Fall harvest to table
Clockwise: apples; green chiles; black walnuts; squid

Harvest to Table Road Trips

Jaw-dropping fall drives that lead to drool-inducing DIY dishes

Fall harvest to table

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Autumn’s Best Harvest to Table
 Road Trips

Sure, apples are standard u-pick fare, but we’ve also gone a bit off the farm with this list. Why squid? We picked it for the thrill of it, for some varied autumn texture and flavor, because an outstanding chef said he’d offer us an exclusive recipe, and as an ode to our favorite forager and gourmand, Steven Rinella. After all, the draw to local food is not just knowing where it comes from, but actually being where it is so you can search it, pluck it, pull it, and then haul it home for a little culinary experimentation. After you’ve tried the following four ingredients and recipes, find something yourself by browsing J. Blake Plemmer’s list of family farms, ripe for a go at PickYourOwn.org.

Rocky Mountain High Roast

Harvest green chiles, then make a rippin’ salsa, using a recipe from our favorite skier-turned-chef

Green chiles
Green chiles (Cameilia/via Shutterstock )

WHERE: Delicious Orchards Farm, Paonia, Colorado

WHY: Go for the green chile. Stay for the live music. Though green chiles are more closely aligned with New Mexico–where the distinctively autumn smell of roasting wafts from backyard grills and grocery store parking lots–Colorado chiles are just as aromatic, plus at Delicious Orchards you can also pluck pears and apples from the vine (while they last). Now and until the first freeze, you can pick your own Anaheim chiles ($2/pound). Try the farm specialty, green pork chili, at the onsite café and wash it down with the hard cider on tap in the farm’s tasting room. If too much of the hard stuff goes down too easy, stay overnight at the farm’s campground ($10 per night).

HOW: You can have the farm staff roast your chiles, but roasting them on your own backyard grill will make the neighbors green with food envy.

GET THERE: From Denver, it’s a 4-hour drive. Head East on I-70 for 140 miles and then south on Highway 82 toward Carbondale. After 12 miles, hang a right on Highway 133. Continue south for an hour, through Paonia, to the farm.

That’s 39126 Highway 133, Hotchkiss, CO, 81419, if you favor Google Maps instruction.

HOURS:‎ 9am-6pm, every day.

DO IT RIGHT: Down the road at Holy Terror Farm in Paonia, extreme skier turned farmer Alison Gannett makes a mean GREEN CHILE TOMATILLO ROASTED SALSA.  

2 green chiles (aneheim or poblano)
1 pound husked tomatillos
3 garlic cloves – skin on
1 onion, husked, cut in quarters (keep ends on to hold them together on grill)
2 teaspoon salt
Handful of cilantro (optional)

Roast all ingredients except the cilantro on a BBQ grill over medium heat
Turn each ingredient until each is slightly blackened on all sides
Remove chile stems and garlic skins (For other dishes in which the chiles are not blended, you’d remove the chile skins as well, because in those cases it proves difficult to eat
Blend everything, including the cilantro, in a food processor or blender
Pulse until it is as thick or thin as you like

Superior Apple Picking

Eat a few off the tree, and take the Northwoods home with this autumn-themed bread pudding

Honeycrisp apples
Honeycrisp apples (Paul Fell/via 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.

Caramel Sauce
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.

Great Smoky Mountains Foraging

Find the choicest black walnuts, then crush them into this delicious pesto

Black Walnuts
The black walnut (right) is a harder nut to crack than the walnut (left), but has its rewards (MARGRIT HIRSCH/via Shutterstock (left) and Long Branch Environmental Center in Leicester, North Carolina

WHY: The black walnut tree has a wide range across the eastern half of the country, but the nut’s intense, sweet, but bitter flavor has a home in the southern Appalachian palate. Plus, the Long Branch Environmental Center is more than a u-pick farm, it’s a feel-good farm. The conservatory, which boasts 1,600 acres of wilderness and farmland, started in 1974 as an ecological sanctuary and land trust. It offers waterfalls, solar energy demonstrations, and hiking trails up to 5,152-foot summit Big Sandy Mush Bald. Aside from all that goodness, and the greatness of the walnuts ($5/pound), you can pick chestnuts, raspberries, and blueberries, while they last.

HOW: The husked nut drops from the tree when ripe, so collect yellow-green pods from the ground. When you get home, armed with sturdy rubber gloves to keep the juglone (walnut juice) from staining your hands, cut away and remove the outer husk with a paring or pocket knife. Or, as many seasoned walnut pickers do, simply toss the husked nuts on the driveway and let your car do the dirty work. Once the husk is free, let the shelled nuts dehydrate in a dry, squirrel-free zone for days to weeks. The longer you wait the less rubbery the meats become. Remove the meats from the shell using a vice or a hammer. Find details and tricks here.

GET THERE: The environmental center is open for visitors any time, but harvests must be done appointment only. No exceptions. Contact Paul Gallimore at watershed.keeper@gmail.com to arrange a visit and get directions. The farm is a 3.5 hour drive northeast from Atlanta. You’ll take I-985 N/US-23 N through the Chattahoochee National Forest, but ask Gallimore for detailed directions to the farm.

