Last Saturday's glorious weather felt more August than October, but spying a dozen or so different apples at the Sweetland Orchard stand reminded me that autumn is firmly here. Mike and Gretchen Perbix bought the picturesque Webster, Minn., orchard earlier this year, and the selection is as dazzling as ever: Malinda ("the matriarch of Minnesota apples," read a small sign), Scarlet Surprise (so named for the rosy flesh hiding beneath its golden skin), Sweet Sixteen (and its fantastic cherry Popsicle flavor), Bonnie Best ("Best for what? Best for pie," read the sign) and a few others. No surprise, since the orchard boasts 52 varieties, and that's not counting the 12 new kinds of seedlings that the hard-working couple planted this past spring.
I bought a half-dozen of the Bonnies, and the Perbixes were absolutely right: The apple's distinctive flavor profile meant that I was able to use half the sugar that my go-to crisp recipe requires (find it at www.startribune.com/tabletalk), and it tasted twice as good. The couple are also selling freshly pressed apple cider, by the cup (hot or cold, $2) or all the way up to five-gallon plastic barrels ($40), a marketing effort that's being snapped up by home brewers.
But, sugar hound that I am, what ultimately captured my attention were the tender, light and ultra-moist (it's the cider) cake doughnuts, twinkling with cinnamon and sugar. It turns out that every Friday, the couple's moms -- Dianne Haas and Linda Perbix -- take the day off from their jobs and head to the orchard, where they pick apples in the morning and make doughnuts in the afternoon. In between, they even prepare lunch; how supportive is that?
In the end, a bountiful bevy of Honeygolds, Connell Reds, Northwest Greenings and Regents is all well and good, but a beautifully made apple cider doughnut doesn't just grow on trees. "Sometimes," said Gretchen Perbix with a laugh, "I wish we would sell more apples than doughnuts."
Apple cider doughnuts ($1, or six for $5) at Sweetland Orchard (www.sweetlandorchard.com) at the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market, 7th and University Avs. NE., Mpls., www.nemplsfarmersmarket.com. Open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Also available at the Bloomington Farmers Market (1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington, www.ci.bloomington.mn.us, open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday) and the Mill City Farmers Market (2nd St. and Chicago Av. S., Mpls., www.millcityfarmersmarket.org, open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday). For a map of Twin Cities farmers markets, go to www.startribune.com/taste.