Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Apples

fresh-picked apples

While it might be a slightly less-tangling tongue-twister than the original, I can attest to the difficulty of the actual task at hand – apple picking. Now on any other day, I might have reacted differently. But two Saturdays ago on a chilly Halloween morning, we were struggling through the bazillions of apple trees at Royal Oak Farm Orchard trying our damndest to fill up our alotted “peck-sized” baggies in the shortest amount of time possible.

Now what’s so bad about apple picking, you might ask? Well nothing, on most occasions. But combine Jennifer’s lifestyle of “playing it by ear” with my lack of preparation and inability to see past the pure excitment of simply going to an apple orchard in the middle of nowhere, and you are left with two girls traveling blindly into the Chicago outer suburbs on a cold, windy day, sans gloves, warm coat, or appropriate mud-sloshing shoes.

gorgeous apple tress

Which correlates to quickly shifting from excitement to downright pain as our hands became more numb with each apple we chunked carelessly into our bags. And while we desperately wanted our bags to magically become full, we were also saddened by the weight of those bags as we attempted to carry them with our hands in our pockets. Needless to say, the bags’ drawstrings eventually became too painful to hang from our elbow creases, and we were left with no option but to carry our bags with one hand vulnerable to the country “breeze” and cold.

Sometimes, we (meaning Jennifer) had to climb up into the trees for the perfect apple. This was before the cold became somewhat unbearble. The higher up in the trees, the more untouched apples loomed over us, snickering all the while as we stared, eyes full of sadness, knowing we would be settling for the apples closer to our coat pockets.

Jennifer climbing for apples

While there were loads of apple varieties, the ones we really wanted were months and months away:

no candy crisps = sad

We saw a few families out for picking, complete with wagons and multiple peck-sized bags. They also donned appropriate clothing – gloves that I specifically imagined myself wrestling a 10 year old to the ground for. But then I realized that, in doing so, I would become clothed in mud – mud that would not only be cold, but also wet and sticky.

I took the “high road” and we managed to fill our bags and stock up on super cheap winter squash (25 cents a pound!) before darting sheepishly into the warm gift shop where apple cider, fudge, and sugared donuts awaited.

making apple sauce

It may not have been the best day to pick apples, but we made the most of it. Through clenched, clattering teeth we laughed (at ourselves, for being so silly and unprepared) and picked until apples were literally toppling out of our bags. And when we arrived back home into the city, dry and warm, we went our separate ways – both wondering what in the world we’d do with all these apples.

homemade apple butter

Homemade Apple Butter
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks; makes ~40 oz

printable recipe

It might look like it takes a long time, and it does, but apple butter is outta this world. It’s a perfect way to use a bunch of apples and a great way to make the house smell scrumptious.

4 lbs of apples, unpeeled & uncored, cut into quarters
1/2 gallon of apple cider
~2 c sugar (or less, if desired)
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves
juice of 1 lemon

special equipment
food mill or very fine sieve
canning jars, ~40 oz in volume
large pot for sterilizing jars


  1. Prepare jars by running them through your dishwasher and using heated dry. Keep door closed until you need the jars.
  2. in a heavy pot over med/med-hi heat, add apples and enough apple cider to cover the apples. bring to simmer. skim foam as it appears (but don’t worry too much about getting it all). cook apples until tender throughout, about 20-30 minutes.
  3. take apples out of pot and, in batches, run through a food mill (or fine sieve, but it will take a while using that method) and into a large bowl. after running all apples through, it will look like applesauce – because it is… applesauce.
  4. put applesauce back in large pot over medium heat. bring to simmer (~220 F). while stirring, add in lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves. continue to simmer over medium/medium-low. continue stirring occasionally and keep mixture around 220 F. it will take 1-2 hours from here. the applesauce will thicken up, darken, and eventually start popping and making bubbly noises. once it’s dark and reduced significantly, remove from heat (it will thicken more after this point as well).
  5. fill your biggest pot with water and bring to a boil. the water will need to cover the jars when placed in the pot.
  6. remove jars from dishwasher and fill apple butter to within 1/4 inch of jar top. wipe rims clean with a dry paper towel and screw lid on tightly. using tongs or jar holder, place jar into boiling water for 10 minutes. take out and let cool completely. over time, you should hear the jars pop which means they are sealed and ready to store!

3 thoughts on “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Apples

  1. @Nate – you totally can! I saw quite a few recipes using a slow cooker – you just do it overnight or all day (on low setting) rather than over a couple of hours, and you don’t have to stir as often (or at all). I will probably try that method out next time, just to compare🙂

  2. Jennifer says:

    oh my…thanks for including that photo of me and my “sad face”. I still have to make something scrumptious with those apples besides just eating them with peanut butter…which is also good.

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