DO IT RIGHT: Chef Mark Rosenstein, of The Market Place and The Frog & Owl Café, has been called the godfather of the local food movement in Western North Carolina for his knack for teasing out Appalachian flavors and tastes. Here’s a recipe for his delectable BLACK WALNUT PESTO, which you can slather onto a grilled brushetta with a zesty herb such as arugula or an Asian mustard green.

1 cup fresh basil (leaves only)
1/4 cup broad leaf parsley (leaves only)
2 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
zest of one orange
1/2 cup black walnuts
1/8 cup blanched almonds
1/4 – 1/2 cup walnut oil, as needed

Pick leaves of basil and parsley. Crush garlic on the salt. Add herbs, garlic, salt, orange zest, black walnuts, almonds to the bowl of a food processor (or powerful blender). Turn on medium speed and slowly pour walnut oil into the processor, puree until smooth. Refrigerate.

Use as you would pesto made with pine nuts. Rosenstein suggests serving with a sauvignon blanc from the Loire or a malty high gravity beer.

Puget Sound Jigging

Catch some squid and serve it up in a blast

Squid (JIANG HONGYAN/via Shutterstock)

Blasted Squid

Blasted Squid Blasted Squid

WHERE: Public piers throughout Puget Sound, but the Edmonds Pier, north of Seattle in best now through November. (During winter months, try public piers in Seattle and south to Tacoma.)

WHY: Mythically large squid sometimes ply the waters of the Puget Sound, but there is no commercial fishery here, leaving DIY as the only option for eating local cephalopods. Plus, the bar of entry is low: with only a cheap fishing rod, some line, lures called jigs, and a bucket, you’re allowed to snag up to 10 pounds of Loligo Opalescens, or Market Squid, per night. Seattleites, especially Japanese, Filipino, and Vietnamese immigrants, were foraging these small (8 to 10 inch) squid for decades before “local food” was a thing. 

HOW: Since it’s fall in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll want a warm beverage in a thermos, a raincoat, and rain pants. With any luck, you’ll be covered in squid ink, which will easily wash off rain gear. You’ll need a shellfish license ($11.35 for a day or $16 for an annual pass, minus Dungeness crab), which you can buy with the jigs (starting at $5; you add up to four on a line) and other gear at Linc’s Bait Shop in Seattle (501 Rainier Ave. S.; 206-324-7600). Sink the jigs and keep them moving until you feel the tug of a squid grabbing that bait. Once out of the water, the squid should loosen its grip. Remove it from the hook and store it in a bucket. To prepare, cut the squid at the mantle and remove its head, organs, and outer film. You’ll eat the body and the arms.

GET THERE: From Seattle, head north to the Edmonds-Kingston ferry and spend the day or weekend exploring the Olympic Peninsula–hike the restored landscape around the newly free-flowing Elwha River–or jump on a second ferry in Port Townsend and explore the San Juan Islands by boat and bike. Save squidding to punctuate the return journey. The public fishing pier in Edmonds is just south of the ferry terminal, off Admiral Way.

HOURS: Plan to be out under the cover of night. The best window is two to three hours before high tide. The squid are attracted to light, so choose the best-lit areas and scan the water for passing schools. Squid ink on the deck indicates a prime spot.

DO IT RIGHT:  Seattle chef Kevin Davis, whose eateries Blueacre and Steelhead Diner are bright lights in the local and sustainable seafood scene, whipped up this BLASTED SQUID dish just for us. This makes one large entree that, when served with steamed white rice, will serve two.

6 ounces fresh squid, cleaned and separated
3 ounces clarified butter (ghee)
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon shallot, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon serrano pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 cup shitake mushroom caps, stem remove, julienned
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup leeks, julienned
1/2 cup carrots, julienned
1/4 cup onion, julienned
1/4 ounce cilantro, picked
4 ounces Thai basil leaf, picked
4 ounces chicken stock, chilled
2 ounces soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch   
1 teaspoon lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon scallion tops, extreme bias
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted 

Heat 1 oz oil to smoking, season squid with black pepper. Sauté squid briefly. Remove from pan. Says chef Davis: “This is where the blast comes in. Get the oil really hot, remove pan from heat, tilt the pan forward and add the squid to the dry side of the pan, level the pan and spread out the squid and sauté with the residual heat just until the tentacles curl, approx 30 seconds.”

Add remaining oil followed by mushrooms leeks, carrots, onion, garlic, ginger, shallot and serrano pepper, sauté until tender                                                 

Mix cornstarch, chicken stock, soy sauce, lime juice with a whisk to form slurry  

Add to pan and bring to boil stirring constantly until mixture is thickened slightly 

Return squid to pan and reheat briefly                                                   

Plate in a warm bowl and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds                                                       

Enjoy with a fine Seattle microbrew, say the PNW Pale Ale from Seapine Brewing Company.

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