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TODAY

Sunday, December 15

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Is mid-August too early to be thinking about apple picking? According to a recent search of the websites of nearby orchards, no. The 2005 harvest season is getting underway, and I couldn't be happier.

The break in the weather, bringing some relief from this miserably hot summer, has turned my thoughts hopefully towards autumn. I love the fall. I love the crisp morning air, with just a hint of chill, and the leaves turning on the trees, all crimson and gold. I welcome the return of jackets and sweaters. But I have also become obsessed with a desire to go apple picking this year.

When I was in second grade, my class took a field trip to the Wauconda Orchards in Wauconda, Illinois. The farm was owned by Richard Breeden, a local entrepreneur who started the orchard in 1951. Breeden was one of the first in the area to capitalize on the idea of transforming picking fruit into family entertainment.

I remember this field trip so well, however, because my great uncle tended the greenhouse at Wauconda Orchards, and he, along with my great aunt and cousins, lived in a house on the orchard grounds. As my class received the grand tour of the farm, I looked anxiously about for my aunt and uncle, hoping for a chance to show my classmates how cool I was because my family worked there, but I didn't see them.

In the warm, damp air of the greenhouse, the silver-haired man who acted as our guide pointed out bags filled with hundreds of live ladybugs, crawling over and around each other, for sale to gardeners or farmers for natural pest control. Outside, in the orchards, he demonstrated the proper technique for plucking apples off the branches, cradling the apple with your hand, while carefully lifting and twisting the stem from the branch.

That day I came home with a brown paper grocery bag half-filled with bright red apples. My family ate nothing but apples for weeks.

I returned to Wauconda Orchards with my family several times after that field trip to visit my uncle, aunt and cousins, until they left and moved to Sweden in 1987. I never went back to the farm after that.

In 2001, after 50 years in business, Richard Breeden retired and sold the Wauconda Orchards. I am told there is a housing development there now, but I hope with all my heart I never have to see it.

On a happier note, the Chicagoland area is still home to several farms where you can pick your own apples. Some of the places listed below also have other pickable produce, gift shops and a variety of entertainment, including hay rides, petting zoos and corn mazes. Call ahead before you visit any orchard because some places close in inclement weather, and apples are only available "while supplies last."

Area Orchards

All Season Orchard
14510 IL Route 176, Woodstock (McHenry County). All Season Orchard is opening Labor Day weekend so visitors can pick from a dozen varieties of apples over 100 acres throughout September and October. See the farm's website for hours and additional information.

Homestead Orchard
11802 Charles, Woodstock (McHenry County). Homestead Orchard has Jodi and Jersey Mac apples ready to be picked right now. Visit the orchard's website for complete details.

Kuipers Family Farm
1N318 Watson Road, Maple Park (west of Geneva in Kane County). Kuipers Family Farm just got started in 1998 as a 71 acre pumpkin patch. But in 2001 the owners bought out an adjacent apple orchard. Due to poor weather, the website warns they have a limited apple crop this year, but you can still check out their apple picking schedule — and all the other activities available — on the farm's website.

Quig's
300 S. Rt. 60/83, Mundelein (Lake County). Quig's is a Chicagoland treasure that has been around since 1947. The farm is open year round, but the farm is best known for its apple orchards. According to the website, harvest days are expected to begin over Labor Day weekend. Quig's also has a restaurant, greenhouse, bakery, gift shop and lots more.

Resources

Apple Orchards in Illinois
This site from the University of Illinois Extension brings us an extensive directory of apple orchards in Illinois and around the Midwest. You will find many more farms here that do not have websites. And don't miss the rest of the Apples & More site, which includes lots of fun facts and information about apples.

Illinois Orchards on Apple Journal
This site includes an extensive directory of orchards across the country. Some of the information is out-of-date, though, so be sure to call ahead before taking off to visit a farm that isn't there anymore.

Finally, Wauconda Orchards may be gone, but the name lives on. Today Wauconda Orchards survives as a business distributing fruit and gift baskets, nuts and other gourmet treats, and owned by the son of Orchards founder Richard Breeden. The company has a retail outlet in Wauconda, or you can check out some of the goodies online.

~*~

Join the Gapers Block Book Club! Just sign up for the email list for news, announcements and more. This month we are reading Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. We will be meeting to discuss the book on Monday, September 12, at The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. The meeting will begin at 7:30pm.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a Chicago librarian. She welcomes questions and topic suggestions for her column at . Due to the volume of email received, she may not reply to every query, but you may be contacted if your question is selected for the column.

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