appleIn the fall of last year, my husband and I felt the need to make a farm pilgrimage. We wanted a nice, brief, change of pace from our city lives, not to mention a way to introduce our daughter to Mother Nature in all her glory. I was determined to make sure that my kid, unlike a large part of the New York City kid contingent, understood that milk comes from a cow, not a carton, and that apples grow on trees.

So we headed about an hour out of town,  to the Marlboro Mountains to a “Pick Your Own” farm recommended by friends.

Our destination: “Weed Orchards”.  Not a name that instills confidence as to the potential farm booty to be had. All I could picture were acres overrun with weeds.

But, turns out, the 150-acre farm grows 20 varieties of different produce, including apples, peaches, pears, pumpkins, grapes, peppers, squash and more.

We towed our daughter and her friend through the fields in a cute little red wagon, carefully dumping our fresh-picked choices right alongside them.

They took bite after bite of the fresh fruit. I reminded them that apples are “nature’s toothbrush.” I think a dentist once told me that.

We arrived at the end of our journey to find fresh apple cider, a live band and games for the kids—not to mention we went home with about ten pounds of different types of apples that we’d picked.  I made applesauce, apple pie, and apple brown betty for all.  My daughter asked when we’d go picking again.

Apple Picking in Salem

So this year, when that distinctive fall smell started invading the air,  we rented a car and headed out of town to Salem, NY, with the same friends from last year.

First stop recommended by them, on Hardscrabble Road (yes, that’s the name of the road,)  was the “Outhouse Orchard.”

strawberries2Again, a location name that didn’t particularly inspire, but at the very least, I was sure there would be a public bathroom. When you have a 5-year-old, that can make all the difference.

The orchard is more than a century old, and owned by Wayne S. Outhouse. Well, that explains the somewhat unfortunate name.

We arrived to a main building entrance covered in numerous wreaths of colorful Indian corn and massive outdoor Halloween decorations. There were squash plants for sale,  an old barbeque pit, and a sign proclaiming, “If the shoe fits…” with the feet of the Wicked Witch of the West sticking out from underneath.  It was kitchy Americana, but there was potential.

My daughter had fallen asleep in the car, so my husband went first and I waited in the car so she could sleep  a bit longer. He returned fairly quickly, with a bag of peaches, some small heirloom tomatoes, and a bag of six fresh apple cider donuts.

“Macs only,” he said.

“Meaning?” I asked.

“Macintosh. That’s all they’ve got right now.  There are two trees out back that are ready to pick. They’re encouraging us to buy from the counter,” he responded, adding they’d mentioned that most people who stopped wanted to buy, not to pick themselves.

Buy from the counter? We were there to soil our hands!  No, this farm didn’t fit the bill.  We never found the outhouse. We did find a goat. 

No Picking Required (or Allowed)

Our friends mentioned another farm, just a few minutes away called Salinger’s Orchard (where the apostrophe in the name is in the shape of an apple).  They’re a farm, market and eatery established in 1901. Now we were talking! We ate donuts as we drove.

The approach to the farm wasn’t nearly as pretty as many others in the area, but they were open all year long, and they clearly must be doing something right if they’re still around after all these years.

We arrived to their country store where baskets hung from the ceilings, and pithy little sayings embroidered onto cloth frames lined the walls.

We walked to the woman behind the counter to see about getting our wagons, or baskets, or whatever we’d need for picking. 

“You want to pick apples? We got Macs, PaulaReds, Gingergold and Gala over on the shelf by the window. Macouns are in the baskets at the table,” a woman said to us.

“No, we want to pick them ourselves,” we replied.

We were met with a look that said, “Lady, no one has picked an apple themselves here since 1901, and we’re gonna keep it that way.” It was clear we wouldn’t be spending time laboring in the fields today.

They did, however, have live bees and honeycombs that kept the kids asking questions, and we got to watch a teenaged girl make a fresh batch of apple cider donuts.

We were fair-weather farm friends. Switching gears, we turned the trip into an afternoon of donut drive-thrus.  It became about the preference for plain, regular sugar, powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar atop the gooey, warm dough.

Next time we go for “you-pick-it”, we’ll pick the farm.