We started a tradition of doing something new together as a family before Rosh Hashanah to emphasize the newness of the year. What better way to make the holiday come alive than to pick our own apples to dip in honey? These foods are symbolically eaten on Rosh Hashanah to evoke a “sweet” new year. After packing up the boys up in the car, we head out to Oak Glen for a day of fresh air, apples and Americana.
When we arrived at Willowbrook family farm, we were warmly greeted by owner Cheryl Swanson. As we made our way to the sweet picturesque farm, it felt as through we were walking through history. The apple trees were planted back in 1910. Most apple trees produce for only 30-40 years, but these trees have been in production for 105 years! Most of the apple trees at Willowbrook are standard size trees which is rare because many apple groves consist of smaller, high density trees that take up less space, produce in a shorter amount of time and are easier to harvest. Cheryl and her family harvest the big trees themselves, pruning them by hand, which takes three hours per tree!
Some of the smaller trees on the farm have branches low enough for kids to reach. The kids got a lot of satisfaction looking for apples, twisting off the stems and placing them in his basket. We learned that the bud of the blossom that will become next Fall’s apple is just above the stem of the apple that is being picked, which is why it is important to pick with care.
As big supporters of organic family farms, we love that Willowbrook uses only natural resources like clover and bees to ensure a healthy harvest, which you can taste in their apples. Willowbrook takes pride in their crisp Stayman Winesap apples which have a rich-wine like flavor and smell of a hint of cinnamon. Due to their thicker peel, they will keep for months when stored in a cool place. Cheryl said they make superb pies because they hold their shape well when cooked. I can hardly wait to get baking! You will be seeing some Autumn apple recipes on the blog soon enough.
After filling up our baskets, the boys ran around playing in piles of leaves and picking up sticks and pinecones. They marveled at a tall wooden treehouse and loved visiting the farms pet animals – Clover, a miniature horse and his best friend Comet, a baby donkey, a pot belly pig called Blossom, and Flopsy, a 20 pound Flemish Giant rabbit! As if that wasn’t enough fun, Cheryl took the kids on a hay ride pulled by “Arlo,” a 1957 vintage Ford tractor. Our last stop on the farm was the cider mill. Using an old-fashioned press, my husband and our eldest son worked together to press a gallon of delicious cider. It was a real team-effort and quite an arm workout!
Returning home with gratitude for wonderful memories made, delicious heirloom apples, farm fresh honey, and a gallon of cider to enjoy, we can’t wait to return next year!