Growing up in New Hampshire, apple picking is rite of passage. If you never went with your parents, then you certainly went on a class trip sometime during elementary school. Every September and October, bus-loads of 6-year-olds travel to orchards all over the state learning about the different kinds of apples, how to properly pick an apple and if they’re lucky, how apple cider is made.
I grew up down the street from an orchard, so I was exposed to a wide variety of apple dishes at an early age – apple crisp, apple cobbler, apple sauce, baked apples and of course, apple pie. I remember my mother peeling apples for hours for her annual pie bake. When I was old enough, she recruited me to peel some too. Hot apple pie ala mode was my reward.
I am far too busy and not nearly talented enough in the pastry-making department to carrying on this tradition, but I do try to hit an apple orchard every year for a small bag and a little time outdoors. Apple orchards just happen to be some of the most beautiful spots in the state, especially if you catch one on a sunny fall day as the leaves are changing.
My family and I decided to take a trip to a few of the lesser-known orchards this fall, one on the east side of the state, the other on the west. The first place we found is Miller Farm in New Durham. This small operation is not easy to find. After pulling off Route 11, the main road in New Durham, you twist and wind your way through ever-narrowing back country roads before finally spotting the small farm on the side of a hill. When my husband and I first arrived, we were the only customers there. A man emerged from the house, gave us a few Market Basket plastic bags and pointed us in the right direction.
“So are there any special varieties out there?” I asked.
“Nope. Just taste a few and pick the ones you like,” he said.
The laid-back attitude didn’t end there. A beautiful black and white dog roamed the farm, occasionally stopping to sniff my shoes. Guinea hens, which kind of resemble partridges, clucked about in the yard, and off the back of the barn was a large corral containing one large horse that became a little friendlier when I fed him some apples.
The orchards were small, but the trees were chock full of apples. There were Red Delicious, Macoun, Cortland, MacIntosh and a few Golden Delicious. We strolled through the trees, snacking on what looked good and every few minutes stopping to throw a few in the bag. We picked 15 pounds. It cost $17. Last year I went to a larger apple orchard which shall remain nameless. I picked less than 5 pounds. That cost me $20. Miller Farm was definitely a bargain.
This weekend, we headed to the Monadnock Region to visit my husband’s family and decided to make a trip to Old Ciderpress Farm in Westmoreland. This is less of a hard spot to find, with only a few turns and a short drive down a dirt road to get there. As the name suggests this spot specializes in cider, and this cider is about as fresh as it gets. When we purchased our half gallon, we were told it had been pressed that morning. The press was still sitting outside.
Here we found another relaxed operation – a small orchard with nothing but a small stand outside their garage. They didn’t have any bags of picked apples at that time, so they offered to send someone down to pick a variety for us. We opted for pick-your-own. Once we arrived in the selected picking area, we found the selection ample, the apples big and the taste delicious.
Many orchards in New Hampshire will have apples on the trees up until Halloween, so there is still plenty of time to pick a bag. Most small growers don’t advertise or even have a website, so your best bet for finding a small orchard is the New Hampshire Fruit Growers Association. Good luck and happy picking.