The frosts of winter will soon blanket the trees around my hometown with a frozen sparkle, but, first, there’s a final harvest of my favorite handheld snack—the apple. Late fall always means a visit to the local cider mill and farm where my favorite Braeburns are ripe and plentiful, just in time to make a medley of baked treats for the upcoming holiday celebrations.
With a basket full of juicy Jonagolds or Galas at hand to inspire my holiday dessert making, I’ll soon have an overabundance of farm fresh goodies to share with my friends and family. So this year, I’m throwing an apple harvest bake off to exchange favorite recipes and enjoy the spoils of the autumn orchard, together.
Hosting an Apple-Inspired Recipe and Gift Exchange
I’m not the only one of my friends who likes to play Betty Crocker this time of year, so I asked them each to bring a delectable apple-themed baked good or dessert to our get together, like cider-spiced cupcakes, apple fritter bread, or cranberry apple cheesecake to name a few. Along with their treats, they each brought enough copies of the recipe to share—and wrapped baking tools for our gift exchange.
Before the party, I asked my friends to join an online gift exchange with me so they could make personal wish lists of baking supplies currently missing from their kitchen’s repertoire. Names of confirmed guests were then swapped with each other, and we shopped for our assigned giftee based on their kitchen gadget wish list. I requested a French macaroon baking sheet and a cute new apron, while my friend Alex added a vintage flour sifter, a couple recipe books, and a set of silicone loaf baking pans.
An Apple Harvest Tablescaping How-To
As a fun group activity, I prepared a demonstration on how to display seasonal dishes at family celebrations—every time I host a party, I get a bunch of questions about my festive tablescapes that perfectly tie the food offerings into the decor.
Before my guests arrived, I set up an extra table for all the mouth-watering goodies everyone would be bringing. Meanwhile, my dining room table was clean and table-clothed, but otherwise empty, ready to show my friends each step of the tablescaping process. With supplies laid out and organized, I was ready to show my guests how to dress the table in the gorgeous hues of the apple harvest, creating an autumn banquet tablescape in eight simple steps:
- Drape your table with a richly autumn-hued cloth in a subtle pattern that won’t distract from the rest of the decor.
- Find a couple boxes of varying sizes and heights—shoe boxes, shipping boxes, cereal boxes, or wooden crates. Whatever is on hand will work once covered. If a box is on the thin side and can’t bear too much weight, I fill it with books for support.
- Next, round up some fabric remnants in a complementary color. I love the look of a lighter shade layered on a darker tablecloth. Again, whatever is on hand can work—pillowcases, curtain panels, or another tablecloth are some of the fabrics I’ve used in the past.
- Cover the boxes with fabric, and stack and arrange them at varying angles in the center of the table. The fabric cover should be tucked under and around the boxes so that it’s no longer visible. It doesn’t need to look perfect—in fact, all the folds and billows around the base of the boxes will add to the overall look.
- Bend and shape a four to six-foot autumn swag around the base of the boxes.
- Fill in any sparse areas around the swag with loose decorative leaves, apples, acorns, and pinecones. Add small groupings of these loose decorations around the corners of the box platforms as well.
- Arrange platters and dishes on the table and platforms as desired, shifting the loose decor items—and adding in some fresh apples—to best fill in gaps.
- Once everything is on the table and ready to serve, I like to add a little extra warmth with a few candles.
Crafting Whimsical DIY Apple Votive Holders
As part of our DIY decor demonstration, I passed out apples to my friends for making some fresh and fun candle holders that will perfectly accent our autumn tablescape. Here is my method for crafting these fall apple tea light holders:
- Making sure they’ll remain flat and balanced when set on a tabletop, we lightly trace around a tea light candle at the top of our apples with a pen.
- Using a carving knife, we carefully cut into the apple, following the circle we traced.
- Next, we dig a hole with a spoon just big enough to house the tea light candle.
- Once we have carved out the right amount of apple, we spray them with a bit of lemon juice to keep them from browning as they add a flickering light to the ambience of our tablescape.
These adorable autumn votive cups are a wonderful way to bring the colors and warmth of the apple orchard to our holiday tables, along with a touch of creative whimsy. For a more kid-friendly event, I would omit the real flame candles for their flameless counterparts, and add a string of warm lights around the swag.
Now that our tablescape is festively dressed, we add our decadent desserts, including my offering of a warm caramel apple crisp. We pause briefly to bask in the beauty of our combined creative efforts before digging in to enjoy all the sweet, apple goodness.
Enjoying the Apple Harvest—Together
Sitting down with plates of apple pastries at hand, we kick off our baking gift exchange. Megan raves on and on about the ceramic pie dish she’d been hoping for, and Amber knows precisely how she’ll break in her new mini muffin trays using the spiced apple cider muffin recipe Angela handed out. And there are smiles all around as we share our newly inspired schemes for harvest tablescapes while polishing off our plates of sweets.
Eventually, my guests make their way to the door, bellies and heads full, recipes and baking supplies in hand. I can’t think of a better way we could celebrate the fall apple harvest than with warm pastries and gifts shared amongst friends—and I know I’m not alone in my delight. Best of all, the great autumn tips and treats we complied today will be adding to the joy of each and every one of our family holiday feasts this year.
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