Michael Davis Photo
When I was growing up, we had a pear tree in the back yard. It was nice and tall, and produced a lot of fruit. But I never cared much for it—because it wasn’t an apple tree.
A visit to the apple orchard when I was in kindergarten started it all, the cider press demonstration to be specific. Apples meant fall fun. Nobody bobs for pears on Halloween or dips them in caramel, after all. I was convinced—apples were way cooler than pears.
Now that I’m an adult, I still don’t have my own apple tree, but there are few things I love more about being a New Yorker than apple harvest time. Each September and October, I relish the visits to local orchards to collect the annual bounty—by the peck.
My sons, now 7 and 10, have learned that whether they want to or not, they are going to be eating a lot of apples from the time school starts until Christmas. Luckily, they are almost as fond of the fruit as I am; it may have something to do with the fact that during both my pregnancies, apples were my lifeline. In the early months, they were one of the few non-starchy foods I could eat. So, I ate up to five a day. Those boys may be part Empire, for all I know.
My husband’s family is full of Italian immigrants who cultivated wonderful little gardens out of yard space barely the dimensions of a king-sized mattress. He doesn’t necessarily share my enthusiasm for apples; his more sophisticated palate prefers currants, pomegranates and figs. My husband lost his father when he was 3, and his mother never owned a car. There were no leisurely trips out to the country for apple picking. But now my husband joins us on our apple adventures.
Like ours, many Central New York families head to the orchards in the fall. The LaFayette hills—where we like to go—offer good conditions for the trees and the orchards offer a mental reprieve for busy people. Thankfully, I have yet to see anyone texting while apple picking. There’s just something about the crisp, fall air; the fall colors; the connection with the harvest season. It’s the only time I can ignore my fear of bees and not run screaming at the mere sight of them (and there are lots hovering around an apple orchard). And, let’s face it, we just love apples—and cider, pies, sauce, doughnuts and dumplings.
I like an apple that is fleshy and crisp, with a sweet-tart flavor. Empires and Cortlands fit the bill perfectly; Macouns; our surprise “favorites” last year, Galas and Paula Reds, are also pretty darn good. Macintosh? Too bland unless they are doused with cinnamon and baked into a pie. Red Delicious? I’ll pass on that cafeteria and fruit basket staple, but I hear that many people like them.
My boys are natural climbers, so getting the apples often becomes something of a competition: who gets the biggest ones, who gets the reddest ones, who eats the most when they should be putting them in the bags (oh, that’s usually me). Apple picking has also instilled in them a respect for farming and the hard work that goes into maintaining the trees. When we bring the day’s pickings home, they actually take pride in the fact that they did something that required some effort, and the whole family can enjoy the results. Fun and educational? That’s my kind of outing.
In our house, we like our apples raw and unprocessed. I’ve been known to bake an occasional pie, and I’ve gotten quite good at apple crisp. Other than that, I simply keep a steady supply in the kitchen fruit bowl and they gradually disappear. My kids know that if they are hungry and ask for an apple, the answer is always “yes.”
The local apple crop was ready a bit earlier than usual this year, thanks to the warm weather last spring. I couldn’t wait to get some New York apples after settling for imported Fujis the last few months. But I didn’t think I could bring myself to go apple picking in shorts in the August heat. Apple picking means boots and my fall jacket—sometimes even a pair of gloves! Oh well, some traditions are meant to be broken. With temperatures in the mid-80s, we went out and picked Paula Reds. A little bit of heaven on earth came early to Central New York this year, and you can find it in a tidy little red package.
Award-winning writer Tammy DiDomenico lives in DeWitt with her husband and two sons.
Picking in Central New York
Central New York boasts an abundance of commercial and private growers, many of which have pick-your-own orchards. A few are listed here.
3232 Rippleton Road, Cazenovia
3275 Cold Springs Road, Baldwinsville
Beak & Skiff Apple Farms
2701 Route 80, LaFayette
Deer Run Farms
2695 Route 11A, LaFayette
Emmi & Sons
1482 West Genesee Road, Route 370, Baldwinsville
Leubner Apple Farm
1432 Whiting Road, Jordan
Route 20, LaFayette
3669 Route 20, Syracuse
4872 Route 20, LaFayette