WHERE: Blue Vista Farm, Bayfield, Wisconsin
WHY: If it’s true that the fall colors and rolling hills of Northern Wisconsin are postcard perfect, then Bayfield represents the prettiest card on the rack. The region's love of all things apple reaches a tart crescendo on the first weekend of October, with the Bayfield Apple Festival. Blue Vista Farm, with its fragrant fields of flowers, herbs, fruit trees and a rustic 100-year-old red barn, offers a great Lake Superior view and welcome respite from the carnival-like atmosphere, apple pie frenzy and marching bands you’ll find in town. While Zestar and Red Free varieties will be ready for picking the third weekend in September, the Honeycrisp, Jonafree, Gala, Courtland and Sweet 16 ($18 per half-bushel) probably won’t blush until mid-October.
HOW: Hold the branch. Twist the fruit off gently. Don’t shake the tree.
GET THERE: It’s a 4-hour drive from Minneapolis. Head north on I-35 to Duluth and then east on Highway 2. Just shy of Ashland, WI, hang a left onto Highway 13. In just under 17 miles, turn left onto Hatchery Road. Blue Vista Farm is one mile down, at the intersection with County Highway J. You'll see a big painted sign, directing you.
HOURS: Open 9am-5pm every day but Tuesdays.
DO IT RIGHT: Bayfield chef Mary Dougherty, who opened Good Thyme restaurant in nearby Washburn, offers this HEARTY CARAMELIZED APPLE BREAD PUDDING, WITH RUM SAUCE. (She also offers a bonus recipe for her PICKLED PICKED APPLES.)
3 large tart apples (such as Jonagold or Honeycrisp)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/2 cups half and half
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups stale bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (1 cup reserved for the topping)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9 x 13 pan.
Peel the apples and cut into 1-inch chunks. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat. Add the sugar and stir until the mixture bubbles, then toss in the apples to coat them. Let the apples sit, in a single layer if your pan is large enough, undisturbed for about a few minutes to sear the exterior and then flip them over and let them sit another minute. Repeat this process until the apples are caramelized and tender (about 10 minutes). Remove the apples and juices from the pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, maple syrup, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg to combine. Add the half and half, milk and vanilla and combine thoroughly.
In a small bowl, combine the tablespoon of sugar with 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon.
Place 5 cups of the bread cubes in the large mixing bowl and toss to coat with the liquid. Let sit for about 45 minutes (tossing another couple of times) and then place the bread cubes in the buttered baking dish. Place the caramelized apples, their juices and chopped pecans over the bread. Scatter the remaining cup of bread cubes over the apples and press them to partially submerge in the custard. Brush the exposed bread cubes with the rest of the melted butter, and sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon sugar.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until the bread pudding is golden and a knife inserted into the middle of the bread pudding comes out clean. Remove the pudding from the oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Serve warm with caramel sauce (recipe follows) or vanilla ice cream.
6 tbsp butter
1/2 cup cream
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tbsp spiced rum
Place the butter, cream, rum and brown sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil and then simmer for 2–3 minutes until slightly thickened. Pour over bread pudding and serve.
Bonus: Pickled Picked Apples
Blue Vista has more than 1,500 apple trees, which means you might find yourself with leftovers. Here's savory pickled apple treatment from Mary Dougherty.
10 sweet-tart apples (Honeycrisp or Jonafree), peeled, cored and sliced into rings or slices
4 cups water
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 star anise, broken into pieces
1/2 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
3/4 teaspoon mixed peppercorns
4 three-inch pieces of lemon zest
4 three- to four-inch sprigs of fresh rosemary
Clean and sterilize 4 one-quart mason jars with lids.
In a large saucepan, over medium/high heat, combine the water, maple syrup, cider vinegar, salt, ginger, red onion, star anise, cinnamon, and peppercorns and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Divide the apple rings/wedges, lemon rind and rosemary sprigs among the jars. Carefully ladle the hot liquid over them (try to get a little cinnamon stick and star anise in each jar). Set aside for 15 minutes. Screw on the lids. Refrigerate for up to 3 months.
Serving suggestion: Atop a pizza with a nutty cheese, such as fontina.