Thinking of fall upstate might conjure up images of corn mazes, haunted hayrides, and all kinds of leaf-peeping glory. But it may also bring up thoughts of hillsides dotted with short, stocky trees brimming with ripening fruit ready for the picking. There is arguably no better place in the entire United States than right here in Ulster County to do just that.
Imagine, if you will, a brisk fall day, the sun warming the earth from a cool and lengthening night. There you are, perhaps family in tow, maybe a significant other or an old friend, heading out through the trees, woven basket over your arm, to spend the afternoon picking your own apples. Whether you plan to eat them raw, bake them into pies, make hard cider, or what have you, you are outside, in nature, playing a part in the age-old tradition of the great fall harvest.
And while you’re at it, many orchards have pumpkin patches as well that will also let you pick your own.
Perhaps no better way to top off your day of apple and pumpkin picking is a tasting at one of the local cider houses that are popping up in many of our communities. Cider was once the drink of choice in these parts. Following Prohibition, much of that business dried up, leaving only the production of “soft cider” in its stead. Since recent statewide deregulation, “hard” cider is once again in production, fast becoming a drink to stand shoulder to shoulder with any wine produced in the area. Due to the varieties of apples, subtlety of flavors, and length of aging, what was once a rough-and-tumble everyman’s drink has developed into a much more refined and wonderful beverage (think apple prosecco), not unlike the craft-beer-brewing revolution taking place throughout the country.
Assuming you’re ready to get out there and do some picking, here is a very rough guide of where and when to go in Ulster County. If I’ve left anybody out, you can take it up with the management. Also, following the list of orchards are the names of a few cider houses where you can do tastings.
So now all you have to do is get outside, have a good old time. Happy picking to all!
Apple Hill Farm, New Paltz
U-pick apples and pumpkins through October. Enjoy the restored 1859 barn, weekend hayrides. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 124 Route 32 South, New Paltz. 255-1605. facebook.com/applehillfarm
Dressel Farms, New Paltz
Pick apples weekends. Varieties include Gala, Macoun, Empire, Fuji, Rome and others. Hours 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Pumpkin picking available through October. 271 Route 208, New Paltz. 255-0693.
DuBois Farms, Highland
Pick apples and pumpkins through October. Also farm market and cafe, bakery, weekend barbecues, corn maze, wagon rides and visits with farm animals. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through November 5. 209 Perkinsville Road, Highland. 795-4037. www.duboisfarms.com
Hurd’s Family Farm, Modena
Pick apples and pumpkins through October. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hay rides, corn maze. Special events scheduled weekends. Admission. 2187 Route 32, Modena. 883-7825.
Jenkins-Lueken Orchards, New Paltz
Family-owned and operated for more than 50 years. Features over 500 apple trees. Varieties include Gala, Empire, Macoun, Fuji, Golden and Red Delicious and others. Purchase of apple- picking bag required. Pumpkin picking through October. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 69 Yankee Folly Road, New Paltz. 255-0999.
Kelder’s Farm, Kerhonkson
Apples available through November. Varieties include Cortland, Empire, Honey Crisp and others. Also, pumpkin picking in October with hayrides on the weekends. Farm market, petting farm, hay rides, corn maze and mini-golf. 5575 Route. 209, Kerhonkson. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through December. 626-7137.
Locust Grove Farm, Milton
Seventh-generation family farm. Pick apples and pumpkins. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays, Columbus Day through November 6. 199 North Road, Milton. 795-5194. locustgrovefruitfarm.com
Maynard Farms, Ulster Park
Apple picking. Varieties include Empire, Ida Red, Braeburn, Stayman, Winesap and others. Also pumpkin picking. Opens 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 326 River Road, Ulster Park. 331-6908.
Prospect Hill Orchards, Milton
Varieties include McIntosh, Gala and others. Location for apple picking is 73 Clark’s Lane, Milton. Also, pumpkin picking. Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends. 795-2383.
