Growing up, I always took it for granted that we had all the fresh apples we could eat. I grew up in the heart of apple country in upstate New York. The bus ride to school passed more cows and apple trees than I could count. Our generous neighbors let us roam their acres and acres of orchards to our hearts’ content. In the spring, that meant picnics among the heady smell of blossoms. In the summer, there were long walks among the trees, paths to bike on, and branches to climb and explore. Starting at the end of summer and lasting all through fall, were apples. Big apples, little apples, tart apples, sweet apples, and sour apples. We ate them in such abundance, it’s a wonder I didn’t develop some strange disease that comes only from too many apples! Having so many fresh apples available whenever we wanted (as long as we went and picked them) left us lots of time to experiment. The trees became like old friends- some produced sweet apples, some were good for eating fresh, some best for baking, and some best for sauce. Each tree really does have it’s own flavor and personality. The best trees always somehow seemed to be the furthest away!
Even though I no longer live next door to an apple orchard, I still enjoy walking among old-growth trees, eating the fresh-from the tree fruit with a flavor unlike any store-bought apple, and getting lost among row after row of trees. Except now, like most people, I have to go out of my way for this experience. A few weekends ago, we did just that and discovered Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stow, MA. The drive there passed beautiful nature preserves and through quintessential New England towns.
The orchards themselves didn’t disappoint. Even though it was late in the season, we still picked more apples than I know what to do with. The gnarly old trees were in rows up and down the sides of the hill. Honey Pot Hill Orchards offers a good selection of apples – McIntosh, Macoun, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Cortland. They also had some fun farm animals to look at and feed and the largest hedge maze in North America. And of course, a farm store, with additional apple varieties for sale, hot apple cider, pies, and apple-cider doughnuts. If you go, don’t miss the doughnuts! There was a line wrapped around the building just for these fried treats.
Old wooden ladders leaned against the trees to help you reach the fruit at the tippy-top. I was rather amazed that they let you use the ladders, what with all the small children running about and all the safety concerns everyone has today. It was a good thing they did though, as most of the apples were not within easy reach. Use a ladder or bring a tall companion with you when you go picking.
With all these apples now on-hand, we’ve been enjoying a variety of apple desserts – apple sauce, baked apples, apple tart…. I’ve started to experiment more and mix apples in with other things besides dessert. This dish sprung from just such a flash of inspiration. And, if I may say so, it was a beautiful flash of inspiration. Serve this with a sharp fall green like kale or brussels sprouts, accompanying pasta, or with a side of roasted veggies and potatoes, as I did.
This makes such a moist chicken, you won’t know how you could enjoy chicken any other way (or at least not until the apples run out)!
Orchard Fresh Chicken
4-5 apples, assorted variety
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. mustard
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 c. hot water
1 Tbsp. chicken bouillon paste
1 package of boneless, skinless chicken (breasts or thighs), approx. 1.5 lbs., rinsed and trimmed as needed
1/2 tsp. salt
pepper, to taste
1. Peel, core, and slice apples.
2. Quarter and slice onions.
3. Heat medium sauce pan, add olive oil. When hot, add onion. Saute for 3-4 min, until onions soften and start to turn golden.
4. Preheat oven to 400F.
5. Add apple slices and continue to saute for another 8-10 minutes, until apples soften and start to meld with onions. Add 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. Set aside in a bowl to cool.
6. In a small bowl, mix mustard, lemon juice, hot water, and chicken bouillon Add remaining 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper. Stir until all ingredients are dissolved and everything is combined.
7. Add mixture to bottom of baking dish or small casserole pan.
8. Add chicken to pan, turning to evenly coat with mixture.
9. Add apple/onions to dish, turning and stirring so that it is mixed in with marinade and chicken is nestled above, below, and among the apples.
10. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until chicken is cooked, slightly golden, and apples are soft and bubbling.
Remember – this dish wins in flavor, not appearance. Please ignore the unattractive, beige pile that is orchard fresh chicken. Trust me on this one!