Yesterday was the first day of fall, and I don’t know about you, but I like to mark the seasons in food. You know, lemonade in the summer, chocolate rabbits in the spring, stew in the winter, and, of course, apples in the fall. Sure, you can eat an apple all year round, but what better way to enjoy one than by picking it yourself?
It’s true that Cornell has its own orchards, hence the nearly year-long presence of cider in the dining halls (though not all; Jansen’s and Okie’s get stiffed). But you can’t pick your own apples there. Lowly students like us may only buy them (and, what do you know, we do: see the cider info above).
So since Cornell won’t satisfy the budding agriculturalist in all of us (ironic, yes), this is where the phenomenon known as u-pick orchards comes in. These places will actually hand you a bag, send you out into the farm, and let you pick and sample apples until you’re so sick of them you don’t even want to look at the bag-full you’re about to buy. It’s a wonderful thing.
One popular place to go is Littletree Orchards in Newfield, about 11 miles from Ithaca. Like Elizabeth Pullen, ’06, you’ve probably seen their stand at the Farmers Market and been inspired.
“I like to go apple picking because it’s something my family did a lot when I was little, and also because I like to get out in the beautiful fall weather and just spend time in the orchards,” said Elizabeth, who went to Littletree with friends last weekend. Nestled in the rolling hills off Route 13 South, the farm is relatively easy to find and just as charming as you could hope for. Parking is in front of the Apple Barn, a rustic wooden building with dried flowers hanging from the rafters and fresh, old-fashioned apple cider donuts sliding off the fryer. This is where you can get bags for picking and a map of the orchard, and where you’ll ultimately pay for your apples. The friendly staff will point out the ripest varieties and recommend sweet or tart apples, apples for cider, or for baking. The back of the map outlines the harvesting dates for more than 30 varieties and describes their flavors and uses.
Some great tart varieties to check out now are Burgundy (good for applesauce), Cortland, Jonathan (pies, sauce, cider) and Empire. If you prefer sweet, try the Jonamac, Akane, and McIntosh (pies, sauce, cider). A whole new selection will ripen in October. Call Littletree if you have questions about a particular variety, but rest assured that you won’t leave disappointed. Deciding how many apples you want and what you’ll use them for is a good place to start. I love tart apples for fresh eating, and last year I made the mistake of getting half a bushel ($10), leaving me with several rotten apples at the bottom of the bag about a month and a half later when I got to them. The most any one person should get, I’d say, is a peck ($6), which will hold about 30 medium-sized apples.
Something to keep in mind is that for baking, “drops,” or apples that have fallen to the ground on their own, are ideal at half the price. Just watch out for bruises and rotten spots. This year we got almost half a bushel of drops and made four pies, an apple crisp, and apple bars with still some fruit left over.
On your way out, you can grab some other extras like fresh pressed cider, dried flowers, and gourds. People like to congregate outside the barn with their goodies, taking in the scenery. “I had fun hanging out with friends out there and I liked the quaintness of the farm … and [that] you could just go and pick wherever you wanted to,” said Elizabeth of the experience. Make sure you refrigerate your apples when you get home. Or get started on those pies, crisps, bars, cakes, dumplings, strudels, applesauce, caramel apples …
Littletree Orchards is located at 345 Shaffer Rd. in Newfield, NY. It is open everyday from 10 a.m. — 6 p.m. For more information, call (607) 564-9246.
Archived article by Cameron Cooper
Red Letter Daze Contributor