How the Pies Began

At nine years old our daughter, Anna, took a simple apple pie recipe from a cookbook, a press-in crust with the crumble top still used today. Each January Anna made an apple pie for her uncle for his birthday to get his “expert” advice on the pie quality (we never heard him complain about his annual birthday gift!). From these and other taste tests, Anna slowly made changes to the recipe. The crust morphed into what it is today, a simple flour crust made with butter. 

Anna made and sold baked crumb crust and double crust apple pies at the orchard and also for the cafeteria inside the Des Moines Capitol building to be enjoyed by staff and guests. Each crust was hand-rolled with a rolling pin, filled with Wills Family Orchard apples, and crimped her own way.

When Anna left for college out of state, our second daughter, Laura, took over the pie making (she’d been helping Anna for several years now). Due to the increasing popularity of the pies and both Anna and Laura leaving the nest, we’ve relied on the help of others to learn the recipe and the “look” of our apple pies so that we can continue offering them to all our wonderful customers! 

In the last couple of years, we’ve begun using larger pie making equipment to increase the ease and speed of production, but the recipe remains the same one Anna created years ago. Our apple pies are sold frozen, “take and bake” style so you can enjoy not only the taste of our apple pies at your leisure but the smells too!

Just as we continue the tradition of our Wills Family Orchard apple pies, you too can carry on the tradition in your own homes. Buy frozen apple pies all throughout the season and enjoy “pie by the slice” during Apple Pumpkin Fest weekends (don’t forget to order the one with a scoop of ice cream!). 

Homemade Sweet Rolls with Tart Cherry Filling

This tasty recipe (and photo!) is courtesy of Brandy Case Haub. Brandy’s the distribution coordinator at the Iowa Food Coop, and she used our Tart Cherry Jam in place of the usual cinnamon roll filling, plus a handful of other topnotch local products. Whip up a batch of these rolls and enjoy!

local, iowa, sweet rolls, tart cherry jam
Photo: Yummy rolls with a side of Lucky George Farm bacon

Rolls:
1 c. warm milk, 100-110 degree F (organic milk from Radiance Dairy)
3 TBSP melted butter (from WW Homestead Dairy)
1/3 cup white sugar, divided
2 1/4 tsp yeast
3 3/4 c. flour, divided (from Early Morning Harvest)
1 egg (from DJs Farmjoyables)
1/4 tsp. salt
Will’s Family Tart Cherry Jam

To make the rolls, stir warm milk, melted butter, 1 TBSP sugar, and yeast in bottom of large bowl and let stand 5 min. Add egg and rest of sugar to bowl. Stir in 1 c. flour. Let stand 10 min. Add remaining 2 3/4 c. flour and the salt, knead using dough hook of a stand mixer for 5 min. Place dough in greased bowl and cover, let sit in warm area for 35 min.  Punch dough down, and let sit to rise another 35 min.

Roll dough out into an 18×11 rectangle. Open up a jar of Wills Family Tart Cherry Jam (or another jam flavor of your choice), and spread jam across the dough. If you like more filling, spoon more out of a 2nd jar 🙂  From the short side of dough, gently roll dough into giant roll. Cut into 12 equal pieces and place on greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-28 min. Top with favorite icing. We used the following recipe:

Browned Butter Icing:
3 TBSP butter
2 TBSP heavy cream (from Hansen’s Dairy)
1 tsp. vanilla, maple, or coffee extract for flavor
1 c. powdered sugar

Simmer butter in saucepan over medium heat until it begins to brown. Remove from heat and cool. Once cooled, add cream, extract, and powdered sugar, and stir. Drizzle over warm rolls.
Thank you so much for sharing, Brandy!

Join Us! Holiday Open House

Even though prime apple- and pumpkin-picking season is behind us, we’d love to share our farm with you this holiday season. On Saturday, December 2nd from 9a-3p, we’re hosting a holiday open house, where you can:

Enjoy hot apple cider & food samples

Enter a drawing for a FREE gift basket

Pick up some of your favorite gift items
Jams, apple butter, fruit spreads, organic applesauce, local honey, apple cider, frozen/ready-to- bake apple pie, apple wine, knitted hats, headbands & more!

Come on out — we’re just 20 minutes west of Des Moines — and check those names right off your list!

