It's that time of year once again where apples are the big stars of the season.

Midwest apple orchards, farms and grocery stores are brimming with the sweet fruit. Fests celebrating the food are on the event agenda while orchards have opened their doors for apple fans of all ages to engage in the picking process.

Information from the U.S. Apple Association states that the apple crop in the country is a $4 billion business. About 240 million bushels of apples are grown by 7,500 apple producers each year.

According to the association, the top apple producing states in the country are Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and Idaho.

Apples often are prime choices for healthy eating. They're rich in antioxidants, high in fiber and a "good source of Vitamin C," states the association's website. Apple also have no fat, cholesterol or sodium.

When it comes to including apples in recipes, the possibilities are endless. Everything from appetizers, drinks and entrees to decadent desserts can be made with the popular fruit.

Something to Celebrate:

Apple Fests are often a great way to celebrate the fall season and the crisp fruit.

Chellberg Farm will pay homage to the food with its second annual Indiana Dunes Apples Festival scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. The fest runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.

Family activities will include a Kid's Corner featuring crafts and games; tractor-pulled hayrides; food activities such as learning to cook apples for apple butter and applesauce, learning to make cider, fermenting apples into vinegar and more. Tastings of the products made with apples also will be featured. Farmstand produce will be available for purchase.

Entertainment presented by local musicians and the Northwest Indiana Storytellers stars on the agenda. For more information on the fest, call 219-395-1882 or visit nps.gov/indu.

Long Grove, Illinois, will present its annual apple festival. The 26th annual Apple Fest will be held Sept. 22 to 24 in historic downtown Long Grove.

Various apple treats, live music, a Kid Zone, apple pie-eating contests, vendors and more will be in the spotlight at the festival. Times for the fest are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sept. 22; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sept. 23; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 24.

Picking Time

Local orchards throughout the Region and Michigan offer various U-pick opportunities. Gather up the family to enjoy the process and time in the fields.

The following list features orchards/farms that offer apple picking.

County Line Orchard

200 County Line Road, Hobart

219-947-4477

Garwood Orchards

5911 W. 50 S., LaPorte

219-362-4385

Radke's Orchards

8999 W. 200 N., Michigan City

219-872-3140

Pavolka Fruit Farm

1176 N. Wozniak Road, Michigan City

219-874-6056

Try the following recipes from the U.S. Apple Association. Visit usapple.org

Caramel Apple Crumb Cheesecake

Cheesecake:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 pound cream cheese

1 pound goat cheese

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Streusel Crumb Crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

3/4 cup rolled oats

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground nutmeg

12 ounces unsalted butter, melted

Caramel Sauce:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup  water

1 teaspoon lemon juice

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon fleur de sel

DIRECTIONS: To make the apples: In a large saute pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the apples all at once and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples are just beginning to soften. Remove from the heat and stir in the cinnamon. Allow to cool completely.

To make the crust and topping: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the butter all at once and stir until completely combined and the mixture begins to come together.

Remove two-thirds of the streusel and press it into the bottom of a springform pan. Set aside the remaining one-third for the topping. Place in the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until formed and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

To make the cheesecake: Lower the oven to 325 degrees F. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese and goat cheese on low speed until softened, scraping down the sides of the bowl, underneath the paddle, and the paddle frequently with a rubber spatula, about 2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and continue mixing on low and scraping down the sides, bottom, and paddle until there are no visible lumps. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix just until combined, about 10 seconds after each egg. Stir in the vanilla and ground cinnamon.

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Prepare the springform pan for a water bath. Place the springform pan in a large cake pan or a roasting pan (one that is around the same height or lower than your springform pan). Pour the batter over the crust and level it with a small offset spatula. Place the cooked apples on top of cheesecake batter and then sprinkle with the remaining third of the streusel. Place in the oven and pour almost boiling water into the roasting pan (it should come up halfway around the sides of the pan). Bake for about 1 hour 10 minutes, until the cheesecake is firm around the edges, but still jiggly in the center (the jiggly part should be about the size of a quarter).

Remove from the oven and remove the cheesecake from the water bath. Remove the foil from the sides of the pan. Gently run a small sharp knife or small spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen the cheesecake from the sides. Allow to cool at room temperature. Place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours (this will help the cheesecake set completely).

To unmold the cheesecake, gently run a small sharp knife or small spatula around the edges of the pan. Release the latch on the side of the pan and then lift the ring straight up. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make the caramel sauce: In a medium 4-quart saucepan (make sure you’re using a saucepan with high sides, not a sauté pan or skillet), combine the granulated sugar, water, and lemon juice and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Using a pastry brush dipped in water, brush down any sugar crystals that are on the sides of the pan. Increase the heat to high and continue cooking, without stirring, brushing the sides of the pan with the wet pastry brush as needed. The caramel will begin to take on a light golden color.

Gently swirl (but do not stir) the pan to evenly caramelize the sugar to a medium amber color.

Remove from the heat and carefully add the butter, heavy cream, and fleur de sel. The mixture will begin to bubble and rise slightly in the pan. Whisk until smooth. Allow to cool completely, about 30 minutes.

To garnish the cheesecake: You can either drizzle the caramel over the cheesecake while it is whole and then slice it, or plate each slice individually and pour about 1 tablespoon on top of each slice, allowing the caramel to drip off the sides.

Warm Roasted Apple, Broccolini and White Cheddar Salad

3/4 pound broccolini

3 Gala apples

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup raw walnut pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

6 ounces white cheddar cheese, cubed

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim ends of broccolini. Slice any large stalks in half for even roasting. Core apples and cut each into 8 wedges.

Place broccolini and apples in single layer on large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast 10 minutes. Stir and sprinkle with walnuts. Roast for 5 more minutes.

Remove from oven. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let cool 5 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl. Add cheese cubes and toss to combine. Serve warm.

Apple Ginger Cooler

1 vanilla bean, seeded

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

Pinch of sea salt

2 cups apple cider or juice

3/4 cup ginger beer

1 large mint leaf (sliced into small pieces to release its aroma)

Dash of apple bitters

DIRECTIONS: To make Vanilla Bean Simple Syrup, bring vanilla bean, sugar, water and sea salt to a boil. Strain and chill.

Pour apple cider, ginger beer, mint leaf, apple bitters and 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla bean simple syrup together over ice. Garnish with fresh mint leaf.

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