A classic autumn road trip

One of the best things about autumn is getting out of the city for a much-needed road trip among the foliage. You choose a scenic route that leads you to a pumpkin patch or apple orchard, and you do your own picking. 

gourds in a white jack 'o lantern

Many joke about how unnecessary this pilgrimage is. Our grocery stores are right down the street, stocked with already-picked produce at a much more reasonable price per pound. So what's the draw?

It's the experience. Stopping at a farm stand on the side of the road for fresh produce and a little snack. It's the canopy of trees on winding country roads, aflame in red and orange. It's the fresh air. Many Virginians will tell you that the apple cider doughnuts alone at Carter Mountain Orchard is enough to draw them back every year. 

But mostly it's my kid, who loves a good hayride and a chance to pick out his very own pumpkin. Am I going out of my way to bring home a gourd? Yes. But I'm also creating memories that I will likely be wistful about in just a few years. So I am savoring it.

pumpkin succulent display

Our Gordonsville road trip

This year we visited The Market at Grelen, a decidedly upscale operation that didn't offer hayrides and corn mazes, but a farm-to-table café and boxwood gardens. Fresh-picked pumpkins were sold at their market, and a greenhouse displayed plants that seemed to guarantee a transformation for any room. 

We picked Gibson golden apples on the hillside and took a break in the sunshine, where autumn gifted us with a cool breeze, yellow leaves and no mosquitos (pictured bottom). The place is the absolute picture of bucolic beauty. It would make Martha weep. 

bbq exchange's bbq platter

The trip was a success for other reasons too. We stopped by Gordonsville's famous BBQ Exchange restaurant. The long line didn't deter us. There was ample seating and their fall-off-the-bone ribs were worth the wait. As were their hush puppies, sweet tea and fried pickles.

We stopped by Well Hung Vineyard for a cheeky photo beside their sign, then visited Gordonsville Antique and Flea. It was a great, meandering antique store with vendor booths. I walked away with Murano pint glasses for just $2.50 a piece.

Now that we are back home, and back to reality, we have a pumpkin to carve and a big bag of apples to get creative with. Many opt for a nice apple pie. I usually pull out the dehydrator and make apple cinnamon rings, or apple rings with chile y limon. They make a delicious and healthy holiday present!

Robert and Hamilton Regan resting at an apple orchard

How to make apple rings

  1. Cut apples a quarter inch thick, removing core and seeds. You can do wedges, but I prefer to core apples, then slice them into rings.
  2. Soak the slices in water (with lemon juice) for a few minutes - it helps apples retain their color
  3. Pull out of water, shake off, then season. Use simple syrup or maple syrup instead of granulated sugar, as a sweetener. You can get creative with cinnamon, cayenne, chile y limon - have fun with it!
  4. Dehydrate, based on what the dehydrator recommends. You can also do this in your oven, at 200 degrees for about 6-8 hours. You want the apple to be dry and leathery, not wet, but not too crisp. 

However you decide to take in this season, know that it is fleeting. Blink your eyes and the holiday season will be upon us. Hope you are making the most of autumn!

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