Have you ever eaten an apple cider doughnut? If the answer is yes, let’s talk. If the answer is no, you should probably get up from your computer right now and find one because you are missing out on one of life’s great pleasures.
For several autumns when I was young, my parents would take my brother and I apple picking at Highland Orchards in West Chester, PA, along with my aunts and uncles and cousins. We’d drive from orchard to orchard, shimmying up tree trunks to pluck ripe fruit from the branches, occasionally sneaking a bite of a freshly picked apple, just because we could. Some, like the Rome and Winesap apples, made our lips pucker, but my mom told us those were the best for baking, so we’d toss them in our baskets anyway. Others, like the Golden Delicious, were sweet as candy, and I’d always grab extras of those.
We’d drive by squash and pumpkin patches, too, and I loved seeing where my food really came from — not from the local grocery store, but from the Earth, from dirt and grass and branches and vines. Somehow that always made the food taste better when we got home. The apple crisp seemed sweeter. The applesauce tasted brighter on my tongue. Whether or not those dishes objectively tasted any different than ones made with grocery store apples I’ll never know. But at the time, I thought they were the best crisps and pies and cakes I’d ever eaten.
And, for the record, there were lots of crisps and pies and cakes. My brother and I always went a little overboard, picking far more apples than we could ever eat, and when we got home, my mom would look at the bags and bags of fruit and think, “What the hell am I supposed to do with 20 pounds of apples?” To her credit, she always found ways to use up at least most of our spoils, but doing so meant she spent a lot of time in the kitchen over the following weeks — that is, when she wasn’t at work or dealing with the 9,000 other things a mother of two deals with every week. I understand now why my brother and I were always more excited about apple picking than she was.
But as much as my brother and I loved apple picking, our favorite part of the experience, by far, was the end of the day, when my parents would lug the baskets of apples to the cashier and pay for what we’d picked. Right next to the cashier, a small farm stand sold apple cider, pies, apple butter, and — fresh from the deep fryer — apple cider donuts.
We’d always order a mess of doughnuts, and the man behind the counter would hand us our order in a crinkled brown paper bag, the bottom already soaked through with hot grease. As soon as we opened the top of the bag on the ride home, our entire car would fill with the smell of fried dough and cinnamon sugar. If anyone out there figures out how to bottle that smell, FYI – you will make a fortune.
The doughnuts were dense but soft, covered in a crunchy coating of cinnamon sugar and bearing a mysterious, almost unplaceable tang from the cider. I’m not sure if they’d taste as good at room temperature as they did hot because they never lasted long enough to find out. My family usually destroyed a bag of those doughnuts within a few minutes.
Someday I hope to take my future family apple picking — to watch my kids climb trees and bite into a ripe apple, straight from a long, crooked branch. We’ll take home bushels of Staymans and Fujis and Golden Delicious, and at the end of the day, I’ll buy a big brown bag of apple cider doughnuts. And if my kids and husband behave, maybe I’ll even share.
What about you? Have you ever been apple picking? Have you experienced the glory of the apple cider doughnut? And are you, like me, craving one right this second, thanks to that first photo?
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