Stone Ridge Orchard, Stone Ridge
Two-undred-year-old working farm. Varieties include Honeycrisp, Ginger Gold, Empire, Fuji and others. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. 3012 Route 213, Stone Ridge. Also, gourmet farm market open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 687-2587. stoneridgeorchard.us.
Tantillo’s Farm Market, Gardiner
Fourth-generation family -owned fruit and vegetable farm. Apple and pumpkin picking. There’s a playground for the little ones, farm markets, homemade ice cream and areas for picnicking. Open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. 730 Route 208, Gardiner. 256-9109.
Westwind Orchard, Accord
Open for apple and pumpkin picking 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through October. Also, movie nights and music events. 215 Lower Whitfield Road, Accord. 626-0559. westwindorchard.com
Wilklow Orchard, Highland
Pick apples and pumpkins. Varieties include Gala, Empire, Winesap and others. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through October. 341 Pancake Hollow Road, Highland. 691-2339. www.wilkloworchards.com
Kettleborough Cider House
Located on Dressel Farms, 277 State Route 208, New Paltz. 453-2004.
Bad Seed Cider Co.
43 Baileys Gap Road, Highland. 236-0956.
Dutchess & Columbia counties
When the temperature dips, I crave the crunch of a local apple. Fortunately they’re not hard to find. Apple bounty abounds on the east bank of the Hudson, where I live. Dutchess and Columbia counties are full of farms, farmstands and markets where you can pick out a few favorites or pick your own from the trees, where you can savor them out of hand, in delicious dishes or in the form of cider, soft or hard.
The rest of the year, those bland, out-of-season, far-shipped apples leave me cold. It’s more than likely that years of memories of freshly picked local apples have me spoiled.
I used to trespass in orchards as a child, clambering over fences and scampering among the endless rows of trees studded with ruby-like orbs. I’d slow down now and then to pick an apple and take a giant bite — it was always a McIntosh, with its smooth, leathery skin and fine flavor, and it was always painfully fresh, the stolen fruit both bracingly sour and achingly sweet.
My favorite local source of apples, with an impressive variety of heirlooms, some that I’d never heard of, is the Montgomery Place farmstand in Red Hook (they don’t offer U-pick). There are many kinds to choose from, and sampling is encouraged. They specialize in antique apples with lots of character, but there are plenty of the popular kinds, too. Talea and Doug Fincke grow about 60 varieties on ten acres, and their expert staffers can answer questions and steer you to apple nirvana.
The farmstand is closed Mondays but open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Find them where Route 9G intersects with Route 199 (4330 Route 9G). The phone is 758-6338, the website is www.montgomeryplaceorchards.com.
But make the rounds of our orchards. Although autumn can be a season tinged with sadness and increasing darkness, as your body tightens against the cold, it’s a fine consolation to glory in the season’s sights and sounds, the vivid otherworldly hues of the leaves’ last hurrah, the geese squawking overhead as they flee south, peals of children’s laughter in the orchards, and the satisfying crunch of that luscious local apple when you bite into it.
Try Mead Orchards at 15 Scism Road in Tivoli, dating back to 1916. A hundred acres of their land is under a permanent conservation easement. You can pick your own of the 40 or so varieties grown on the beautiful farm. They also make their own cider and applesauce. They can also be found at the Rhinebeck farmers’ market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. They have their own on-location farm stand and you can pick your own on weekends only,756-5641 or www.meadorchards.com/=.
Even older is Rose Hill Farm in Red Hook (19 Rose Hill Road), run by the Fraleigh family for six generations since 1798. They offer pick-your-own on weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and sell homemade pies and preserves. 758-4215 or www.pickrosehillfarm.com/.
In Rhinebeck you’ll find the lovely Cedar Heights Orchard, high on a hillside with stunning mountain views. This family orchard has been in operation for more than 150 years. As well as growing many popular and antique apple varieties, they also grow crab and cider apples. Located at 8 Crosby Lane, they are open daily for U-pick from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 876-3231 or www.rhinebeckapples.com/.
