Crisp, clear days, cool nights, and apple blossoms turned to sweet and tangy fruit. It’s fall in New England; time to get outdoors and savor the sun while it’s still warm.
Apple picking is one of the best ways to seize the season. You’ll find plenty of farms and orchards throughout New England ready to host this family-friendly activity, one with the sweetest rewards. There are hundreds of options to choose from, but here’s one highlight from each state in the region, just to give you a head start.
Connecticut: Bell Town Hill Orchards — More than 24 varieties of apples are ready for picking into early November. Upon arrival, folks at Bell Town Hill will offer advice on choosing the best apples, how to store them, and how to prepare them for freezing. There is also a chart on hand, detailing the texture, flavor, uses, and storage of all the different varieties. You can pick the ones that best suit your taste preferences. Apples are priced by the pound – you grab a bag or a box and head out to find the ones you like. — 483 Matson Hill Road, South Glastonbury Conn., belltownorchards.com
Rhode Island: Barden Family Orchard — Started by John and Hazel Barden in 1931, the orchard has seen current owners, the Barden grandchildren, build on their base, expand the crops, open a farm stand, and produce their own apple cider, right on the premises. Picking season here runs through October (or the first hard freeze). Priced by the peck or bushel, the orchard is open daily. There is an apple picking chart with information on what varieties are qualities available on any given day. They encourage pickers to sample apples along the way to find the ones they like best. There are even dwarf trees which present apples within easy reach for children. Hayrides are offered on Sundays between Columbus Day and Halloween. — 56 Elmdale Road, North Scituate, R.I., bardenfamilyorchard.com
Massachusetts: Shelburne Farm — Only 20 miles west of Boston, you will find more than 90 varieties of apples at Shelburne Farm in Stow. At the farm, you can watch cider donuts being made and sample them along with some fresh mulled cider and apple crisp. Children will particularly like the John Deere playground, where they can climb aboard a tractor or harvester combine. Alpacas, goats, bunnies, miniature donkeys, and baby chicks are ready to greet families at the petting zoo, and giant steps of hay are great for climbing, not to mention burning off excess energy. Enjoy performances of local musicians on harvest weekends. — 106 West Acton Road, Stow, shelburnefarm.com
New Hampshire: Windy Ridge Orchard — Like the numerous other orchards all over the state, Windy Ridge Orchard offers a variety of apples with prime picking times into October. The family-friendly animals living there – donkeys, goats, and sheep – are always ready to visit with the orchard’s guests. There are even walking trails around the farm, where you can view mountains, an old beaver pond, a logging dam, and a deer path. There are two main trails. Combined, they form a loop, taking you to the newest orchard on property. A adventure trail leads children on an exploration to learn about New Hampshire’s flora and fauna. Don’t miss the Cider House Café offerings which, of course, include cider, as well as coffee, sandwiches, cider donuts, apple crisp, and other baked goods. — 1775 Benton Hill Road, North Haverhill, N.H., windyridgeorchard.com
Vermont: Burtt’s Apple Orchard — The state of Vermont designated the apple as its state fruit in 1999. Today, according to the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association, the state produces about one million bushels – equivalent to about 40 million pounds – of apples each year. Orchards around the state grow more that 150 varieties of apples. Burtt’s Apple Orchard, in Cabot, produces about 40 varieties in their you-pick orchards. All ages can scout for the golden apple using a handout with clues (the reward is a cider donut, named by one reviewer as “the best warm cider doughnut on the planet.”) Another hunt, this one for a wooden apple, earns the winner a gift certificate to Jay Peak Resort. You can also try your hand at the apple sling-shot or the corn maze. — 283A Cabot Plains Road, Cabot, burttsappleorchard.com
Maine: Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchards — Maine has many orchards, particularly in the Kennebec Valley area. One long-standing farm is Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchards, in Cumberland. The Sweetser family planted its first apple trees in the late 1830s. Since then, generations of the Sweetser family have created a beautiful orchard with more than 54 varieties of apples. Currently, three generations live on and maintain the farm, which consists of 14 acres of orchards and more than 1,100 apple trees. In addition, the Apple Barrel Market carries all varieties of their apples and fresh apple cider as well as pies, pastries, coffee, cheese, and more, all from local growers and businesses. — 19 Blanchard Road, Cumberland Center, maineapple.com