Harvest time in Antrim County

Posted on October 24, 2010


Yesterday was so full of good things to do that I cannot possibly show you all of it. I don’t think I can even fit all the highlights into one post.  It began in Elk Rapids with really good coffee and excellent treats first thing in the morning. I was there for a fundraiser for the Historic Elk Rapids Township Hall Association, Flavors of Elk Rapids. You can tell already that this is going to be good, right?

First stop Altonen Orchards, where we were greeted with apple wedges and toffee dip. I will give you the recipe. Then we set off on a hayride with Brian Altonen, a refreshingly youthful farmer. (The average age of farmers is 56. This is worrying on many levels, but we’re on the case, and that’s another post entirely.) We rode through rows of standard apple trees and then pulled up to examine the high density rows, where apples are cultivated on dwarfing stock. These trees produce fullsize fruit but mature faster and are easier and safer to pick than standard plantings.

It’s been a good growing season for the Altonens. The farmstand is piled high with pumpkins and squash and is fragrant with fresh apples in half a dozen varieties.

Next up, a visit to Farmer White’s. There is a farmstand with bakery and gift shop, a cider press in a vintage barn, and a play yard in between. Mary Cooper says she’s lucky indeed–her sons have stepped up to keep the third-generation operation humming along. That leaves her free to work magic in the kitchen. Legendary pies. Small batch jams and jellies. You would not believe the treats they laid before us.

Brie with cherry jalapeno and apricot jalapeno glazes. Beef stew baked in a pumpkin. Black bean/corn/cherry jalapeno salsa with chips. Gingersnaps topped with candy apple jelly.  Freshlly pressed old-fashioned cider.

There was more. We carpooled up to the industrial park and stopped at–TA-DA!–Short’s Brewery. I’ve taken you to the Short’s brewpub and microbrewery over in Bellaire before, but this is their brewing expansion and it is impressive indeed. Short’s is one of the fastest growing craft brewing operations in the nation, and just won a Gold Medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival for – I am not kidding – Key Lime Pie beer. (Unsurprisingly, the category was Experimental Brewing.) I have not tried the prizewinner, but I am a fan of Short’s beers, and enjoyed the black cherry porter I sampled during our tour.

After all that, we went back to the Town Hall where there was a local foods showcase with samples. Locally brewed root beer, gluten free pasties, organic nut butters, chocolate covered balaton cherries . . .  There was more, but I had to leave.  Everyone else toddled over to a reception at Siren Hall while I headed to the Providence Farm Potluck Party.  First, I had to walk the Duo and prepare my contribution.

OK, I went back to Farmer White’s and bought one of Mary Cooper’s apple pies. I’m no fool. While I was there I unaccountably bought a Halloween decoration as well. The marketing team at Farmer White’s should be proud.

By this time the tolerable weather had turned rainy, which put a bit of a damper on the plans for the festivities at Providence Farm, but we are a resilient bunch in the County, and we had a fine time anyway.  Many people you have met were there, and the treats positively surpassed excellence.  I was going to include the party in this post but I think you should have a better story than I’m up to writing at this point on a drizzly Sunday afternoon.  Besides, I need to do laundry. And I promised you a recipe. 

Altonens’ Toffee Apple Dip


  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 bag crushed Heath Bars or Bits
  • Apple wedges (any variety – Mutsu and Jonagold are especially good)

Cream together cream chese, sugars and vanilla.  Stir in crushed Heath Bars or Bits. Serve with apple wedges.  (Hint: toss apple wedges in lemon water or pineapple juice to prevent browning.)