A delightfully fruitful outing.
By Sudha Chandrasekaran
One of our trips to the Massachusetts state in the US in the month of September provided us a delightful new experience, about which we had heard pleasant things from our friends who had visited the US. Yes, it was the enjoyable apple-picking experience that stood out! As summer winds down in the New England region of Massachusetts state in the US, from late August to late October, the apple-picking season gears up with growers forecasting a bumper crop or otherwise. If you’re looking to visit this beautiful state during this season, you just cannot pass up picking fresh fruit. It is fun, safe, and a healthy family activity that everyone will enjoy. There is no shortage of PYO (pick your own fruit) farms there.
Apple-picking season is here, and countless farms across the state are opening their orchards to the public. In today’s hectic high-tech world, it would do all of us a great deal of good to put our smartphones away and take a ride out into the New England region where there are dozens of orchards, farms and farm stands waiting to be experienced. We find it difficult to plan a trip to the apple orchard due to paucity of time. Supriya, our neighbour, gives us friendly advice. “But hurry! Apple picking season winds down near the end of October. Sometimes, due to weather and other unforeseen events, orchards close early or run out of apples to pick. Always call ahead to make sure the orchard is open and to find out what varieties of apples you can expect on your visit.”
We soon plan on visiting Russell Orchards in Ipswich, which may be considered as New England’s Best-Kept Fall Secret. We leave home early in the morning on Labor Day in September and pass through rolling hills and quaint towns, a variety of taverns, churches, farms and apple orchards, all set against a backdrop of stunning fall colours. The gorgeous scenery coupled with the crisp, cool air of the season makes this the perfect time for getting out and seeing the sites. Blue skies dappled with white clouds drifting seamlessly to unknown destinations far away, and small houses that seemed to peek here and there usher us to Ipswich.
We are all excited and soon drive to the orchard. We must have arrived at the perfect time because, although the parking lot is packed, there is plenty of parking space. We then get into the lengthy line to go apple picking. They have three hayrides shuttling visitors from the waiting line to the orchards where you can purchase a $ 20 peck-size bag to the PYO apples’ orchard. This bag holds about 10 lbs of apples. This amount is to be paid only in dollars cash. We venture onto the tractor for a hayride and enter the apple area. Come and enjoy a beautiful hay wagon ride around the scenic farm. You will see fir trees, bee hives, fields and beautiful fruit orchards. The incredible views of the farm from the hayride will help you relax and enjoy the day. Look closely for farm fowl or natural wildlife roaming the grounds.
I forget my age and start enjoying the ride like a small kid and join the little ones in singing ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’. Each child receives a free cup of animal food for feeding the farm animals. There was a large variety of apples with plenty still available.
Apple picking is a fun way to embrace the changing season. The local apple orchard provides a fairly inexpensive way to spend a fall day together as a family. Many varieties of apples are ready for picking right off the tree! Many of the orchards here including this one implement organic and natural growing practices. The interactive fruit garden is open to the public to see up close all of the different varieties of fruits that are grown here. It is a mini-orchard full of actual fruiting trees, bushes, and plants. Almost every pick-your-own orchard has dwarf fruit trees with low-hanging branches that make for easy picking by children. Reaching into the fragrant, scraggly branches, tugging the apples free as the sun starts to burn off the chill…could there be a more perfect autumnal ritual? The first nip of crisp fall air and hint of colour in the trees seem to awaken some primal urge to harvest. And so we head to the fields and orchards to do what comes naturally: pick apples and fill up our bags!
The selection of apples is extensive and they taste absolutely delicious. As autumn deepens, the apple varieties change. One of the popular apple selections here is the Honey Crisp. I am delighted by apples with names like “Sweet Sixteen” and “Vista Belle”… We are out for some good, old-fashioned fun and take a walk around the farm and enjoy some “down time” with our family. The sun is warm and so, with our hats and sunglasses on, we start looking for the luscious and tempting apples. Farms discourage customers from eating directly from the bushes. It can be so difficult to not sink your teeth into that juicy fruit, but do try to refrain. The staff at the farm is incredibly friendly and is happy to help you with your questions.
In addition to the great fields there is this little barn side for different farm animals – horses, goats, roosters – that are great for little kids and me. The little ones enjoy petting them. We have some “touch and feel’ time with the animals as well. After the “nature walk” in the pleasant weather, we decide to walk back instead of waiting for the hay ride… We walk into the fabulous country store that sells produce of all kinds of goods including ice-cream and baked goods like cider donuts, cider; and does wine tastings as well. We had a sampling of the hard ciders and wines and some cold cider. Pumpkins too are available!
We pick up some cider donuts, apple cider, and some locally baked bread. Everything is incredibly delicious! Russell Orchards is famous for its fruit wines, hard ciders and Perrys (pear wines), not to mention their home-made fruit preserves, cider doughnuts, pies and other farm goodies. Sitting at a picnic table we enjoy the scrumptious baked goods and deli items that are on sale. Many orchards do make cider, but that often takes place behind the scenes. We grab the wonderful opportunity of visiting a genuine cider mill to watch the old-fashioned methods of turning apples into sweet cider!
Teaching children the value of food, respecting nature and other people’s property is a priceless lesson that can certainly be taught at the farm. I loved this rural orchard and found this picturesque and serene orchard to be a spot for future farmers and inquisitive minds. We met the nicest people, orchard owners and farmers there, and one word that came up again and again is Family. New England’s beautiful orchards and farms are run by families, and their primary customers are other families in search of locally produced fruit at the peak of each season.
The best part
Perhaps the best part of a day spent visiting the orchard is getting home with all the ingredients needed to make delicious home-baked goodies! Without apples we wouldn’t have some of the best treats out there: apple pie, cider, hard cider, and cider donuts – basically everything that is right and good for our health.
Autumn is a magical time of year for many reasons, but one of the favourite fall traditions is the annual trek to the orchard to gather as many apples as we can carry. There are hundreds of wonderful orchards in every corner of New England offering not just fresh fruits but everything from cider donuts to hay rides to pumpkins. It is the kind of place where ducks smile and the apples hum little songs. Cannot wait for yet another fall to pick apples!