Hosted by Mary Wills and Terri & Alayna Sweers

Pumpkins, Pumpkins, Pumpkins!

There’s still time to pick great pumpkins before Beggar’s Night and Halloween. Our 5 acres of u-pick pumpkins hold your perfect pumpkin!

The pumpkin patch and our on-farm store will be open:
Thursday, Oct. 26 from 3 – 6pm
Friday, Oct. 27 from 
10am – 6pm
Saturday, Oct. 28 from 9am – 5pm
Sunday, Oct. 29: Noon – 5pm

Our famous apple cider donuts and other great products, along with some of our fun fall activities (weather permitting) will be available this Saturday and Sunday! 

Apple & Pumpkin Festival Weekends

Our Apple & Pumpkin Festival weekends are here! Won’t you join us?

Festival Weekends in 2017
Hours: Saturdays: 9 am – 6 pm & Sundays: Noon – 6 pm

Saturday, September 23
Sunday, September 24

Saturday, September 30
Sunday, October 1

Saturday, October 7
Sunday, October 8

Saturday, October 14
Sunday, October 15

Saturday, October 21
Sunday, October 22

Fun Activities
For $5 (kiddos 2 and under are free!), you’ll be able to take part in all of the fall fun the farm has to offer: a corn maze, hay wagon rides, expanded kids play area (giant corn box, kiddie hay bale maze & duck races), toss games & live music on Sundays by RBJ Trio.  Plus, our friendly barnyard animals will be there to greet you.  Enjoy tasty homemade goods, and so much more!

Apple picking and pumpkin picking is open during festival weekends!  If you only want to pick apples or pumpkins or visit our store, there is no activity fee.  But why stop there when there’s so much to do at Wills Family Orchard!

Come on out to our farm — only 20 minutes west of the Des Moines metro!

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

U-Pick Apples Available Now!

Sure, picking apples seems like a pretty easy thing to do. But there’s a little more to it than what most people think!

Did you know? There are hundreds of apple varieties and each one has its own harvest time. At Wills Family Orchard, we care for our apple trees all throughout the season in hopes of offering the best possible organic apples to our visitors. Apple picking in some Iowa orchards can start as early as late July and end at the tail-end of October!

It’s also important to pick the apple a certain way to not injure the fruit bud that will produce next year’s apple. Here’s the best way to pick an apple:

Lift the ripe apple up toward the sky and twist slightly instead of pulling it straight down toward the ground. A ripe apple will come off the tree pretty easily.

If you want to pick your own apples at Wills Family Orchard, you will pre-pay to receive a bag that will hold 10 pounds of apples. Trees with apples that are ready to be picked will be flagged so you know which apples are ripe. Take the apples home, wash them gently, and keep them refrigerated to extend their freshness. We’ll see you at our farm starting on Saturday, August 5th through October while supply lasts!

(Gluten-Free!) Apple Crisp Recipe

Do you have a go-to apple recipe? This gluten-free apple crisp recipe from Cookie + Kate hits all of the high marks — including walnuts in the crumble topping. Bonus: All-natural sweetener and lemon juice really make it sing.

Click here for the recipe.

Come out to the orchard and get your organic apples for this crisp — we can’t wait to see you!

[Photo via Food52 and recipe from Cookie + Kate]

Our 1940s Planter & Corn Maze

The history and evolution of corn production can easily be found right here in Iowa. Many of today’s pieces of farm equipment would be unrecognizable to a farmer planting corn in the 1940s. But the 1940s is “now” at Wills Family Orchard when it comes to planting corn for our 2-acre corn maze!

We use a 1940’s John Deere pull-string two-row planter. It probably looks similar to that tractor decked out with flower pots on the front lawn of any one of the “real” corn and bean farms in the state. Yes, the two-row corn planter is an antique for most folks, but it is still a valuable piece of equipment in planting the annual corn maze at Wills Family Orchard!

Homemade Goodies

On top of fresh, tasty organic apples, organic peaches, and organic strawberries, we have baked goods, jams, pies, and more.

Check out our shop page and see all of the treats we have available. There’s even apple wine!

Interested in ordering our famous fresh-baked or frozen pies for a family gathering or work picnic? Just email us at info@willsfamilyorchard.com or call us at (515) 321-1847 and we’ll get you all set up.