Apples, apples… who’s got the apples? That’s the question, and since early September, I’ve been finding the answer here in Ohio. I’m happy to report: from the top of the state’s border with Lake Erie to the bottom of our heart-shaped state line hugging Kentucky, we’ve got U-pick orchards, hard ciders, cocktails, and plenty of sweet treats. If you’re looking for anything and everything apple in the Buckeye state, here are some suggestions.
Hand-pick Your Apples
A Trifecta in Ashtabula County
There’s nothing like picking your own apples. Sure, it requires sharing space with the bees. But as my husband says, “They’re just doing their bee thing.” And I’m just doing my fall thing. Apple picking in Michigan was magical. But the orchards here in Ohio are just as lovely. We started in Ashtabula, a county known for vineyards and orchards. And that’s no surprise, given this spot hugs Lake Erie; I’ve found that fruit benefits any time a body of water is near. We found three orchards within a 10-minute radius of each other: Brant’s Apple Orchard, Kiraly’s Orchard, and Smith’s Fruit Farm; each charming in its unique way, but Brant’s was by far the most extensive establishment. There you’ll find food, picnic tables, lawn games, and of course, the beautiful sprawling orchard.
A&M Farm Orchard, Cincinnati
Next, A&M Fruit Farm near Cincinnati. The trees grow wild here with the smell of apple thick in the air, summoning local bees. It was a slightly more rustic experience, nevertheless beautiful. A variety of apples grow here, including the infamous Melrose and Winesap. Also of interest: cider popsicles!
Peifer Orchards, Yellow Springs
Last but not least, Peifer Orchards in Yellow Springs. And I have to admit, this might be my favorite orchard we’ve visited in Ohio to date. As far as apple varietals go, the others offered more. But we found the orchard impeccably maintained with only the rare apple on the ground, and the trees preened to perfection. We picked big and healthy Gold Rush apples using complimentary baskets. The orchard is a 10-minute walk from parking, but it’s quite a delightful stroll. Before you get to the orchard, you’ll pass a sunflower field to your left, with a pumpkin patch immediately following. It’s like a fall wonderland of sorts. And after apple picking awaits a tasty apple cider slush!
Now, the only question remaining: What to do with all of these apples?
Sip Cocktails in an Orchard
Hidden Valley Orchards, Lebanon
There’s this new trend with local farms turning their acreage into an agritourism destination. Nobody has modeled this better than Hidden Valley Orchard in Springboro, Ohio: once a local farmer’s market now turned bakery, ice cream shop, taproom… With a spacious lawn to stretch out on and fire pits sprinkled throughout, you’re encouraged to stay awhile and enjoy yourself. You’ll find fresh farm eats here, as well as live music on the weekends.
And then there’s The Olde Grain Bin turned bar sitting amongst the orchard. Charming? Yeah, to say the least. Strung with lights and nestled against the apple trees, it doesn’t get more idyllic in the fall. And they serve up some delicious cocktails here. I asked for the prettiest- they served me the Fall Fizz, adorned with a wine-soaked orange slice and a Thyme sprig. I asked for the tastiest- they mixed their house cider with Woodford Reserve bourbon. Both were super yummy and beautiful. We leisurely walked around the orchard with our drinks while listening to live music and watching the sunset through the apple trees. It’s nights like these where you can slow down and appreciate the moment and season you’re in; not feel rushed to enjoy what’s next, but the now.
Sample Hard Ciders with a View
Rhinegeist is Cincinnati’s very own brewery, set in historic Over-the-Rhine and next to Findlay Market. They get creative and make some pretty fun seasonal flavors, like Y’all Peachy– a hoppy wheat beer with peach and peach tea. From what I hear, they make a killer IPA. But I’m more into hard cider, myself. And they make a handful of seasonal varieties, along with a few available all year round, making this place a fun sampling destination for ciders in the fall. This month, we took to Rhinegeist’s rooftop bar and enjoyed the latest ciders of the season, sampling four:
- Zappy– a classic dry cider, available year round
- Swizzle– also a dry cider, but infused with lemongrass and ginger, available year round
- Friends No. 1– a spicy effervescent cider tasting closest to a beer out of the five
- Beezy– an incredibly balanced and delicious red-appled cider with notes of honey and honeysuckle
If you can’t tell, Beezy is my favorite. I like to call it Easy-Beezy because it’s so easy to drink. But I was impressed by the whole flight of ciders, each different from the other. And with a great view of the Queen City, not to mention an excellent playlist going, it was a great way to unwind after a day of apple picking. The afternoon warmth was still going strong, and the flowers lining the rooftop were attracting the Monarch butterflies passing through. Perhaps they also wanted a taste of what Rhinegeist was brewing up.
O Pie O, Cincinnati
Who doesn’t love a good apple dessert in the fall? You’ve got the obvious- apple pie, and you can’t go wrong with a classic like this. But apples are so versatile. I love finding a nice caramel-dipped apple- Dorothy Lane Market in Dayton sells them freshly dipped over a whole weekend in October. As I mentioned earlier, several local orchards serve up cider slushies which are always a refreshing choice. A slight deviation from the frozen drink is A&M Farm Orchard‘s cider popsicles. And then there are the apple cider donuts and fritters you’ll find at local markets and bakeries this time of year.
But perhaps my favorite creative use of the apple comes from a very surprising pie I found at O Pie O in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The Honey Vinegar Pie. Yes, the name makes some uncomfortable. But the barely-there hint of apple cider vinegar gives the pie a balanced tartness to what is an otherwise sweet and creamy brûlée’d type confection. Using honey, vanilla bean, a touch of apple cider vinegar, and topped with Maldon sea salt, O Pie O’s Honey Vinegar Pie earned “Ohio’s Best Dessert” for a good reason. If you don’t believe me, you’ll just have to try it for yourself! If you’re a pie purist, they make a classic apple pie just in time for Thanksgiving.