Pick Your Own Apples at Kuipers Family Farm (and a Recipe for Apple Butter Bars)

Do you know what your problem is? ” Steve Martin’s Ohioan character in the 1999 remake of The Out-of-Towners asks a group of advertising executives in New York City struggling to come up with a slogan for tourism. Then he answers his own question, “You live here – you’re jaded.”

Yes, jadedness happens. After years of living in the United States, I can attest to that kind of apathy. What once made me go wild with excitement doesn’t do that so much anymore. And while love and gratitude for my host country can only deepen, the initial sense of awe and newness inevitably wanes over time.

Yet, there are certain things that have never lost their grip on me. That first, fleeting glimpse of the cluster of buildings that is caught the very second you get off Lake Shore Drive onto North Michigan Avenue in Chicago is one of those things. I can’t explain to you why the sight never fails to give me that hey-you’re-in-the-USA! feeling even though I have seen that thousands of times.

Then there’s that moment when you pluck one perfect apple off a tree and take a bite out of it. That feeling will never get old for me. And if you grew up in a tropical country like I did, eating heavily waxed apples – the kind that’s flown across the oceans just to arrive in a mediocre state in order to age some more at the supermarket – then perhaps you understand why I am in such awe of the taste of just-picked apples.

Every year, I visit an apple orchard for this very reason. Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park, Illinois, is my favorite place.

apple recipe
Turns out, the thrill of picking your own apples isn’t unique to someone like me; Americans themselves also yearn for such an experience as their lives have become further and further removed from the sources of their food.

Gone are the days of the families that wanted to pick bushels of fruit for canning and preserving,” says Kim Kuipers, owner of the farm. “Now folks are looking for an ‘experience’ and often ask what they are going to do with a 1/4-peck bag of apples for each family member.”

kuipers farm

Kim and Wade Kuipers of Kuipers Family Farm

The farm started out as a 71-acre pumpkin patch which was opened to the public back in 1998 by Wade Kuipers who grew up on a family farm that sold both home-grown and trucked-in fruits and vegetables to a produce stand in Batavia, IL, and his wife, Kim, who grew up in the suburbs dreaming of living on a farm one day and having a barn full of animals.

As the pumpkin patch grew, the couple added to it a 160-acre apple orchard. Thirteen years since its inception, the place has grown in leaps and bounds along with their three children who are actively involved in it. The pumpkin patch is now a place for farm-related activities for customers to enjoy with an adjacent store featuring pumpkins and fall decorations. The apple orchard, the area which has undergone the most changes in the last decade, now produces over 20 apple varieties many of which are not the common ones found at your local supermarkets.

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It’s the apple orchard that I love the most about this place. You get to enjoy a ride on a John Deere tractor that drops you off right in the heart of the orchard where you can roam free to pick whatever is ripe for the picking that day. This is an experience that was denied me growing up. Every time I go apple-picking, the level of my giddiness borders on being irrational.

For those who have done this since they were little, you may not see what the big deal is about picking your own apples, and you may think of tropical fruits such as jackfruit, rambutan, papaya, or mangosteen as exotic. Nothing wrong with that. I, however, come from the other side of the globe and, let me tell you, my heart skips a beat at the thought of snapping an apple right off its tree. Every year, I discover a new favorite. Prima is currently hogging the top spot with Liberty trailing not too far behind.

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If you live in the Chicagoland area or visit this part of the country in the autumn, I’d encourage you to visit Kuipers Family Farm and enjoy a bounty of fresh apples, apple cider doughnuts, freshly-pressed apple cider, and lots of great stuff in their store. The place is just over an hour’s drive west of Chicago. Take the whole family; they’re going to love the experience.

apple recipepick your own apples
Make sure everyone knows the rules, though, so that the fun can be had by all. Do not pick apples that are not yet ready for the picking. When you pick an apple, grab one and twist it off the branch without pulling hard and damaging the plant in the process. If you’re not sure whether you like a particular type of apple, pick one off the tree and let everyone take a bite out of that one apple before deciding if you want more.

I don’t own the orchard, but it makes me sad when I see how many apples with only one bite taken out of them get thrown around like they mean nothing. I see this every time I’m there.

apple recipescandied apples
I guess most just don’t understand the amount of work and expense it takes to raise a crop, pumpkins or apples,” says Kim. “So when we see scores of perfectly good apples with one bite taken out lying on the ground or pumpkins smashed in the field, it’s discouraging.” Pricing their products to cover that waste has also resulted in complaints. This can be tough for a business.

pick your own
In spite of the challenges, the Kuipers family is proud of the fact that they’re still running a friendly ‘mom and pop’ business where they get to see families enjoying simple things like finding the perfect pumpkin or taking a family photo in front of the Christmas tree they have harvested. Their own children also have had a wonderful experience of working with their parents, aunts, and uncles each fall. That, to them, is most rewarding.

The Kuipers family is also proud of their staff members whom they consider their extended family. They have on their staff anyone from young people in the community working on their first job as well as many retired seniors who love to keep busy.

We’re proud to be able to be stewards of this land and use it to provide a unique experience to so many,” says Kim.

apple recipe

Disclosure: Shesimmers.com is not in any way connected to Kuipers Family Farm; nor has it received any form of compensation, monetary or otherwise, from this business.

Kuipers Apple Butter Bars
Recipe courtesy of Kuipers Family Farm
Makes one 9″x13″ pan
Printable Version

apple recipe
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups prepared granola [1]
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
12-ounce jar of prepared apple butter [2]

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Lightly grease a 9″x13″ baking pan and set aside.
  • Mix everything, except apple butter, together until crumbly.
  • Spread half of the mixture in the prepared pan; pat it down securely.
  • Spread apple butter on top; cover with the remaining crumb mixture.
  • Bake 20-25 minutes; cool and cut into squares.
  • Note: When I tested the recipe the first time, I made a big mistake of forgetting to add the brown sugar to the recipe. (Don’t know how that happened; it just did.) This resulted in what I thought was too small amount of crumb mixture. Thinking that perhaps the measurements were off, I increased the amounts of both the flour and granola to 2 cups each. I used about 2/3 of the crumb mixture to cover the bottom of the pan and found that you don’t need to set aside more than 1/3 of the mixture for the top layer. It wasn’t until the pan was in the oven that I realized I’d left out one key ingredient. Alas, it was too late to do anything at that point.

    However, once I tried the finished product, I found that the level of sweetness (from the prepared granola and apple butter) was quite enough for me. So you can follow the original recipe or, if you want something less sweet, my messed-up version.

    [1], [2] The original recipe calls for prepared granola available through their store as well as their own brand of apple butter. If you visit their farm, you can pick up those products. But you can use any generic granola and apple butter as well.

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