Much like leaf-watching, maple-tapping, and throwing tea into perfectly good harbors, apple-picking is one of those great New England traditions. It’s as American as, well, the apple pie made with the apples you picked.
Last weekend, I got to pile onto a school bus with fifty-odd people from my dorm and drive out to an apple orchard in Stow, Massachusetts. (Stow is so classically colonial that we drove past more than one house flying the original thirteen-star revolutionary flag.)
I was expecting New England fall weather, and Cambridge certainly obliged with grey skies and damp air. An hour west, though, after the back of the bus had gotten tired of caterwauling the Pokémon theme song and thoroughly rickrolled the rest of us, the clouds opened up into a beautiful near-summery day.
The orchard grows twenty-five kinds of apple and five kinds of pear, along with peaches, damson plums, pumpkins, and a smattering of other vegetables which aren’t pick-your-own. I learned that different varieties of apple have slightly different growing seasons, so when we visited, the in-season trees were McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Golden Supreme, Empire, Gala, and Cortland apples, and Bosc pears.
I split a ten-pound bag of apples with a friend, and we both left with easily enough apples for a month. The McIntosh and Empire trees were dripping with gorgeous ripe fruit, not the plum-pudding sort of apple or two per branch you see in drawings, but entire branches heavy with the weight of the dozen apples lining them.
The Honeycrisp and Gala rows were pretty thoroughly picked, so we ended up using ladders to get to the remaining apples higher up on the trees. The ladders at the orchard were triangular, which is an ingenious design I hadn’t seen before: having only one point of contact means the ladder can be braced securely with no risk of slipping sideways if a branch bends under the weight.
After we’d filled our bag to the brim with apples and pears, we stopped in at the orchard store to pick up cider donuts and freshly-pressed cider, and barely resisted the temptation of jar upon jar of apple butter, apple salsa, and wildflower honey. (The orchard store also had cider slushies, which someone on my hall tried; apparently they’re tasty, but I’m still very dubious.)
The whole trip was a lot of fun, more for the social activity and the quintessential New England-ness of it than apple-picking being inherently thrilling. That said, there’s not much that can match the feeling of biting into a perfectly crisp, barely-sweet apple that you just pulled from the tree yourself.