The Planted Row: Turning soybeans spark thoughts of autumn

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Farm Forum

Last weekend, my wife and I took our kids out of town for a Labor Day getaway. This was a poorly-planned, last minute decision. Our work schedules rarely coincide to let us a enjoy a holiday together, so when we realized we had the chance, we took it.

On the trip, I noticed that many fields of soybeans were beginning to turn. There was a definite hint of yellow in those seas of green. And though I know it is late summer, seeing that color got me to thinking about fall. It’s my favorite time of year. I love the light, the colors, the temperatures, the smells, and most of all, the foods.

I must have thought about fall a little too much because I finally suggested we partake in a very autumn activity. We visited an orchard to do a little apple picking. I should have known better. It is still very early in the apple harvest, and the orchard only had one variety of apple ready at the time. My wife decided it was too tart for eating, and neither of us really enjoys baking apple pies, so we ended up not picking any apples. Our timing just wasn’t right.

This aborted endeavor was but one of several failed attempts to recreate the one perfect trip to an orchard I’ve ever experienced. Several years ago, we were visiting my wife’s family in New York in October, and my wife decided it was time that I went apple picking. I assured her that my grandfather had a few apple trees and a small peach orchard, and I already knew how to pick those things. However, she insisted that unless I had picked apples in the Northeast, I hadn’t really done it.

So, off we went to a small farm about half an hour from my mother-in-law’s house. Already things were looking up. I enjoyed the old farm house, the barns and various farm buildings much more than the suburbs of New York City. I took a deep breath of fresh country air, and we got some sacks and headed into the orchard.

It was there that I learned I had never truly tasted an apple before. I didn’t eat any apples fresh from the tree until we paid for them, but I picked one off the ground that didn’t look too bad and took my first bite. It was simply amazing. It was the sweetest apple I’d ever tasted, and there were hints of floral notes in the peel that gave the fruit a new complexity. Every variety that we picked had new and wonderful flavors to offer. Even the trees on our family farm back in Mississippi couldn’t produce anything close to those apples.

When we took our full sacks back to the farm shed to be weighed, I was introduced to the real reason my wife wanted to visit the orchard. In the Northeast, orchards and cider mills have a tradition of serving apple cider doughnuts. I’d never heard of such a thing, but when I tasted one, I realized I liked it better than any Southern tradition I know of. These are cake doughnuts that have fresh squeezed apple cider, nutmeg and cinnamon in the batter. Served warm and dunked in hot spiced cider, I’ve never tasted a better treat.

When we moved to this area from Alaska, I knew there were a few orchards within driving distance of Aberdeen. I was excited about the prospects of great apples and apple cider doughnuts. However, I’ve never timed it right to get the sweet varieties, and so far, I haven’t found any orchards serving doughnuts. My wife and I looked up some recipes online, and we tried our hand at making them, but they’re just not the same if you don’t use freshly-pressed cider.

So this weekend, I once again drove home in defeat, no apples or doughnuts in tow. If any of the fine South Dakota cooks out there are bored with making kuchen and feel like adopting a Northeast farm tradition this fall, I’ll happily be a paying customer.