Despite regional flood damage from Hurricane Irene, New York apple country is thriving and our charming villages are greatly recovered.
I was thrilled to take 20 kids from Hour Children apple picking at Wilklow Orchards, in an historic area of the Hudson Valley under two hours north of New York City. Thanks to a sponsorship from super-chic Z Hotel in NYC and the orchard’s discount, the kids enjoyed a hay ride, hay jump, a greenhouse filled with crafts and inflated bouncy play rooms, farm fresh snacks and carried home bags of apples that they picked themselves! Wilklow is not only kid friendly, but welcomes leashed dogs too!
The time is still right to pick apples in New York State, our nation’s second largest grower of this more beloved fruit. Click here to learn where to come pick your own apples! And every orchard is surrounded by other delightful attractions.
You can skip the crowds by visiting a farm on a weekday. Wilklow Orchards, for example, is open for picking from Labor day weekend to Halloween, October 31st, 9-5 daily. You’ll find a great assortment of apples, including Macintosh, Gala, Cortland, Jonamac, Empire, Jonagold, Mutsu, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome. I saved room in my bag for gourmet Winesap! For an authentic taste of New York heritage, seek out the Northern Spy. Chefs love this crisp and tasty apple with an uber-cool name and you will too. It originated in New York more than two hundred years ago.
Many orchards will supply you with a pre-priced bag to fill with apples and a “picker pole” to reach high branches, but most trees are grafted to dwarf rootstock. Alexander the Great, who was a wee bit on the short side, is credited with introducing this innovation to Europe from Turkey and Central Asia.
Apples love slopes because water drains well of them. I’ve been planting apple trees on berms in New York City through the Newtown Pippin Restoration and Celebration. Though in Highland, NY, Wilklow Orchards gave me a little hint of what it might be like to visit the ancestral apple forest, which still grows in the lower Tian Shan (“cellestial” or “heavenly”) mountain range of Kazakhstan. At Wilklow Orchards, two apple rich slopes meet in a quiet and clear valley stream.
One of the funnier moments in our day was when I deduced the source of the kids’ shared wave of concern that the orchard might be full of snakes. It turns out they associated snakes with fruit trees from the story of the Garden of Eden. Imagine that each of of the hundreds of fruit trees before them might be home to its own snake and you’ll understand the dark anxiety that manifested itself on a bright day. A few minutes of explanation and the kids were raring to get back to apple picking!
The kids made a pact to bring snacks and apples for others in their families and at Hour Children to share, and to each contribute an apple for making apple sauce. Their yield was a bit dented, however, when they met some very friendly, curious and hungry goats! If goats are anything like sheep, however, at least the kids will be fondly remembered.
Next the kids burned off some apple energy by romping in the activity greenhouse, which features carnival “bounce rooms” and in the hay jump. The hay jump’s surrounded by pumpkins, inspiring a yearning to see pumpkin patches! The farm’s hay ride furthered their explorations.
I’m grateful to the Green Heart NY program of I LOVE NEW YORK , the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the New York Apple Association for such a doubly special day — I got to share wonderful places with kids who need these experiences while promoting local farms to boot.