Autumn makes us hungry: Warm sunny days at small-town festivals with local fare, farm stands alongside ripened fields beckoning you to “pick your own’” and wineries and cideries sampling the latest vintage.
But to really appreciate food at its peak flavor and nutrient value, it is critical to go to the source. Literally. To truly eat fresh, you’ll need to get your hands dirty.
So we’ve done the field work, finding some of the most interesting experiences where visitors assist in harvesting, foraging, picking and procuring our edible treasures. Does the sound of that make you thirsty? We’ve also found places where you can pick grapes in preparation for bottling the newest vint. And if digging in the dirt and picking off vines isn’t tactile enough for you, check out our suggestion for grape stomping. Happy harvesting.
Autumn wild food forage
No Taste Like Home, Asheville, N.C. notastelikehome.org
Why: Fall is the No. 1 wild food season, and Asheville, in the southern Appalachian mountains, is in one of the most biologically diverse regions in the temperate world, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. Fungi in particular reach their highest level of diversity here.
The harvest: This outfit provides forays into wild foods. After a brief intro session, you’ll be foraging for wild persimmons, paw paws, chicories, nettle and fungi including hen-of-the-woods and honey mushrooms. Afterward, bring them back for a cooking session, or follow your guide into town where a restaurant will cook them up.
Cost: Full morning $75, mini-session $40.
Stay: Omni Grove Park Inn, where No Taste Like Home’s mini sessions take place. It’s a full resort, including golf, tennis and a spa, and the spacious guestrooms feature arts-and-crafts décor and luxe bedding. From $198.
Getting there: Asheville is 508 miles from Baltimore. It’s worth the seven-and-a half-hour drive down Interstate 81, which winds through the autumn-hued-forests of the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains. Or fly American or Southwest Air nonstop from BWI to Charlotte (from $82), and then drive 130 miles (about two hours, 15 minutes) to Asheville.
Cranberry bog adventure
Why: Thanksgiving will be here before you know it.
The harvest: The grower, Mayflower Cranberries, provides the boots and the tools. Then there’s the Cranberry 101 lesson, and a-wade you go. Machines, fondly called “eggbeaters,” stir up the waters helping to separate the berries from their vines. Then, thanks to interior air pockets, the berries float on the surface, where they can be easily scooped up. This event sells out every year, but hotelier Mirbeau has created a cranberry harvest package (available Oct. 13 and 14) that includes harvesting followed by a bogside four-course cranberry-inspired dinner at sunset.
Cost: $225 includes lesson, wading harvest and dinner.
Stay: Mirbeau shimmers amid the spectacular New England autumn hues. Guestrooms feature fireplaces, huge bathrooms and beautiful autumn vistas. From $210.
Getting there: Plympton, Mass., is 417 miles from Baltimore. Fly Southwest Air nonstop from BWI into Boston Logan. Plympton is 50 miles south; to catch those spectacular New England fall colors, consider taking the scenic coastal Rte. 3-A.
Vineyard grape harvest
Manatawny Creek Winery, Douglassville, Pa. manatawnycreekwinery.com
Why: Vineyards are forever short-staffed and rely on volunteers during harvest. Plus it’s a great lower-body workout.
The harvest: Sign up online, specify your availability and Manatawny representatives will call and let you know when they need you – and they will need you -- because grape harvesting occurs through the end of October. Volunteers pick 8 a.m.-1 p.m. When you arrive (wearing water-resistant footwear, a hat, garden gloves and jeans), you’ll be carted out to the vineyards, where you’ll receive a set of nippers, a mini-lesson on nipping, and a lug container for collecting grapes. Manatawny harvests only one vint at a time, so the experience is pleasantly social, with everyone working in the same field. After the morning pick-session, the group sits down to a lunch of wine-infused recipes and receives a picker’s T-shirt and bottle of wine before departing.
Cost: There is no charge to participate in this event.
Stay: Twin Turrets Inn, in super-small (just a half-mile square) Boyertown, is surrounded in postcard-perfect autumn awesomeness, amid the orchards and farms of the Oley Valley foothills. Guests are greeted by Lizzie the dog, slumber in antique-filled guestrooms and dine on a delightful home-cooked breakfast. From $124.
Getting there: Douglassville is 120 miles from Baltimore -- about a two-hour-and-15-minute drive.
Four Sisters Winery, Belvidere, N.J. foursisterswinery.com
Why: Suppressing your inner Lucy & Ethel has been crushing your personal spirit(s).
The harvest: These days, it’s hard to decipher what’s authentic. So many venues offer large-scale stomps as an activity within a clamorous fall festival – crowded with food and craft vendor booths, bands and throngs of tourists. So we found a spot where the stomp is the main event offering freshly harvested grapes. It is here you will learn the true method of the stomp and squish. Afterward be rewarded with a wine tasting and a homemade spaghetti and meatball dinner. Nov. 4.
