The coconut custard pie is baked fresh.
By Murray Schulman
We awoke to a typical late fall day. I opened the door and poked my head outside just to get a feel for the morning. The sky was overcast with that unique gray color that is typical to this time of year. It wasn’t particularly cold. Yet the blustery wind blowing the leaves all about added that perfect fall bite that lets you know that winter is right around the corner. In my view, this was shaping up to be a perfect day to escape the confines most of us are dealing with and venture out into the freshness of this day.
I gently suggested to Liz that we step out for a short excursion. Her response was, “It’s cold out there!” I assured her that she would be fine with a warmer jacket and a bit of heat in the car. She conceded. I made short work of my chores and we were off.
I really had no destination in mind. But, once we sipped some hot mocha coffee, it struck me that Milburn Orchards in Elkton, Maryland, was open and was only 30 minutes away. What could be better on a day like this than to be in a place, as they say, “Where Great Things Grow?”
The ride along the country roads was scenic and pleasant. When we finally arrived, we were surprised to find easy parking and only a few customers. We donned our masks and headed into the orchard market. There was a clear process in place to make the visit as safe and comfortable as possible.
The shelves were full of a wonderful array of pickled delights. Jams and jellies that combined fresh fruit and berries in traditional ways lined the walls. Plus, the unique blending of sweetness with the heat of chilis and the smokiness of wood smoked bacon was irresistible. Liz and I chose a classic all-natural apple butter. We moved into adventurous territory with selections including a very nice apple salsa and a hot pepper bacon jam. I simply had to have a jar of the moonshine barbecue sauce. Slather some of that on a chicken breast to get a whole new perspective.
The great thing about a family-run orchard and store is that they tend to be creative. Liz has a great eye for finding interesting items that make her and everyone around her smile. For example, she found Amish pot pie noodles imported directly from a village called Millersburg, Ohio. That same little village produces something called “caramel puffcorn,” another of Liz’s selections. Tucked away in a small display, she discovered carrot cake muffin mix. The package of mix was placed into a carrot-shaped fabric bag and tied closed with green pipe cleaners to look like a carrot straight from the garden. She said that it was too cute to resist and it found a home in our shopping cart. Even the store-made macaroni and cheese had that special touch that is this market’s charm included right in the package. In addition to the rich creamy cheese sauce and perfectly cooked pasta, the team even provides a perfectly sized piece of foil to cover the baking container once the plastic cover is removed. It is these small examples off care and attention to detail that makes shopping at family-owned businesses a true pleasure.
Yes, there were plenty of store-made goodies to choose from. There were scary moments when we could readily have purchased some of everything we saw. I was able to retain some semblance of sanity and made several good choices. It took everything in my power to resist tearing into “Mother’s Apple Caramel Bread.” This is a small ultra-moist loaf of goodness that glistened with the caramel glaze. I added it to my cart completely intact. We moved on to one of several fresh pie displays. The variety was terrific. There was this Coconut Custard pie sitting there in the case just calling my name. I happen to be a huge fan of coconut custard pie. The problem is finding one that is “the real deal” is not an easy task. At Milburn Orchards, the pies are freshly baked with lots of love. I walked by twice in a valiant attempt to behave myself. Yet that little voice kept calling out to me and I was just too weak. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful Coconut Custard pie that in all likelihood will not be around tomorrow.
Another weakness of mine at this time of year is apple cider doughnuts. It is rare that I can find any that are truly delicious. The orchard makes these in such a way as to infuse the flavors of fall into every bite. Even the texture is special. This is not your typical cakey doughnut that may be purchased anywhere. This one had a chewiness that brings the apple harvest experience to life and demands that you eat another. They sell these doughnuts singly, by the half-dozen or by the dozen. The single selection makes little sense as no normal human can possibly eat one and not crave another one. All my five senses told me to buy a dozen. The problem with that is I would eat the entire dozen. I did the sensible thing and bought a half-dozen. I do have a devious mind, though. I knew that I had to distract Liz from eating more than one of my doughnuts. She has a secret addiction to peanut butter cups. Right there on the shelf was a giant peanut butter cup made by CB Stuffer who specializes in “Chocolate with … stuff!” I snuck this along with a pumpkin whoopie pie in at checkout. When we got home, I placed both onto her placemat and promptly hid my doughnuts. She was so thrilled that she never even asked about the doughnuts. Small victories are a joy.
I did actually make some healthy choices while at the orchard. After all, they grow apples in the apple orchard. How could I not purchase some of their fresh local harvest? I watched as one of the market team sorted and displayed their freshly picked apples. Each apple was as perfect as the next. Most of the varieties are familiar to you. Granny Smith with that super crisp bite and tangy flavor is great for dipping in honey or for all sorts of baking projects. Pink Lady is a genteel apple that is considered to be a fine dessert apple. I also selected an apple that is exclusive to Milburn Orchards. This apple called Sweet Zoe has a sweet flavor with just enough tanginess to make it interesting. It has a nice crisp bite and is perfect for eating on a brisk fall day. The Stayman-Winesap apple makes the best apple strudel and apple crisp. A favorite of mine is their Mutsu/Crispin apple. This apple is an all-purpose apple that grows large with a sweet/tart flavor. This variety has a short growing season which peaks in October each year. What makes all these apples special is that they are grown right there in Elkton on this family-owned orchard. This is a perfect example of farm to table quality and freshness.
Liz and I enjoyed our day. We shared the fresh air and the pleasure of being with people that care and appreciate our business. These are farmers. Cultivators of the land and the harvest. They are proud of what they produce and it clearly shows. We had a great time choosing items that we will share with the family. (Maybe not those doughnuts, but most of the other goodies.) If you need a break from the day-to-day routine, take a ride and visit a first-class family owned place like Milburn Orchards in Elkton. You’ll be happy you did.