The reds, yellows and greens on the trees at The Elegant Farmer are the best kind: the kind you can eat.
Few things say fall in Wisconsin more than apple picking and pumpkin patches.
One of my favorite spots for filling a peck or half bushel with Cortlands, Ida Reds and Jonathans is The Elegant Farmer, between Mukwonago and East Troy on the edge of Waukesha and Walworth counties.
The 55-acre farm features 11 varieties of apples, a pumpkin patch, hay rides, plenty of fall foods and, new this year, a 5-acre corn maze.
The farm got its start in 1947 as a family dairy farm owned by brothers Dave and Elmer Scheel.
The Scheels sold seasonal vegetables at a small roadside stand on their property until they built a larger year-round market in the early '50s and then sold their dairy farm to focus on the market in 1958.
In 1970, Elmer's son, Dave, and his wife, Kathy, took over the business and named it The Elegant Farmer. They expanded the business to focus on locally grown fruits and vegetables and introduced the farm's most famous item: Apple Pie Baked in a Paper Bag.
The farm changed hands again in 2005 when longtime employees John Bauer and Keith Schmidt took ownership along with Bauer's brother, Mike.
But The Elegant Farmer veterans only improved the family favorite farm, and it continues to thrive, especially in the fall during its Autumn Harvest Fest — Saturdays and Sundays this year through Oct. 26 — when its orchards and pumpkin patch are open for picking.
What to do: Start in the orchard. Grab a basket (half-peck, peck or half-bushel) and a guide to the varieties available (colored flags help mark trees for picking) and start your search.
After 2012's bad batch of apples — the farm lost about 90% of its crop thanks to early warm weather followed by a frost in May when the trees were in bloom — last year's trees produced an above-average batch of apples, said Schmidt, one of the co-owners.
"This is an excellent crop this year. We had nice cool nights; it was almost perfect apple-growing weather," he said. "This cool weather is marvelous for the color of the apples, too."
Schmidt's favorite varieties include Cortland and Ida Red, which the farm uses in its apple pies.
"Its a nice one for baking," he said. "It stays more solid when cooked; it doesn't mush up like a McIntosh would."
Check The Elegant Farmer website for which varieties are available for picking on a given weekend; additional varieties are available in bins in the orchard and the market.
Drop your apple bounty in your car and hop on the hay wagon for a ride to the pumpkin patch. Choose from already-picked squashes and gourds or journey into the field to pick your perfect pumpkin.
Pumpkins picked, it's corn maze time. The maze, new in 2013, is in the shape of a barn and surrounding farmland and winds across 5 acres.
Maze mastered, head to the farm kitchen, deli and market. Make your own caramel apple or fill up on steaming chili outside in the greenhouse, or go inside to stock up on the farm's famous apple pie.
Choose from fresh or frozen varieties including caramel apple, rhubarb apple and raspberry apple, all baked in the signature paper bag to create a sweet, crunchy, golden crust.
"Another fall favorite is our pumpkin apple bread," Schmidt said. The bread is made with chunks of Ida Red apples, the same variety as in the pies. "It's just delicious. It's moist, it's wonderful."
Don't leave without stopping at the doughnut shack, where sweet, warm cider doughnuts tantalize with their heavenly smell during the Autumn Harvest Fest only. Buy a dozen to devour on the trip home.
When to go: "The best thing is to come early on the weekend," Schmidt said, adding that the farm's busiest weekends tend to be the last weekend in September and the first two in October.
The orchards, pumpkin patch and corn maze are only open during the Autumn Harvest Fest, every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 26.
The farm kitchen bakery, deli and market is open daily year-round from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
While you're there: Take a ride on the East Troy Electric Railroad. The train is operated by a non-profit organization out of East Troy, but on the weekend picks up from a depot at The Elegant Farmer.
Trains depart every hour on the hour from noon to 2 p.m. and travel 14 miles round-trip to East Troy and back.
There is also a 3 p.m. train that travels one-way to East Troy.
Head west to the Kettle Moraine State Forest for a hike along the Ice Age Trail. The 5.5-mile Eagle segment includes a spur to Brady's Rocks, a portion of the Niagara Escarpment with beautiful dolomite rocks and creeping ferns.
Find parking and the trailhead on Highway 67 north of Eagle.
How much it will set you back: Half-pecks of apples are $9, pecks are $16 and half-bushels cost $28. Pumpkins range from $5 to $12.
Hay rides cost $3 for adults, $2 for kids 11 and under and free for kids under 3. The corn maze is $5 to explore; kids 2 and under are free.
Cider doughnuts are $1 each, six for $5 and $9 for a dozen.
Getting there: The Elegant Farmer is at 1545 Main St., Mukwonago, about a half-hour drive southwest of Milwaukee via I-94 and I-43.
More info: Call (262) 363-6770 or see elegantfarmer.com.
Updated: Sept. 10, 2014
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