Last weekend, my friends and I finally got our acts together and headed out to do a little apple picking. We decided to forgo our usual spot, Parlee Farm in Tyngsboro, for a quieter orchard (read: fewer kids and, sadly, no goats in trees). We decided to check out two different spots in Harvard (the town, not the square) - Old Frog Pond Farm and Carlson Orchards.
Old Frog Pond is the only certified organic Pick-Your-Own orchard in the state. We stopped there first, primarily because they were still picking raspberries (on Columbus Day weekend!). They seemed hesitant to even sell us a box, saying they weren't sure if there was anything left on the bushes, but once we got down to the patch, we found plenty of berries (and ended up buying a few more boxes). Because the berries were so (overly) ripe, we had to use them right away - apple raspberry pie that night and some raspberry limoncello brewing away in my cabinet right now. Old Frog Pond also has a nice sculpture walk through the woods - some of the art is not exactly my cup of tea, but it was nice to wander through on a brisk day.
From there, we headed over to Carlson Orchards, also in Harvard. We grabbed our bags and headed into the orchards... and were instantly surprised at the size of the farm and the variety of apples. Most orchards are only picking three or four varieties at once, but Carlson had seven or so ripe for the picking. We tasted them all as we went, but my favorites were the McIntosh and the Macoun - I don't think I actually picked any of the other kinds. Carlson also makes their own ciders (regular and Honeycrisp), and you can get hot apple crisp with ice cream when you're done picking your apples (I tried a bit that was so good, I almost went back in to the store to buy my own - the sugar had all caramelized so it was gooey and amazingly delicious). I really enjoyed picking at Carlson - I think it might be my new favorite place for apple picking near Boston.
Of course, apple picking left me with a giant bag of apples to use. I mean, I really enjoy apples, but that's a lot of fruit to get through. So besides the apple-a-day since last weekend, I've been cooking with them wherever possible. Apple pie? Check. Apple crisp? Check. Apple butter? Check. Apple and squash gratin? Check. Caramel apples? Check!
When I was in the grocery store to pick up caramels to melt for caramel apples, I found a genius product that made the whole process wicked easy - Kraft Caramel Bits. For some reason, they're not on Kraft's website, but they're basically caramel perfect for melting or adding to cookie batters without the need for unwrapping - just open the bag and dump the contents out!
I also love the combination of sweet and salty, so I added pretzels and bittersweet chocolate to my mix. It helped cut the sweetness of the caramel and added texture. I didn't get too creative with this round of apples, but they were tasty enough that I might not deviate from the combination next time.
Chocolate Pretzel Caramel Apples
5 fresh medium apples
5 popsicle sticks
11 oz caramel pieces
16 oz bitterweet chocolate, chopped
2 handfulls of pretzels, broken into bitesize pieces
Line a pan with parchment paper and set aside. Push popsicle sticks into the apples at the stem and set aside.
In a small pot, melt caramels over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to prohibit burning. When all the caramel is melted, remove from heat. Dip apples into caramel, using a spoon to bring the caramel up over the sides. Set covered apples back on the parchment paper; freeze for 30 minutes to harden.
Add chopped chocolate to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 20-30 second blasts, stirring between each, until chocolate is melted (if you heat it all in one go, it will burn - take it from me). Mix in broken pretzel pieces, then dip caramel-coated apples into chocolate, using a spoon to bring the chocolate up over the sides. Return apples to the parchment paper and return to freezer to harden. Remove apples within 30 minutes and store at room temperature.
To serve, cut the apple into nine pieces around the core (like a tic-tac-toe board). This ensures that each bite is a perfect combination of fruit, caramel, and chocolate.