WESTMORELAND — From sauces, pies and cider to taking a crisp, juicy bite, New York apples are ready to be picked at the local orchards, a favorite fall past-time for several area families.
George Joseph, owner of North Star Orchards, 4741 Route 233, said he “leap frogged” into the u-pick season this year, opening one week earlier than most growers. Despite some showers and gray clouds, apple aficionados came out as early as Saturday morning and got into the apple tree fields.
“In spite of the rain, people have come out to pick,” Joseph said. “Some people are so predictable, they’re the first out to pick every year. Some we’ve seen 3-4 years running. I guess we’ve created a tradition.”
As for their apples, North Star wanted to create the same phenomenon for the fall as their new tulip plantings did in the spring — a first-time endeavor that turned out to be very successful, the owner said.
“We wanted to create something that draws people. Back in the spring we ordered 50,000 tulip bulbs, but it was so wet, we couldn’t plant them,” Joseph explained. “We had $10,000 worth of tulips, so we got out the backhoe, dug holes and threw them in. Then the spring was so wet, we didn’t know how we’d be able to get people out into the field. Then the Wednesday before Mothers Day we only went on social media and announced that on that Saturday, we’d be open for tulips, and I’m telling you, there were lines and cars parked on the road. It took customers an hour-and-a-half to get out on the wagon. That goes to show you what social media does but two, people just crave something different.”
North Star plans on more tulips — doubling the bulbs to 100,000 — next spring, but in the meantime, staff is gearing up for the droves of apple lovers hitting the fields.
“We grow close to 20 varieties — some have been outdated and some are new, exciting varieties — there’s probably at least 200 different varieties” of apples, Joseph said. “People are kind of overwhelmed with the new varieties. We still have McIntosh, Cortland and New England Northern Spy, and then the next-generation Crispin, Macoun and Empire.”
The orchard also features the apple that “revolutionized” the apply industry — the Honeycrisp, the grower said. The variety is known to maintain its “crispness” even if it’s been hanging out on the tree for a while, he said, while others, like the Macoun, tend to lose their “snap.”
“The Snapdragon and Evercrisp — all these other new varieties have evolved along the lines of the Honeycrisp, which changed the way people look at apples,” Joseph said. “But with all the varieties out there, it can get overwhelming because there’s too many. At least we’re a small enough orchard, if people are unsure of an apple, we let them taste it.”
“Some people wait for certain ones to become available,” he continued. “As far as baking and cooking, we have the traditional ones. We use Idareds for our baking, and when the Cortlands start, we’ll switch to them for a while and then go back to the Idas, and then the Pippins and Northern Spy’s.”
North Star Orchards takes great pride in using its homegrown apples to make applesauce, available for purchase in its store/bakery. Joseph said he doesn’t use any additives and relies on the apples’ natural sweetness.
“We don’t put anything in it,” he said. “It’s just cooked apples. It goes through a processor, but if I use Crispin or Golden Delicious, it takes a yellow color. Other apples take on a brown color because of the natural sugar in them, so it doesn’t always look appetizing. Everyone wants a rosy applesauce, and sometimes we’ll throw in other apples to tone down the coloring, but it’s all natural. We bake our apples to make applesauce, rather than put them on the stove and cook them down.”
Joseph said he’ll make large batches of applesauce — about 100 pounds — that’s done in “literally” an hour.
“So what we’ll do is freeze it,” he said. “And we’ll pull it out as we need it, because we don’t put any preservatives in it. It’s gotten so people will ask if I have any frozen, and then they’ll pop in their freezers when they get home and pull it out as they need it. Once the Cortlands are ready, we’ll be making applesauce next week.”
Like its pumpkins, which will be ready for harvest at the same time, wagon rides into the fields for u-pickers will begin in October.
Joseph ensured local residents that despite the very rainy, cool spring, temperatures heated up in the summer, which resulted in a decent year for growing apples.
The apples available at North Star “are diverse here,” he said. “We start them in the greenhouse, then they lay out on plastic, so we have a different way of growing that kind of stuff. So I think it’s a pretty good year. The apples got water when they needed it. Across the board, I think most crops did well.”
Apples at North Star Orchards run $10 for a 1 Peck Bag (11-12 pounds). Bags will be sold in the store and at the kiosk. Bushel bags (22-24 pounds) are $15. Varieties include Jonamac, McIntosh, Empire, Northern Spy, Ida Red and Golden Delicious.
Also at North Star, Joseph said local residents should keep their eyes and ears open for U-pick Concord grapes at his orchard as well.
“Ninety percent of what we sell are table grapes, and a lot of people may use them to make jam,” he said. “We have 2 acres of Concord grapes that we grew as an experiment, and they’re actually doing quite well, who knew? We ask customers to check our availability of U-pick grapes, and we’ll try to figure out how we can organize that.”
Soon North Star Orchards will also be squeezing its own fresh grape juice that will be for sale along with its apple cider, Joseph said.
Other area growers:
Critz Farms, 3232 Rippleton Road, Cazenovia
U-pickers during the week can stop into the gift shop for your picking bags and directions to the orchard. Pickers will be able to drive or walk out to the orchard on week days. On the weekends, staff will greet customers in front of the barn and wagon rides will take pickers to the orchard. When returning from the orchard, customers can weigh their apples in the barn and pay in the gift shop. Pick-your-own apples are 99-cents per pound, and U-Pick opened on Sept. 14.
Also open will be the The Critz Farms Brewing & Cider Company, which began as the Harvest Moon Cidery at Critz Farms. Established in 2011, the Farm Winery is the culmination of years of planning and experimenting with product development. Hard ciders are all made from a base of the farm’s fresh sweet cider, fermented with champagne yeast, then blended with either maple syrup, honey or fruit juice, to create a variety of products.
Now through Oct. 20 the orchard will feature its annual Fall Harvest Celebration every weekend. Critz Farms offers apple and pumpkin picking, wagon rides, its gigantic Butterfly Garden Corn Maze, cider making demonstrations, playgrounds, Critz Critter Animal Area, Cow Train, tasting room with handcrafted hard cider and beer, gift shop, cafe, entertainment, music and special events.
Admission $8.50 per person, under age 2 is free, seniors are $5. Admission covers all activities and entertainment. Purchase of crops, gifts, food, etc. are additional. The price includes a season pass for free admission and unlimited access for the remainder of the season.