There are certain holidays where it is very apparent the Jewish calendar is based on life in Israel and not Chicago. Sometimes eating in a sukkah involves wearing a winter coat and the ground is usually frozen solid at Tu Bishvat. Rosh Hashanah, however, coincides perfectly with apple season, giving us Chicagoans the chance to indulge in a sweet New Year directly from the trees.
Even before we had kids, my husband and I would go apple picking each fall. My husband would regularly eat three apples a day, and picking a ton of apples was a fun and delicious way to keep up with his habit. Our original apple picking location of choice was County Line Orchards in Hobart, Indiana. County Line is a very large orchard with 40 acres of apples to pick. It also gets very crowded and parking can be some distance away from the entrance so we found it’s best to arrive early in the day. There are also a lot of activities besides apples including a Kids Farm, Maze, and “Moo-Choo” Train. They also have two restaurants, a bakery, and a store so you can stock up on fresh cider and donuts. Admission ranges from $1 to $10 based on what activities you want to do and apples are charged by the pound. County Line has a fall festival vibe to it and is certainly a good place to go for a full day of fun.
Last year we decided to go apple picking on erev Rosh Hashanah (the day before it begins). Knowing that making it to Indiana and back before dinner with the two kids would be difficult, I decided to see if I could find someplace closer. We ended up at the Garden Patch in Homer Glen, Illinois not far from where my in-laws live in the south suburbs. They charge $5 a person to pick and then charge per pound for apples. This was definitely a smaller place with fewer activities, but it was actually perfect for my then 4 and 1-year-olds. We were able to park right in front of the store and then took a short tractor ride to the orchards. My toddler was able to pick apples directly from her stroller. She was soon double fisting apples, taking bites out of both at once. My older girl wanted to try all the apples but did manage to put some in her bag to bring home. Garden Patch also had two bouncy houses and chickens that you could feed, both of which delighted my girls.
We weren’t the only ones who thought to go apple picking right before Rosh Hashanah dinner: We met a man from Rogers Park who had brought his kids there to get them out of the house. He was already dressed in his holiday clothes, which had unfortunately gotten covered in mud. I’d advise wearing different clothes and leaving plenty of time to change.
This year the families in my daughter’s day school class are planning a trip to Heinz Orchard in Libertyville, Illinois. It advertises no frills and no admission fees, so this seems to be the place to go for just apples.
Other friends have really enjoyed Apple Holler in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. At 70 acres, they are even bigger than County Line and have a similar array of activities including a maze, train, giant slide, and farm animals. Admission is $20 a person, $10 for those 7 and under, and includes the cost for a ½ peck and ¼ peck bag respectively. Since we tend to go south I haven’t been here but this place also looks great for a full day of fun.
If none of these locations work for you check out pickyourown.org where you can search by location for the closest orchard. Each orchard will give you the opportunity to pick apples but there is a range of other activities and food so investigate before you choose where to go.
We arrived at my in-laws last Rosh Hashanah with fresh picked apples and honey purchased from the farm. My older daughter was very proud that we would be saying the blessings for a sweet New Year over the apples she picked. Fall in Chicago signals the start of cold weather and more time indoors, but I am so thankful for our apple picking tradition. Time outdoors with my family appreciating delicious food we can pick ourselves certainly is the right way to start the New Year and makes it that much sweeter.