As I write this today, the autumnal equinox is upon us, and the last strains of summer fade into memory (sigh). With that, however, my second favorite season begins: fall, a.k.a., apple season!
After waking up to some beautiful blue skies on Sunday, and with Julian recovered from his fever and bounding with energy, John and I decided it was the perfect day for apple pickin’. For years ,we’d been going to an orchard up in Monmouth County (the same one my parents took me to when I was a kid) for some apples right off the tree, lazing about in the cool sunshine, and homemade cider doughnuts fried right before your eyes and served hot. In recent years, however, more people found out about the place, it got a bit more crowded, and the fresh doughnuts changed to pre-fried and packaged doughnuts. Last year was the last straw, though: the state of the orchard, packed with cars, over-picked trees, and garbage (including broken glass bottles) strewn about by careless visitors convinced us it was time to permanently give up our traditional spot. This year, we decided to try something farther away- Heritage Station in Richwood, NJ. Yes, it was a drive (near Glassboro), but what a day for a drive!
We were drawn to this farm not only for the variety of fruit grown (peaches, and plums in the summer, pears, apples, pumpkins and Concord grapes in the fall) and traditional fall fun like hayrides and a bakery/store stocked with fruit-related goodies to munch, but also because this one had a winery. Since 2001, Heritage Station has been planting wine grapes and bottling their own wines- so we had to check out this setup.
When we arrived, we hopped on the $2.00 hayride (kids are free) out to the orchards. The man driving the tractor seemed to be enjoying himself and was happy to point out the orchard to us; though they were finished picking the Galas and the McIntosh and it was full season for Red Delicious and Stayman Winesap, we were more interested in the Golden Delicious. So there were were, happily picking away, munching on apples in the grass in a serene setting. Sure there were other people there, but it was not even close to being overrun. We then took a short walk over to the Concord grapes, which I have never had outside of Concord grape jelly. Wow. They really are a special grape: sweet and perfume-y in the mouth, very distinct-but we could see why they were never a table grape. The skin was tough and tannin-y and the pulp, though soft, had a gooey texture. I liked them enough to pick a few to nibble as a novelty, but they are better suited to jam and jelly (maybe next year I’ll try my hand at it). Next, we strolled over to the pear trees. As delicious as the fruit were, they seemed a bit puny and over-picked; we managed to get a few good Boscs, but supplemented with the ones that had already been picked at the market (yum).
On the way back to the main market and store area, Julian stopped to admire and pet some of the farm animals- goats, chickens, and a really cranky cow (she frequently let go of a really loud and annoyed “moo”).
The wine tasting area is located in the store, and John decided to check some of it out. They had all of the old winery standards: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chambourcin, as well as sweet fruit wines (peach, apple, sugar plum, sour cherry, and blueberry). John’s conclusion? “Pretty good, but nothing to make me want to buy a bottle.” I noticed on their listing several wines that won awards, but were for “purchase only”. I never understood that practice at wineries-perhaps if they had limited tastings of those wines to show them off, one would be more tempted to buy it!
As for the small bakery area, I really couldn’t say much. By the time we were finished, it was near closing time- the pumpkin doughnuts and all sorts of goodies were gone, and the coffee bar appeared closed. They did sell a bottled peach cider (fresh pressed nectar and sugar), which was fun to drink in limited quantities-damn it was sweet! It would be really good diluted with a little seltzer, I think.
After all that fun in the now hot September sunshine, we sat for a spell in a few rockers on the porch and contemplated our next move: dinner. But that’s Tuesday’s post, kids.