The cool October weekends are for family outings -- to fairs and fall celebrations, to pumpkin patches and your favorite orchard or farm market. The grand finale, of course, is Halloween, when the pumpkin rules, but until then the apple is king, and there are three weekends ahead to throw your own apple festival.
Your family's final haul of pick- your-own Stayman winesaps could provide almost all the entertainment and special treats needed for a fun- filled outdoor celebration. Here are a few seeds to start your own ideas sprouting: PRESENTING . . . JOHNNY APPLESEED
No apple festival would be complete without America's folk hero, Johnny Appleseed, as master of ceremonies. Here's a role made to order for the ham in your family. The costume is simple -- a kettle or a saucepan for a hat; a ragged, sleeveless shift made of sacking or burlap; wornout sandals or moccasins; and a shoulder bag labeled "apple seeds." Johnny could introduce himself by telling his own story. A colorful, easy-to-tell-in-your-own- words version of Johnny Appleseed can be found in the children's book "American Tall Tales" by Adrien Stoutenburg. Or, Johnny Appleseed could be an apple on a stick, used as a hand puppet. Features can be added with magic markers or bits of glued-on felt or construction paper. A half-cup measure can be his hat and an old sock properly hole-y makes a simple shirt. A puppet stage can be constructed easily by stretching a blanket or a sheet over two chairs placed slightly apart. After wowing his audience, Johnny can proceed as ringmaster for the rest of the day's events. FORTUNETELLING WITH APPLES
For this game you'll need to pare several apples. Try to keep each peeling in an unbroken spiral. Each child tosses an apple peeling overhis or her shoulder. Whatever letter the peeling resembles when it falls on the ground is supposed to be the first initial of the future "true love." Don't be surprised if the "I's" have it as the most popular initial. APPLE HIGHJINKS
Some children (and their parents) may actually never have had the fun of bobbing for apples or trying to capture an apple on a string. For the uninitiated, here are some guidelines: * Fill a large tub with water. Drop several unpeeled apples into the tub. Each contestant puts his hands behind his back and tries to seize an apple with his teeth and remove it from the tub. A shower cap and a raincoat help prevent soaked hair and clothing. * Run a string or strong thread completely through an apple. Make a large knot in the end of the string to secure the apple. Suspend each apple from a clothesline or a tree branch. (One per contestant if you're finicky about germs.) The apple should hang freely. Each player puts his hands behind his back and tries to capture the apple in his mouth without using his hands. * The silliest game of all is to divide the guests into two lines facing each other. Each team is given an apple. The first player of each team holds the apple under his chin and tries to pass it to the team member beside him. Neither one can use his hands. The winning team is the first to pass its apple to the end of the line. * Meanwhile in Ring Two, preschoolers could play a variation of the old favorite "Drop the hankerchief." An apple is used in lieu of a hankie. MUNCH AND CRUNCH
Some delectable do-it-yourself refreshments could be spicy apple slices and caramel apples- on-a-stick. Todd Butler of Butler Orchard in Germantown suggests the following apple confections: * Sprinkle slices of apple with brown sugar and/or apple pie spices. Bake until slightly soft. Insert a toothpick in each slice before serving. * Remove stems of apples. Insert a popsicle stick (available in hobby, crafts and variety stores) in each apple. Melt Kraft-type caramels in a double boiler and thin with a little hot milk. Older children can then dip their own apples into the caramel/milk topping. For a bit of crunch, roll each caramel apple in chopped nuts before placing it on waxed paper to cool. To avoid squabbles, have each child write his/her name on the popsicle stick before impaling the apple. THE BIG APPLE
In this instance the Big Apple has nothing to do with New York City or a '30s dance. It's a pinata -- a party favorite from Mexico. Since pinatas come in all shapes and colors, a big apple pinata would be a smashing climax to a Johnny Appleseed festival. To make a Big Apple, you could build the traditional papier mache shell, or take the quick route and decorate a large paper grocery bag with drawings or paper appliques of apples. Fill it with goodies and suspend it by twine or a cord from a tree branch. Make sure the pinata can swing freely back and forth. Blindfold each player and give each one three tries to whack the pinata with a stick. When the bag is broken, everyone scrambles for the loot. (To avoid tears, save some goodies beforehand for children who are left empty- handed at the end of the game.) PARTY POSTSCRIPT
Any unpeeled leftovers can be saved for a rainy day project -- for instance, making sweet-scented pomander balls to hang in closets. Give each child an apple and a pile of whole cloves to stick all over the apples. A dusting of cinnamon helps preserve the apples and adds still more fragrance to the pomander. Pull a narrow ribbon through the apple and secure it with a large knot underneath. If, after all the above, you still have reserve energy and a few more apples left at the bottom of the barrel, the kids can still help make apple sauce, apple butter, apple fritters, apple betty . . . .