy fruit. Depending on the season, hand-picked apples here include Honey Crisp, Mac, Mutsu, Ambrosia, Gala, Cortland, Golden Delicious and their own exclusive variety, Bay Beauty.
Carrying a half-peck of apples, we head inside. There, sealed bags full of on-farm pressed cider are stored. Gulping down this sweet, rich nectar of the Gods like Homer Simpson chomping on donuts, my son only breaths to say, “More!” This hands on learning from seed-to-cider is the most delicious way to educate a child, instill a taste-of-place and pride-in-place, and create a fun memory of visiting the apple orchard with his daddy that he’ll never forget.
What pairs perfectly with an apple? Warm gooey caramel sauce! As the Farmer’s Pantry prepares the sauce and candies for decorating, we ride the tractor through the orchards to pick our apples for dunking in caramel. But then…we get a little side tracked.
The Farmer’s Pantry knows exactly what children like, and have set up activities for families to fill a whole day with fun. We race through the Rope Maze twisting and turning to see who can finish first. Then we play tag while trying to navigate through the Cedar Hedge Maze and avoid all the dead ends. Out of breath from laughter, we take a short break before scaling the Sand Mountain to become kings of the world. After a dozen failed-attempts at the Calf Lasso, we head to the animal petting area and feed apples to bunnies, goats, sheep and donkeys. It is so funny watching my son-turned-farm hand raking hay in the barn, carrying a bushel over to the goats and then feeding them; and he is so proud of himself. In the Wildlife Interactive Centre we puzzle over taxidermy animals, skulls and bones, and try to identify which animals they belong to. The exploration here is endless, natural, safe, and enriching.
Back in the farm market we find jams, jellies chutneys and sauces all made locally–some right here on the farm. Of course there are baked pies and butter tarts, meats and cheeses for the perfect picnic. For now though, our adventure ends where it began, with the Caramel Apple Clinic. Step one: we dunk our apples. Step Two: we add sprinkles and Smarties. Step Three: we devour our bejeweled fruits, and with knowing smiles, nod in appreciation at our shared enjoyment.
Apples and honey symbolize sweet and fruitful. On our visit to The Honey House we learn about bees and their essential value to both. Here my son gets a sweet education in the source and the scarcity; the importance of bees in our lives, and how they produce honey. We peruse products from wax candles, polish and lip balm, to pollen, propolis, royal jelly and honey, and learn about their nutritional properties too.
Did you know that over the course of a lifetime, one bee produces 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey? Beaver Valley Gold Honey, sourced from clover and wildflower, is unpasteurized, rich in flavour and nutrient-dense. They care for the bees, and produce exceptional quality honey. Of course, no visit would be complete without a honey stick, our new favourite snack.
We’ve visited the orchards. We’ve tasted the apples. The only thing left to do now is bake a pie. Chef Philip Tarlo of the Collingwood Cooking Academy hands us aprons and puts us to work in his kitchen: father and son, baking an apple pie together. Priceless. My son is fascinated by the Johnny Apple Peeler, which cores the apples and, in his eyes, turns the peels into snakes. Chef Tarlo guides us as we then slice the apples into wedges, and pour them into a pan. We add brown sugar, corn flour and cinnamon (or as my son pronounces it, “sim-a-nom”.) Gently stirring as it cooks, we taste if it’s sweet enough or if it needs anything more. Now it’s time for the crust. We knead the dough and, together, roll it and turn it. I line the pan with it, and he scoops in the apples. We then add a top layer, pinch the edges, and set it in the oven. Soon enough, it’s ready. He’s so excited. “I made a pie!” He beams.
My young pâtissier loves his apple pie, and could not be more proud of his achievement. “It’s so yummy,” he enthuses with his mouth completely full. It’s a filling and sweet ending to our Apple Pie Trail adventure.
For more info on adventures, trail stops and events go to: The Apple Pie Trail