ANSWER: The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay opened on April 15 and remain opens daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 31. After that, they offer a special treat Thursdays through Sundays (except for Thanksgiving Day) from 4 to 9 p.m. beginning Nov. 18 and through Dec. 31, when visitors can come see the spectacular display of holiday lights set up throughout the gardens in their “Gardens Aglow” event.

The best viewing time is debatable depending on what types of flowers and plants you enjoy viewing and the weather. A list of what is in bloom during certain times of the season is available on their website. The Botanical Gardens also hosts various exhibits at different times of the year which can add to the overall experience. 

If you’re looking for a bargain visit, during Memorial Day weekend, Maine residents can enter the gardens for free with a valid ID. As you can probably imagine, though, this is quite a busy weekend and may require parking off site, but shuttle services are offered to the gardens. At all other times, the senior rate is $14 for those 65 and older. 

If you call ahead, then you can make reservations for electric cart tours, which can accommodate up to five passengers and cost $10 per person. The gardens also offer, at a cost, first-come, first-served mobility scooter rentals for self-touring. Wheelchairs are available for loan, free of charge, but also at a first-come, first-served basis. Call (207) 633-8000 for more information on accessibility.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: Cracker Barrel has a good side dish of baked apples — looks like brown sugar, but they are not sickeningly sweet. How do they make that? — Want-to-know, Lewiston

ANSWER: There are several “copycat” recipes out there for Cracker Barrel’s famous “fried apples” side dish, and the restaurant chain also sells their apples in jars in their country store with the actual recipe printed on the back of the jar. The trick to matching the flavor may be in the actual apple — some say Cracker Barrel uses golden delicious apples, but most recipes call for more tart apples. 

Here is one copycat version that Sun Spots hopes you enjoy:

Cracker Barrel Fried Apples

In a skillet with 1/4 cup of warmed bacon drippings or 1/2 stick of melted butter, place 6 peeled, cored and sliced tart apples. Sprinkle apples with a teaspoon of lemon juice, 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a dash of salt. Stir, cover and heat on low for about 15 minutes, or until the apples are tender, and then stir in a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg before serving warm.

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