By Amy Falkofske
The craziness of summer has come and gone. School is back in session, and most of us have settled back into a routine. For some, that may bring sadness. For others, it’s their favorite time of year. But no matter which category you fall into, there is much to appreciate about this time of year. The leaves are
changing into beautiful colors. The air is cooler and crisper, and soon there will be little ghosts, goblins and princesses trekking through our neighborhoods looking for a sweet treat or two.
The fall also ushers in new opportunities for families to participate in yearly traditions and for friends to gather. Prince William resident Victoria Johnson began a tradition with her family 10 years ago when they first moved here. Every year they visit Stribling Orchard in Markham (in neighboring Fauquier County) to pick apples and then spend a day making and canning apple butter from her own recipe.
Maria Loveless, a Manassas resident and interior designer, celebrates the season by having a few friends over. “I usually try to host a little gathering of the people who I have not seen over the summer, and we play (card) games. Everybody gathers around and drinks cider, and they reminisce about their summer escapades and get back in the mindset of their normal routines,” she said.
Loveless also greets the fall season by changing her décor. “Traditionally, October is our season of welcoming the fall, and everybody knows I’ve changed over because the pumpkins arrive. I create a cute little ‘pumpkinscape’ by my front door,” she said.
Manassas resident Carrie Davis says that while her four sons are aging out of Halloween activities like trick-or-treating, her family still carves and decorates pumpkins together. But that’s not all they do. “We still enjoy a family trip to Fields of Fear at Cox Farms (in Fairfax County) or a visit to the pumpkin patch there during the day,” she said.
The family also participates in a Halloween party with their neighbors and friends. There’s usually a bonfire, and one of Davis’ neighbors decorates her whole house as a haunted mansion.
Entertaining and Decorating Tips
If you plan on entertaining this season, you might find these tips from Loveless helpful.
She usually has a fire pit in the backyard, and at one gathering, she gave out little packages with ingredients to make s’mores. It was the hit of the party.
“We filled up little gift packages with everything you need to make a s’more, and we handed them to our friends as they came in,” said Loveless. “Everybody was making the s’mores and conversing around the fire. That was the fun part.”
She also has suggestions for what kinds of food and drinks to provide, such as stew, hot dogs in pastries (pigs in a blanket) and cider. “Food-wise, think of something warmer,” she said. For drinks, she suggested carving out a big pumpkin, filling it up with ice and putting drinks in it.
Loveless also gave decorating tips for both entertaining and just giving your home some nice fall décor. She suggested starting with plaids using a fall scheme of burgundy reds and yellows. “Pick a plaid pattern that you love and make that your tablecloth. Complement everything with the accent colors of the plaid. If you have a picnic table with benches, you can put the blankets on the side, so your guests can grab them to keep warm,” she said.
You can also throw blankets on the chairs around your fire pit and use nice fall candles on the tables and outdoor lighting on your trees or deck if you have them, according to Loveless. For Halloween, Loveless says it’s all about pumpkins. “If you have little kids, it’s a lot more animated. You can have more of those
fun décor pieces, but for an adult version, I would say pumpkins. My décor style is mostly pumpkins, gourds and candles, but if you have little kids, scarecrows and things like that are always fun,” she said.
Flower arrangements are also a great way to decorate for the fall, according to Loveless: “Create a beautiful flower arrangement with fall flowers in [fall] colors and place them in mason jars to make centerpieces for your tables.”
And one last tip: “Carve out little pumpkins and put candles in them for cute little accents throughout your home or your backyard,” Loveless said.
If you’d like to try the apple butter that Johnson makes with her family every year, here is the recipe.
Old Fashioned Apple Butter
Yield: About 5 cups
12-14 sweet-tart apples (Winesap or Jonagold), washed, peeled,
cored and quartered
2 cups apple cider
1. Place prepared apples in a slow cooker, stir in cider. Cover and cook on high for 2–4 hours, or until apples are soft.
2. Using a food mill or food processor, purée fruit and cider.
3. Measure purée back into the slow cooker. For each 2 cups of purée, add ½ cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon each of cloves, allspice and nutmeg. Adjust seasonings to taste if desired.
4. Cover and cook on high for 6–8 hours, stirring every 2 hours. Uncover after 3 hours to allow the apple butter to thicken.
5. Can or freeze apple butter.
And here is Loveless’s stew recipe. This is a recipe that she has used over the years and says, “It’s hearty and very warming to the soul. It’s like comfort food. And as the winter is approaching, it’s a good
transition from the craziness of the summer.”
