On a warm autumn day, what could be more satisfying than sinking your teeth into a cool, crisp, crunchy apple? Hudson Valley orchard owners and residents alike are well aware that our neck of the woods boasts a rich history of apple growing. In fact, our area is one of the oldest fruit-growing regions in the entire United States. Contrary to common belief, while apples have been around for centuries, they are not native to this country. “Apple trees were introduced in little buckets brought over by wealthy Europeans hundreds of years ago,” explains Elizabeth Ryan, owner of Breezy Hill Orchard in Staatsburg. “Later on there was an incredible proliferation of apple growing. Everyone had trees and would make cider.”
Nowadays, one of the best ways to take advantage of the bounty of the local apple harvest is by picking, fermenting, and baking this juicy fruit.
Of course, the Valley region is home to a plethora of commercially grown apples. “There are at least 200 different varieties,” says Ryan. “And there are thousands worldwide.” While is centuries past, crossbreeding could take anywhere from 10 to 40 years — breeders sometimes spent their whole lives working at it — “now there are faster breeding techniques,” says Ryan. “We are constantly trying new apples.”
One of the apple varieties that’s become popular recently is the Empire, which comes from Geneva. “It’s a good, Class-A crowd-pleaser,” says Ryan. Other favorite newbies? “Anything with Jonathan in it is very good,” she says. “Jonagold, which is crossbred with Golden Delicious, is a recent variety that is very popular here. People also love Macoun, which is a New York apple that was introduced in the 1920s. You can’t find it anywhere else in the country. It has a wonderful aroma and taste, and a thin skin.”
So how about those carefree afternoons of apple-picking? Although the number of orchards and acreage devoted to apple trees is declining, apple-picking remains one of the number one fall pastimes in the Valley. Blossoms typically appear in May, and the fruit is ready to be picked in September and October. But remember to tug gently. “There is an art to picking apples,” says Ryan. “Don’t pull downward, you kind of have to roll it backward. I tell children to pretend you are picking an egg, because you have to be very careful.”
“Crab apples make wonderful jelly. Most people here have crab apple trees within a couple hundred yards of their house,” says Ryan. Apples that are suitable for baking include Northern Spy, Jonagold, Wine Sap, and Rhode Island Greening. “Most apples make a decent cider. Wine Sap is one of the great old American cider apples. They are from the 1700s in New Jersey,” says Ryan. “Never use Red Delicious, because it is notoriously bland. It doesn’t have real character.”
Apple Hill Farm
Open daily. More than 10 varieties of apples; pumpkin picking; picnic area; hayrides and fire truck rides on weekends.
Hurds Family Farm
Open daily. Four-acre corn maze shaped like a pine tree promotes Christmas tree recycling; pumpkin picking and carving; petting zoo; cornstalk teepee; pony rides; picnic site; farm-made goods.
Mr. Apples Low Spray Orchard
Open daily. Minimal spraying is done to ensure a natural flavor.
Open daily. Twenty-minute hayrides with beautiful views; petting zoo.
Open weekends. Pumpkin picking.
Open daily. Fall raspberry picking; pumpkin picking; petting zoo.
Open weekends. Performances by storyteller Bindlestick Bill; 25 types of apples; pumpkin picking; musical performances; hayrides; petting zoo; unique corn maze; haunted house; children’s playground.
Open daily. Wine brewed on the premises; wagon rides; puppet shows; herb and rose gardens; petting zoo.
Lawrence Farms Orchards
Open daily. Pumpkin picking;
“Little Village,” a depiction of an old-fashioned New England farm town; horse-drawn carriage rides; petting zoo.
Call for hours. Glass-enclosed beehive allows visitors to observe the bees at work; petting zoo.