Entering the Fruitful Forest

Gala apples, Ragged Hill Orchard, West Brookfield, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell)

has many attractions:

A FRUITFUL FOREST filled with bright, colorful apples;
home to bluebirds;
lightly fragrant;
beautifully maintained;

delicious, nutritious apples of every size and description;

living sculptures;
an ever-evolving collaboration
between humans and nature;

FIELDS OF FLOWERS for added beauty and pollinators;

BAKERIES, where the heady apple aroma wafts from the orchard and reappears in apple pies, crisp, squares, dumplings, fritters, and turnovers that warm the stomach and perfume the air (and of course, CIDER DONUTS);


ORCHARD STORES with local produce like grapes and pears, pumpkins and gourds, maple syrup and honey, artisan cheese, and other locally made goods;

FALL FESTIVALS that celebrate autumn and the apple in all its splendor;

A chance to SEE HOW YOUR FOOD IS GROWN and meet the people who grow it.

Many New England orchards offer SPECTACULAR VIEWS of the surrounding countryside.

For all of these reasons and more, there’s no better time to visit your local orchard!

From time to time we’ll feature one of New England’s orchards, beginning this week with Rogers Orchards, Southington, Connecticut.

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‘I like the challenge and excitement of a new crop.’


“I like the fact that it changes every year,” says grower John Rogers. (Adrienne Anifant)

A children’s song from the 1973 movie adaptation of Charlotte’s Web pays sweet homage to the interrelationship between the natural passage of time, nature, and humanity:

Mother Earth and Father Time
He moves the seasons around and so she changes her gown
But they always look in their prime
Part of life’s eternal rhyme 
Mother Earth and Father Time

I’m reminded of it as I drive with John Rogers in his pickup between rows of McIntosh, semi-dwarf, free-standing trees at Rogers Orchards in Southington, Connecticut. He speaks with the same reverence for time, Mother Nature, and his part in it. In fact, that is what he likes best about growing apples. 

The May 18 freeze that damaged crops to varying degrees throughout New England spared most of Rogers’s apple crop, although they lost almost all their peaches.  

“You’re dealt a different hand every year. I like the challenge and excitement of a new crop. Our business changes every year depending on what nature has in store for us.” Crop size and apple production in other parts of the country determine the price of apples. 

“I like the fact that it changes every year, and you don’t have to wait long if you have a bad year. If nature has not been kind to you, you just wait a year and things can improve very quickly.”

The truck’s brakes and suspensions squeak as it hits divots in the grassy path. Each tree’s branch twists and coils toward the sun, displaying an abundance of ruby orbs that are currently being picked. This week Rogers is picking McIntosh and Gala.

At the orchard store, buckets line the shelves and concrete floors overflow with crisp, juicy apples of each freshly picked variety. The refrigerators are filled with Rogers’s caramel-colored cider and their homemade salsa. 

Many New England orchards make their own cider donuts, pies, and other baked goods. At Rogers’ bakery, customers drive from miles to buy their apple, Dutch apple, apple-cranberry, apple-raspberry, blueberry and old-fashioned peach pies. A baker brings out a tray of piping hot apple-cider donuts and generously coats them in snow-white sugar. The bakery also makes apple dumplings, donut holes, and apple fritters.

Click on the apple or orchard’s name to learn more about it!

(Adrienne Anifant)

Parents hold the hands of tow-headed toddlers while pulling a red wagon with the other hand as they all walk toward the pick-your-own orchard. This week customers can pick GalaHoneycrispCortland, McIntosh, and Jonamac

John Rogers is the seventh generation of apple growers spanning more than 200 years. The orchard grows more than 20 apple varieties and sells them in two locations, Rogers Orchards Shuttle Meadow and Rogers Orchards Sunnymount. Along with sons Jeff and Pete, and son-in-law Greg, Rogers utilizes cutting-edge technologies in renewable energy and environmentally sustainable farming.

Many New England orchards are working to protect the environment and reduce energy costs by adding solar panels and dedicated plantings for pollinators, and Rogers is no exception.

Every new orchard that Rogers plants in the spring is irrigated with a well. New, semi-dwarf trees are planted along a four-wire trellis, increasing production. A drip irrigation system is an efficient way to water.

Rogers’s solar panels have produced 102 percent capacity of their last five-year average, so they sell electricity back to Eversource, Connecticut’s electrical supplier.

Up a small, grassy hill from the pick-your-own stand is Rogers’s newest endeavor: a new cidery that opened Labor Day weekend. Jeff Rogers turned a vintage 1954 harvester flatbed into a cider truck. Long View Ciderhouse offers a breathtaking view of the valley and the town of Southington. On a clear day, you can see New Haven and the vertical lines of Hartford’s skyscrapers. 

To the right of the cider truck are Macoun and Honeycrisp trees, plus EverCrisp and Cripps Pink (Pink Lady) that will mature in mid- to late October. 

“We’re experimenting with a lot of botanicals, herbs, and berries to bring new flavors to our ciders,” says Jeff. “We’ve grafted cider varieties on 112 Red Delicious trees. 

“This ciderhouse was the piece that fit into the orchard’s greater puzzle. There is just a good fit. We throw less out, and that is exciting for me to not waste food and keep the farm sustainable.” Jeff showed me the label on one of the 15 milliliters bottles of cider. It has a quote from Virgil, “Let the children gather fruit.”

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NEW APPLE VARIETIES are always emerging, discovered by chance in nature of developed in an apple breeding program. Pink Luster was released just last year by Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York. It is sweet and juicy, with a hint of pear evoking its Imperial Gala parent, the characteristic crunch of its second parent, Honeycrisp, and a distinctive pink color with a yellow blush. We’ll have Honeycrisp and Pink Lusters from Ragged Hill Orchard in West Brookfield; Cortlands from Breezelands Orchards, Warren; Spartans from Dowse Orchards, Sherborn; Galas from Nestrovich Fruit Farm, Granville; and Red Gravensteins from Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, plus Carlson Orchards fresh cider and apple baked goods at the New England Apples booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”). Open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Sunday, October 1. (Russell Steven Powell)

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