Two hundred years ago, John Chapman's calling became clear — to spread apple trees across the American frontier. The entire country has benefited from the man known as Johnny Appleseed, because those apple trees spread with the country all the way to the Washington State. What is more American than apple pie? What is a cuter celebrity name than Apple, Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter. And what is sweeter than hearing you are the apple of someone’s eye. The Big Apple, anyone?
Fall is apple-picking time, and September is National Apple Month. Whether it's a weekend trip or a first date, apple picking is as American as it gets. FWW asked Nancy E. Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, a national trade association, for her five favorite areas in the US for picking apples. Here they are, along with our picks for the best orchards in each.
Hudson Valley, New York
Only an hour or two north of Manhattan, Empire and Red Delicious varieties beg to be picked. There are dozens and dozens of orchards, most open for pick-your-own on weekends through October. Favorite spots include the Wilkins Fruit Farm in Yorktown Heights, Westchester County; Fraleigh's Rose Hill Farm, which has been on these same rolling hills, and in the same family for 200 years, in Red Hook, Dutchess County (845) 758 4215; and the Mead Orchards, also in Dutchess County, in Tivoli. Late in the season, try the firm, juicy, sweet Macouns, an apple developed right in New York State.
Apple Hill, California
In a valley that once grew pears, 16 ranches joined together in 1964 to form a growers’ association. When blight killed off most of the pear trees, ranchers diversified into apples. Today there are 55 ranches in the growers’ association, about an hour from Sacramento, California. Open through December, the Apple Hill fruit and tree farms offer many varieties of apples for picking, along with hayrides, Christmas trees, pumpkin patches, crafts, apple fritters, and homemade apple pies. One of the more low-key places to pick your own is Denver Dan’s, at 4354 Bumblebee Lane, in Camino, California (530)-644- 2893. Or look through the possibilities at the Apple Hill Growers website. In addition to the McIntoshes, try heritage apples like the Spitzenburg.
Fruit Ridge, Michigan
This part of Michigan is rich in orchards, farm markets, and cider mills. There are dozens of pick-your-own farms to choose from. A nice one is Steffens Orchard Market, at 4344 13 Mile Road in Sparta, a farm that’s been in the same family for four generations. Try the Honey Crisps. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm.
Johnny Appleseed planted many of the orchards in Ohio back in the 1880s. It is said that there is still one remaining tree planted by Johnny Appleseed. It is at the Lynd Fruit Farm, at 9090 Morse Road, Pataskala, Ohio, (740-927-1333) where visitors can see a Rambo apple tree (that still produces fruit suitable for applesauce) planted in the 1840s by Johnny Appleseed himself. At the Lynd Fruit Farm, in the same family for eight generations, you can pick your own on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from 9 am to 6 pm. The Honey Crisps will be over this weekend; next up are the Courtlands and the Jonathans. But don’t overlook the late-season Goldrush apple. You won’t see it in stores; because it is yellow, it sometimes has natural brown freckles, and it’s not even symmetrical. But oh, the Goldrush is a crunchy, juicy, spicy, and firm apple, great for hand-eating.
Adams County, Pennsylvania
The National Apple Museum in Biglerville, Pennsylvania, is open weekends through October. At Hollabaugh Brothers, also in Biglerville, there are dozens of varieties. (For hours, call 717-677-9494.) You can pick tart, green Granny Smiths now through October and crisp, sweet Galas (for eating, but not for cooking) from now through November. Their Fujis (Hollabaugh Brothers has both early and regular Fujis) make rocking apple sauce. Hollabaugh’s most popular fall apple, is the deep red, all-around Nittany.