When the season changes to fall, there are a few things to check off the old family to-do list.
And up near the top has to be apple picking.
There’s just something about piling in the old family station wagon for a trip to the local orchard. We’re pretty lucky around these parts to have two fantastic options when it comes to your favorite varieties – Carter Hill Orchard (73 Carter Hill Road) and Apple Hill Farm (580 Mountain Road). And the best thing is that each locale lets you wander out into their orchards to pick the ones you want to take home.
At this time of year, the best apples are McIntosh, Cortland, Gala and Honey Crisp. They all typically ripen at different times in September, but because of the recent warm weather they seem to be ready a little earlier than what you’d normally expect. But there’s nothing wrong with a few options to choose from, because picking apples is all about what you plan to do with them. And there are more varieties to choose from coming soon.
Let’s be honest, though – apple picking isn’t nearly as time-consuming as, say, blueberries, raspberries or strawberries. Once you’ve made your way into the spot that’s open for picking, it takes only a few minutes to fill a bag of apples. And that’s why you’ve probably noticed over the years that farms offer more and more things to make it a place where you want to spend more than the 10 or so minutes it takes to pick.
It’s all about the experience, because more often than not, people aren’t happening upon an orchard and saying, “Let’s go pick some apples.” Usually, picking apples is a destination type event, so the more things available to do, the longer people will enjoy their time – and hopefully come back year after year.
“People want more to do, so we try to offer different things,” said Carter Hill manager Todd Larocque.
Both Apple Hill and Carter Hill offer hayrides on the weekends, which is a pretty big hit with kids and adults alike, they said.
Each Concord orchard also has playgrounds for the little ones, filled with slides and vehicles, sand and swings. Those are just some of the options that parents (like us) enjoy seeing for an afternoon at the farm.
Carter Hill, as you may have already read, makes apple cider doughnuts just about every day, and all day on the weekends. They also have fresh-made cider available in its country store, along with whoopie pies, regular pies, cookies and fruits and vegetables grown at the farm or close by. And don’t forget about the pumpkins.
Apple Hill has a new addition to its food scene with a red food truck that will be serving its house-made cider by the glass, apple crisp and pie, and cheeses, but the variety will likely change from weekend to weekend. They also have a great country store that sells pies and other treats made at the farm, along with its apple cider, fruits and veggies, flowers, and cheeses, meats and desserts brought in from other local businesses.
“We all try to do something a little different,” said Apple Hill owner Chuck Souther. “It’s really turned into an experience.”
Carter Hill has a raptor observatory that is manned every day at this time of year from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by the N.H. Audubon. You can borrow a pair of binoculars and watch for migrating birds, which will be happening through Nov. 20, weather permitting.
Sure, you can go and pick a bunch of apples, pay for them and be one your way, but where’s the fun in that?
You should make a day of it – take a hayride, snap a few photos, grab some food (the apple cider doughnuts at both places are great) and hang out for a while. Depending on when you go, you could even pack a picnic.
“You can wander around the orchard and pick, then pick a pumpkin and get some doughnuts. There’s a lot to keep busy,” Larocque said.
Prime apple picking season is right about now, so make sure you get out there and grab a few off the trees. Who knows, maybe this will be the year to start a new tradition.
“We want people to come and stay,” Souther said. “It’s all about having something to do for a certain chunk of the day. You’ve got to give them what they want.”
There are lots of varieties to choose from, both pick-your-own and already picked for you at the farmstands. And since there are more kinds of apples to come, you can really go back a few times this fall.
“It’s all about what you like for a flavor,” Larocque said.
Apple Hill is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., while Carter Hill is open each day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.