Cheap Apples and Other Wonderful Things

This is the time of year to find apples cheaply. I have my favorite orchards for different apples and apple products.  My buy of the season was a three-bushel purchase for $10 a bushel from an orchard outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I shared part of the bushel of Honey Gold “eating” apples with friends and neighbors. The other two bushels of Cortlands will become baked goods and apple sauce.

I buy #2 apples because they are much cheaper and the best value is on buying whole bushels—but be sure to do the math because sellers  have figured out that people assume that bulk is cheaper and are raising their prices on bigger quantities. Number two apples are too big, too small, bruised, or imperfect in some other way but still too good for just cider. They won’t keep for long periods, so they are sold for quick use.

We go to Sunrise orchard in Gays Mills, Wisconsin for an autumn daytrip every year , mainly for their apple cider, cider slushies, and the most wonderful, warm apple cider donuts in the civilized world. Oh My Gosh—they make these donuts fresh every day at harvest time—by the thousand. They keep the cooking fat at the correct temperature always, so the donuts consistently have a crisp, golden outer shell crusted with white sugar and an almost creamy flavored, moist, dense, cakey interior that melts in your mouth.

The first time we visited Sunrise, we were on the tail end of a “tour d’cheese” and were returning home from our final visit, a cheese coop in Mount Sterling, Wisconsin, a little town nestled in the bluff country bordering the Mississippi. The ridge above Gays Mills is lined with orchards, and we were stopping at each one. The sun was shining and the air smelled of apples.

Other orchards had better prices on apples, but Sunrise was the cleanest and best run—and then there were the donuts. I first spotted them resting atop a small mountain of white granulated sugar in the glassed in kitchen area. The kitchen workers were putting them in a glass self-serve case to be sold individually with coffee and packing them into 12-donut containers while they were still warm.

I had been sent into this, the final orchard on the ridge to do a little reconnaissance. We had already bought apples, it was the end of the day, and we were all tired. I walked in scoped out the bins of apples, the gift shop, and the cleaning, sorting and grading machines and workers all operating at top speed, and then I went deeper to explore the bakery area briefly. (All of the orchards had a bakery.) That was when I spotted the sugar mountain crowned with golden donuts and decided to just get a cup of coffee and three for the ride home: one for each of us.

I carried my warm, fragrant purchase out to the van where my slightly grumpy family awaited me and distributed the donuts. We all sat in silence after taking our first bites and exchanged glances. Then we all piled out of the car, went back in, and purchased more donuts! I learned from the lady who took my money the second time (a veteran seasonal employee of Sunrise) that it is common for people to eat their first dozen warm while waiting in line and then pay for the empty container!  I also noticed people with shopping carts full of 12 packs, who do fund-raisers selling these apple cider donuts every fall. Other people stock up and freeze a supply or share them with neighbors—talk about building goodwill!

I told some good friends about the apple cider donuts at Sunrise, and now it has become one of their seasonal traditions as well. They grew up in Michigan and lived on the East Coast for many years until their children came along and jobs moved them back to the Midwest. They told me that all the orchards in Pennsylvania make and sell donuts, and these are on a par with the donuts they used to get at the orchards in Pennsylvania.

Do any of you have something special that you only do at this time of the year (September/October)? Feel free to share with the rest of us! Begonia

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