Cost: $35 plus 10 percent gratuity.
Stay: Home to the Stonehenge Vineyard and Winery, The Chelsea Sun Inn in nearby Mount Bethel, Pa., resembles a Tuscan-winery manor house. Sumptuous guestrooms feature down comforters and heated floors; some have Jacuzzi tubs and gas fireplaces. Bonus: you can schedule an on-premises winemaking class (from $350) with the winemaker and leave with 12 bottles of your handmade vintage. From $119.
Getting there: Four Sisters Winery is 185 miles from Baltimore, about a three-hour-and-15-minute drive.
Winemaker for a day
Hawk Haven Vineyard & Winery, Rio Grande, N.J. hawkhavenvineyard.com
Why: You’ve nailed the perfect blend of pick, crush and barrel. And, my, you’re aging nicely.
The harvest: You will join winemakers and an enologist in the vineyard harvesting Hawk Haven’s 2017 red varietals. After picking, you’ll accompany the grapes inside to the crusher, then pump the juice into the fermenting tanks and finally into their oak barrel resting spots. Afterward your efforts will be rewarded with a gourmet lunch and wine tasting. Oct. 19.
Stay: Nearby, Cape May’s super-popular posh seaside palace known as Congress Hall becomes more accessible (read: affordable) to us everyday folk in the fall, when the days are still warm enough to forage the seaside for beach plums and famous Cape May Diamonds (quartz pebbles). Or grab a resort bicycle and ride through the coastal foliage to Beach Plum Farm for fresh produce. Cozy newly renovated guestrooms feature beach-chic furnishings. From $149.
Getting there: Rio Grande, N.J., is 148 miles from Baltimore, about a two-hour-and-50 minute drive.
Thus Far Farm, Westminster, S.C. thusfarfarm.com
Why: Sometimes ya just gotta go off-grid.
The harvest: Harvest time on Thus Far Farm means working the fields with farmer Bill McGinn to pick squash, gourds, pumpkins and late-season veggies: peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers and corn. Later, assist Bill’s wife, Mary, in the kitchen grinding corn into meal and dehydrating peas and beans for winter storage.
Stay: For the real experience, stay in a small house or cabin with no electricity (there is gas-powered heat and hot water). Since meals aren’t included, these tiny abodes have kitchens – and there’s a grocery store in the nearby town of Seneca. Of course, if you must plug in, Mary McGinn says, “Stay in the cottage with all the bells and whistles.”
Getting there: Fly nonstop from BWI to Atlanta on Delta or Southwest Air (from $85) and drive 113 miles (about an hour and 45 minutes) to Westminster.
Autumn Seafood Harvest
Solomon’s Island Heritage Tours, Solomon’s Island. solomonsislandheritagetours.com
Why: Oyster season in Maryland opens Oct. 1.
The harvest: This Waterman for a Day experience offers the opportunity to explore and harvest the best of the Chesapeake Bay's bounty. Along with oysters, crabs are at their plumpest in the fall, and rockfish is in season until December. These excursions run one-four hours, first boating over to check out some Chesapeake Bay fisheries, then getting to work: crab scraping, crab potting, fish potting, oyster dredging and tonging. Along the way, the crew will demonstrate the gear and techniques necessary to make a living on the Chesapeake Bay.
Cost: From $100/hour.
Stay: The circa-1906 Solomon’s Island Victoria Inn provides spectacular harbor views and multi-course homemade breakfast. Guestrooms, named for luxury yachts built by the inn’s original owner, offer Victorian furnishings and cozy bedding. From $135.
Getting there: Solomon’s Island is 84 miles from Baltimore, about a one-hour-and-20-minute drive.
Autumn nut harvest
Hilltop Hanover Farm, Yorktown Heights, N.Y. hilltophanoverfarmorg.presencehost.net
Why: Are you nuts? Autumn is the time to get cracking on eating fresh from the fields.
The harvest: Naturalist Eric Stone grew up foraging. Today as founder of the Rewilding School, he creates experiences with ancestral forests and wild foods for survival. Each fall, he leads wild black walnut and chestnut harvests (this year on Oct. 15) from idyllic Hilltop Hanover Farm, situated along the forest deep within the Hudson Valley. But before anyone can consume these crunchy tree fruits, they must be processed, and Stone guides his charges through the process. See, he explains, all wild foods require a little work: For instance, the hull must be pried off walnuts to avoid mold; chestnuts possess tannins in their skins, which need to be removed – otherwise, they will taste bitter. Bonus: the leaf-peeps around these parts this time of year ain’t too shabby either.
Stay: The Inn at Crabtree’s Kittlehouse offers en suite guestrooms with antique furnishings and modern-day creature comforts, including WIFI and cable TV. From $167.
Getting there: Hilltop Hanover Farms is 233 miles from Baltimore, about a three-hour-and-45-minute drive.