Appreciating The Pick-Your-Own Peak

Honeycrisp apple, Easy Pickin’s Orchard, Enfield, Connecticut. (Russell Steven Powell)

NEW ENGLAND APPLE ORCHARDS hit their sensory peak in September and October, making now the perfect time to pick your own fruit (or at least visit an orchard store!). 

Pick-your-own has many virtues, beginning with fresh air and exercise. The orchard is a beautiful and healthy place.

Many New England orchards are planted on higher elevations or hillsides, providing stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

PICK-YOUR-OWN allows people to commune with nature and come home with great food, eaten fresh or cooked.

The trees and the grass beneath them are lush and green, pleasantly muffling sounds. Birds, distant tractors, or other sounds can be heard, but for the most part the orchard is a quiet place. 

The red, green, and gold apples on the trees are dazzling to the eye, their profusion overwhelming at times.

McIntosh apples, Foppema’s Farm, Whitinsville, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell)

The air is lightly scented with apples, and the experience climaxes with the rich, tactile pleasure of grasping an apple in one’s hand and biting into its crisp, juicy flesh. 

From tart to sweet, it is the taste of New England.

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PICK-YOUR-OWN allows people to see how and where their food is grown. It provides opportunities for dialogue and feedback, strengthening the connection between grower and consumer.

Not everyone, of course, can physically navigate the orchard. But whether in an orchard store or a supermarket’s produce aisles, everyone can experience New England apples at their sensory peak.

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Zestar! apples, Foppema’s Farm, Whitinsville, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell)

PICK-YOUR-OWN has its roots in the Depression, when prices dropped so low in Wisconsin that cherry growers could no longer sell their fruit profitably to wholesalers. Rather than lose their entire crops, growers began to invite people to pick cherries at a discounted price.

But the practice of allowing consumers to pick their own fruit did not begin in earnest until the 1970s, about the same time that the trend toward smaller trees began. It has flourished ever since.

There were earlier examples. From Apples of New England:

“Virtually every year apple growers somewhere in New England are hit with disaster. A hailstorm in the late 1960s drove Lyman Orchards, Middlefield, Connecticut, into the pick-your-own business.

” ‘The crop was devastated, and we could not sell it wholesale,’ says Jack Lyman Sr., ‘so we opened the orchard to the general public, allowing them to come in and pick half-bushel paper bags for 75 cents.’ ”

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Gala apples, Easy Pickin’s Orchard, Enfield, Connecticut. (Russell Steven Powell)

CALL AHEAD to see what’s picking. Not all varieties ripen at once.

Find your favorite orchard (or try a new one!) with our Orchard Finder.

Leave your dog at home. Most orchards love pets, but not among the fruit trees.

Do not climb the trees. They can suffer damage. Treat trees and apples with care!

Wear suitable clothing. Many orchards are on hillsides, some have tall (or wet) grass. Wear good shoes and avoid stepping on the “drops.”

These and other suggestions for visiting a pick-your-own orchard are described in this short video:

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Each month and the front and back covers feature a different New England orchard, 14 in all!

Every month includes a health tip and a photograph and description of a different apple variety grown in New England.

A list of some of New England’s finest apple orchards, with contact information, appears inside the back cover.

Order yours now by sending $10 to: New England Apple Calendar, PO Box 41, Hatfield, MA 01038