Yet another long-established family operation which draws many city folks is in the southern part of the county is Fishkill Farms at 9 Fishkill Farms Road in Hopewell Junction. FDR’s secretary of the treasury, Henry Morgenthau Jr., founded the farm in 1914, and it’s run by his son and grandson. They offer hayrides, weekend events and festivals and a cider bar when they serve their own hard Treasury Ciders and local wine and beer. Their apple-cider doughnuts are exemplary, and their 40 acres of apples is eco-certified or organic. U-pick is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the farm store is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. There’s a $5 admission fee. 897-4377 or fishkillfarms.com.
Barton Orchards, site of an annual hot-air-balloon launching, also offers U-pick at 63 Apple Tree Lane in Poughquag. A one-peck bag (about ten pounds) is $16 and a half-bushel bag (about 20 to 25 pounds) is $26. 227-2306 or bartonorchards.com.|
Adams Fairacre Farms is a market chain of four stores. Its Poughkeepsie-area location at 765 Dutchess Turnpike in Poughkeepsie. Call 454-4330.
For sophisticated adult ciders, look for the award-winning Hudson Valley Farmhouse made by expert Elizabeth Ryan of Breezy Hill Orchard in Rhinebeck and Stone Ridge Orchard near New Paltz. There are several kinds, all made from ecologically grown heirloom apples, and they are poured at some local restaurants, www.hudsonvalleyfarmhousecider.com.
In Columbia County, seek out Samascott Orchards at 5 Sunset Avenue in Kinderhook. They grow 72 varieties, and make their own cider and sometimes pear cider, too. U-pick is available 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day but Tuesday, when they’re closed. Their garden market at 65 Chatham Street is open every day 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. 518-758-7224 or www.samascott.com
Golden Harvest Farms at 87 Maple Lane South in Valatie also has U-pick, weekends only, from 9 am to 4 pm. They don’t weigh the apples but charge $20 per half-bushel picking bag that holds 20 to 22 pounds. Their cider donuts have won accolades and go well with the Core Vodka from the at-the-farm distillery Harvest Spirits (at 3074 Route 9, open daily noon to 5 p.m. They also distill applejack. 518-758-7683 or www.goldenharvestfarms.com.
Also look for Sundog Cider in your local beverage stores. The solar-powered mill in Chatham makes unfiltered hard cider from local apples; 518-392-4000 or sundogcider.com
Take U pick
If you have specific varieties to pick in mind, call ahead. Grower estimate of when varieties come into season are not an exact science. It’s said that the harder to reach the apple, the sweeter it will be. But many orchards have dwarf trees or offer poles for reaching the high ones.
Apples tend to ripen from the outside of the tree first and then in toward the center. Unlike pears, apples do not continue to ripen once picked. To tell when they’re ripe, just go where the farm staff tells you. Ripeness is determined by a measurement of time from when the trees flowered. The staff will know.
To pick, roll the apple up while twisting rather than pulling straight out, branch and all. Once you have your apple, if you don’t eat it right away place it carefully in your bag to avoid bruising that will shorten its lifespan.
When you get home, keep your apples cool. Though apples look gorgeous in a bowl on the dining table, keep in mind that those need to be eaten before the extras in the fridge or cellar. Don’t wash them until right before eating.
Enjoy the apple in all its forms. Apples with nut butter or good cheese make for a sublime snack. Soft, ripe, intense cheeses and aged hard cheeses are both good, as are most blues. Try Brie or Camembert, sharp New York or Vermont cheddar, Morbier, aged Gouda, Stilton or Maytag Blue.
Stew apples into savory dishes based on pork or poultry, red cabbage or squash. Or make pies, crisps, strudels, tartes tatin or fritters. Applesauce from your most flavorful varieties is a treat, with pierogies or potato pancakes on yogurt or just plain. Quarter and core them, add water and simmer on the stove until soft, which may take around an hour. Strain out the skins and enjoy!
The aroma of hot mulled cider redolent with sweet spice is the epitome of autumn.
Get thee to an apple farm, pick a lot of the beauties, and enjoy one of the finer things of fall.