Go on an orchard road trip for a Thanksgiving stuffing side dish.
Fall brings cooler temperatures, changing leaves and, if you’re lucky enough, a trip to the apple farm. From upstate New York to Michigan and Oregon, farmers welcome thousands of people in search of that perfect apple.
When I was in Watertown, New York, I drove along winding fall leaf-covered roads. The brilliant oranges, reds and golden butter-colored leaves had me mesmerized. Wild turkeys fanned their beautiful plumes in the fields, deer grazed on grass and all I wanted was a crisp New York McIntosh apple with its bright white flesh and deliciously sweet taste.
Apples North of the Big Apple
In New York, particularly the Upstate area, multiple apple varieties flourish. The most prized include the Fortune apple, known for its spicy flavor; Ginger Gold one of the best snacking apples; and the Jonamac a perfect cross of a Jonathan and McIntosh apple. New York grows more apple varieties than any other state according to the NY Agriculture Department. With nearly 700 growers and 10 million-plus trees, they produce enough apples each year to bake 500 million apple pies.
When I arrived at the Behling Orchards apple farm I took it all in, families all bundled up and holding apple picking baskets, cups of hot apple cider in their hands and giggles from all the kids excited to be let loose and run among the trees. Suddenly my nose caught a sweet, spicy cinnamon-apple scent. I turned my head toward the main building
where this perfect hand made sign said, “follow your nose.” So, what does a glorified foodie do? I followed my nose and inside that sweet little shop was my reward: apple cider donuts. I bought a bag of donut holes and a large cup of apple cider, grabbed my apple basket and set out into the orchard for an adventure. Walking the rows, the scents from the different apple varieties changed with every new turn I took.
Seeing (and tasting) Red
I was looking for Red Rome because it is wonderful for the best brown-sugar-stuffed baked apples. Or the perfect Twenty Ounce apple, a variety created for apple pies because of its size and that it holds its shape when baked. But the complete surprise to me was the Zestar apple, perfectly balanced in the middle of sweet and tart. It was crisp and juicy, had a hint of brown sugar, and it is fantastic for eating, adding to a salad or making bright and flavorful applesauce.
Once my basket was overflowing with my haul, I headed back to Watertown, where I made a delicious cranberry, apple and cornbread dressing to go along with a golden roasted sage and apple stuffed chicken. The tartness of the fresh cranberries blended perfectly with the tang of the day-old sourdough bread. The sautéed onions and aromatics were the perfect complement to the rich corn taste of the day-old cornbread. Layering on all the traditional fall food smells made this meal unforgettable. Additions like rich homemade chicken stock, fresh and flavorful chopped herbs, placing the bread on a sheet pan and toasting it in the oven until the pieces are golden. All of those extras will add tremendous flavor, help the structure of the dressing while it bakes and deliver one of the richest scents to ever perfume your home.
Apples Make the Meal
The true secret to this dressing lies in those fresh-picked apples. Once you taste an apple picked right off the tree, I promise you, your apple recipes will taste better. The flavors will be bolder, more concentrated and you be supporting a family that loves their fare. Make it a destination, pack up the family find a campground near an apple farm or two create memories in and around those rows. Then journey home to create new food memories surrounding your time in the orchard picking apples. I can not wait to return to another apple farm but this time I would like to enjoy it with my family. Here are a few u-pick apple farms scattered all across the US for you to enjoy. Try to find the ones that offer fresh-pressed apple cider and those melt in your mouth, sugar and cinnamon dusted cider donuts.
Apple, Cranberry and Sausage Cornbread Dressing
6 cups, cubed dried and toasted cornbread
4 cups, cubed, dried, toasted sourdough bread
1 medium size yellow onion, chopped
4 stalks celery chopped
4 apples cored and chopped, leave the skin on (Honeycrisp, Envy, Empire, Granny Smith)
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
½ cup pecans
1-pound sausage (sage, maple or country mild by Jimmy Dean)
½ cup butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Turn oven onto 350 degrees
To a large bowl add all the bread cubes and set aside. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bite size pieces of sausage until no more pink remains, remove from pan and set aside. Pour out any liquid remaining in the pan but leave the small bits of sausage stuck to the pan. Add in butter and heat pan over medium heat until butter has melted. Add in onions, celery, and all the fresh herbs, cook 3-5 minutes until onions are softened. Add in cranberries and apples, toss well to coat all the fruit. Cook 5 minutes. Pour contents of pan over the bread crumbs, add in cooked sausage, pour chicken stock over the mixture and carefully mix just until the ingredients are distributed. Pour into a deep baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Place pan in hot oven and cook for 45 minutes, remove and allow to set for 15 minutes before serving.