Apple vs. Pumpkin: Wisconsin's Finest Fall Flavors

By Jerry Huffman
Special to TravelWisconsin.com

With all due respect to Kevin Costner in Field Of Dreams, heaven is so not in Iowa, it's fall in Wisconsin. Cool, crisp weather, blazing colors, and a foodie question for the ages:

Apple or pumpkin?

Our answer? Road trip!

Door County

Better known for its cherries, Door County shifts its attention to apples with the autumn harvest.

In Egg Harbor, you can get a bite of apple history at the Wood Orchard Market. Wood is the only Wisconsin orchard that grows the "Sweetango," a cross between a honey crisp and a zestar. “Sweet and tart in the same bite,” says owner Jeff Wood. 

In Algoma in neighboring Kewaunee County, try the Ahnapee Brewery (part of the von Stiehl Winery) for a pumpkin beer. The Pumpkin Ale is a blend of pumpkin, spices and vanilla beans. The boozier version, Imperial Pumpkin Ale, packs twice the alcohol punch at 10 percent.

Gays Mills

Dug into the Driftless Area of far southwestern Wisconsin are the 533 kind souls of Gays Mills and their endless orchards. It’s the kind of small town where village leaders answer their own phone.

“Apple pizza!” declares Village President Harry Heiz. “That’s one of the better things we do with apples out here.” Harry says think apple crisp but baked like a pizza. Find it daily at the Apple-Licious Pie Depot on Highway 171.

With more than a thousand acres of working orchards, locals won the Wisconsin State Fair apple contest in 1905 and have never stopped growing apples, celebrating with an annual Apple Festival.

Two other choices to consider? An ice wine made from frozen apples at the Sugar Creek Winery in nearby Ferryville. We’re also told they do a nifty apple champagne.

Bayfield

Picked as one of the nation’s ten best fall harvest festivals by USA TODAY, Bayfield is all about apples. Their October Apple Festival is big.

Bayfield in the fall could easily be a bucket list trip between Lake Superior and the easily reachable Apostle Islands alone. During the festival, dozens of vendors will be selling everything from caramel apples to apple tortes to apple mustard and apple bratwursts. 

The Old Rittenhouse Inn loves pumpkin. Top choices at their on-site Landmark Restaurant have included a lamb entree with pumpkin gnocchi or a roasted Cinderella pumpkin with squash risotto. 

And, under things to not tell your cardiologist, the Cheesy MAC at local eatery Ethel’s at 250 is a heart-stopper (pun intended). 

A Final Fork-Off

It was like being in between two great mountains. On one side, Harvest Apple pie from the Norske Nook, a beloved Wisconsin pie shop founded in Osseo with three more locations across the state. On the other, Pumpkin Cream Cheese pie. One whiff and it was clear why The Nook’s four statewide locations sell tens-of-thousands of pies a year.

I admit an apple bias but the Cream Cheese Pumpkin was simply awesome. The whipped cream topper cinched the deal. Apple? Apple, who?

The Harvest Apple pie was joy with a fork – pecans are baked right into the pie! The apple crisp topping left me weak in the knees. My love for apple pie was back at the first whiff of caramel. 

At the Nook, they bake seven types of apple pie and only two of pumpkin. Apple is the year-round favorite, the bakers tell me, but they’ll sell 5,000 pumpkin pies a week through the holidays. 

Picking between pumpkin and apple is a bit like choosing your favorite moment. It can’t be done.

But it is fun trying.

Ready for more? Check out these Wisconsin eateries with unique pumpkin fare, or visit one of these apple orchards perfect for fall.