stone ridge, ny
Today’s the first day of autumn, so there couldn’t be a more perfect day to tell you about this orchard upstate that I’m kind of crazy enchanted with. I admit, I’ve been falling in love with orchards since I was toddling along the fallen Jonagolds at the Edward’s Apple Orchard in Popular Grove, Illinois. But this orchard, I swear, is not like any I’ve ever seen before. It’s not enchanted in that coiffed-Donna-Hay-picnic-between-the-rows-of 200-year-old-trees kind of way. No, this is more of a fell-down-the-rabbit-hole-and-something-is-not-quite-right-but-I-kind-of-like-it way.
It all started with a rustic “Mr. Apple: Organic Apples” sign that Greta and I have been passing on Route 213 most Sundays of our tenure as weekender’s upstate. That’s when we take our Sunday drive to the High Falls Flea, while András is back in our half-finished house working on any number of un-baby-friendly projects. The sign pops up just after the sign for Hopshead Craft Beer Market and just before the sign for the Northern Spy Restaurant, other country intrigues, but with oft a sleeping baby by my side, I’ve never stopped. Until…
For the last two weeks, my mom’s been in town watching Greta while I cook and write, which has given me the inspiration and courage to explore every number of country curiosities on weekends. She’s been the best sport imaginable, smiling away the day in a house with no bath, scarce supplies and a film of fresh sawdust on sills and floors following every weekend project. We’ve really resurrected the old farm girl in her. She’s even adopted a bit of the infectious free-spiritedness in the air up here. And in perfect timing, since you need a little farm girl (mixed with a little Woodstock) in you to enjoy the bare, un-commercial beauty in Mr. Apple’s Orchard.
There, up a long gravel drive, is another sign to pull up and honk. We did. With Greta on my hip and mom at my side, we exchanged hellos with Mr. Apple before we set forth with a nary a rule to collect a bagful of his double-fist-sized Macs.
Thanks to the rains and hurricanes, and the rot of the apples that fall to the ground, and absence of pesticides, there are bugs. And oddities. But what I love about this orchard is this: You are the only apple pickers. And for the half hour or hour that you’re there, these trees, this orchard, is yours. There’s no crowds, no rules, no hay bales. Just land dense with trees, branches packed to their very max capacity with crisp, juice-laden apples.
You'll find the black blemishes characteristic of wildly grown apples, but with a little scrubbing, beneath them is gleaming red and good flavor.
With those apples, we’ve had an almost nightly baked apple for our supper sweet. We’ve have had heaps of peeled macs simmering in our sole copper pot for sauce. We’ve made apple-turnip-and-carrot mash for Greta’s lunch and grated apples over our morning oats. Until there were no more.
“I have to admit, I was skeptical about these apples,” mom said, as we finished the last of them. “But they have the most incredible flavor.”
The next weekend, we convinced András to come picking. For the sake of research and Mom (and András, who likes a tidier Sunday outing) we picked instead at the Stone Ridge Orchard, on the same stretch of Route 213. Here, for the same prices, we found pretty rows of trees dotted with crisp, bright red Romes, sweet-tart Empires and fat Cortlands for cooking. Here there were families, babes in backpacks, Boy Scouts, pies for sale and rules for picking. Here, if you wanted, you could have a hayride, or a hike along their long path that spans the rounded landscape lined with youthful, healthy trees.
And back at home, without a doubt, the lush apples in our bag of loot are going just as fast.
Just a stone’s throw from the NY State Thruway (87) are two very fine orchards, both worth a trip from the city. Here’s how to find them, and more details on what you’ll find there:
Stone Ridge Orchard
3012 Route 213
Stone Ridge, NY
Though not organic, the Stone Ridge orchard uses Integrated Pest Management, which means they spray non-chemical solutions to control bugs. Look for a lad called Shane, who can tell you just about anything you need to know about those apples---which ones are ready and what they taste like, the history of the orchard and why we should all go and pick in the name of saving that lovely land. As it turns out, some developers have outright offered to buy the land to develop it into a strip mall. Exactly the kind of thing that has no place on a country road. Elizabeth Ryan, who owns Breezy Hill Orchard and leases the Stone Ridge Orchard, is bound and determined to save that land. And I’ll put at least half dozen bushels on her if that will help. For more information, check out the Friends of the Stone Ridge Orchard website or Facebook page to help save the orchard.
Now picking: McIntosh, Rome, Empire, Cortland
Mr. Apples Orchard
25 Orchard Street
High Falls, N.Y
What he calls Organic Style apples, or low-spray, meaning he sprays in the spring only, before the bud of the fruit arrives. His website boasts: Chat with Philip Apple while you taste the magical airDon't mind the bugs in Mr. Apple’s magical air, whose presence means reduced exposure to pesticides for you. His trees and his apples, fancy or not, are just right. Wash the apples well with organic fruit spray before peeling or eating.
Now picking: McIntosh, Golden Delicious