Slow Cooker Pumpkin Beef Stew
This easy slow cooker beef stew is made extra special and festive with the addition of pumpkin purée, and then it’s served inside of roasted sugar pumpkins.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 9 hours
1 tablespoon olive oil + extra for the pumpkins
2 pounds boneless chuck roast or stew beef (cut into 1-inch cubes)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cups cubed red potatoes (when using mini red potatoes, halved or quartered is fine)
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet onion, chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
3 cups beef broth
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup pumpkin purée
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme + extra for serving
Chopped flat leaf parsley for serving
4 sugar pumpkins
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Season the beef with paprika, salt, and pepper. Add to the skillet and sear on all sides until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer the beef to your slow cooker.
Add the red potatoes, carrots, garlic, onion, mushrooms, beef broth, tomato paste, pumpkin purée, red wine, dried thyme and bay leaves to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cook on low for 8–9 hours or on high for 5–6 hours. Once finished cooking, stir in the fresh thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
When the stew has 1–2 hours left, roast the pumpkins. Preheat oven to 350. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Very carefully carve the tops off of the pumpkins using a very sharp knife or pumpkin carving tools. Scoop out the seeds and “guts” and discard. Rub the outside and inside of the pumpkins, as well as the tops, with olive oil and season the inside with a couple pinches of salt and pepper. Place pumpkins on baking sheet, cut side up, as well as their tops, and roast for 30 minutes.
Flip the pumpkins and roast for an additional 30 minutes or until pumpkins are slightly tender and golden. You still want them to keep their shape!
Serve stew inside of pumpkins and garnish with fresh thyme and chopped parsley. Loveless also suggested that once the stew is finished, you can transfer it to a large, carved out pumpkin for serving.
If you’re looking to start a new family tradition, or just looking for ways to celebrate the season with your friends or family, here are some activities that are going on in and around Prince William.
- Boo Bash: Potomac Mills Shopping Center, Oct. 31, 5–7 p.m., Store-to-store trick-or-treating, Reptiles Alive show, Disney Jr. Playdate featuring a Disney Vampirina activity
- Trick-or-Treating: Bristow Center Shopping Center, Oct. 20 1–3 p.m., shopbristowcenter.com
- Trick-or-Treating: Bull Run Plaza, Oct. 28, Noon–2 p.m., shopbullrunplaza.com
- Trick-or-Treating: Manassas Mall, Oct. 31, 5–7 p.m. manassasmall.com/trick-or-treat/
- Fall Festival: Tackett’s Mill Shopping Center, Oct. 13, 1–3 p.m., tackettsmill.com
- Community Fun Fair: Linton Hall School in Bristow, Oct. 13, 10 a.m.–3 p.m., photo booth, petting zoo, face painting, hayrides, bounce houses, tot lot, carnival rides and games, kids arts & crafts, science activities, shopping, raffle and food. Tickets: $5 per person or $20 per family
- Yankey Farms: Now through Oct. 30, you can pick pumpkins, get lost in the corn maze scavenger hunt, ride the cow train or play fun farmyard activities. No charge for admission. yankeyfarms.com/pumpkin_patch.htm
- Cows-N-Corn in Midland: Open Sept. 14-Oct. 28, pumpkins, corn maze, farm tours, meet a cow and other animals, play area, Moo Bounce, cow train, butter making, puppet show, hand-dipped ice cream featuring fall flavors, cows-n-corn.com
- Burnside Farms in Haymarket: Fall Festival (inaugural season), Mid-September through first weekend of November, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., sunflower maze, corn maze, pick your own sunflowers, pick your own pumpkin patch, cow train, farm animals. Farm Market at home farm in Haymarket,
over 40 varieties of pumpkins and gourds (pre-picked), prepicked apples, fresh pressed apple cider, mums and other fall decorations, pick your own sunflowers. facebook.com/burnsidefarms or burnsidefarms.com
- Buckland Farm Market in Warrenton: Fall activities beginning the first weekend in October, barrel train rides and hayrides on the weekends. Playground and corn maze during daylight hours. For more information: 540-341-4739
- Stribling Orchard in Markham: Fall season opened Labor Day weekend and runs through the first week in November, apple picking, bakery that serves pastries, pies and bread on the weekends, live music most weekends. For more information: 540-364-3040
Amy Falkofske ([email protected]) is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Bristow with her husband, two sons and two Beagle dogs. She has a Master of Arts degree in Film-TV from Regent University.