I call the part of the state where I grew up “Western New York” because NYC natives call the whole state upstate and might think I mean Westchester. Also I just like Western New York better. If you drive fifteen minutes out of our suburb you start spotting farm markets all over. The area is full of them, which made this weekend—and every October weekend I’ve been at home ever—fun, and more importantly, delicious.
Over the course of a weekend visit I go to four of these farm markets. This is not a record for us—we’re farm market marathoners. The first is a farm that is especially known for its apple cider. We’ve been going there as long as I can remember, and my parents have already been there three times this season. Inside the market there’s a giant cider press where you can watch the apples get peeled and turned into cider while tasting a free sample. My mom and I pick up a gallon of cider, then head over to the bakery section to buy some cinnamon donuts and donut holes.
The next day we hit three markets—two near each other and one on the other side of town. This might sound ambitious, but three farmer’s markets on a weekend day is pretty average for us, and when I lived at home we often went to the markets a few different weekends in October. We’d pick apples one weekend and visit the pumpkin patch another weekend.
This time we start with a large farm market that puts up huge cornstalk teepees every year. The owners carve hundreds of pumpkins and display them inside the teepees. It’s always fun to see what kinds of faces and images they choose to carve, and they’re always skillfully done. One of my favorites this time has a piece of candy corn carved on it, with the pumpkin carved through to represent one color and more lightly scraped to represent the others. We visit the farm’s animals (including burros, a miniature pony, and a free-roaming peacock) before stepping inside the market to pick up some of my favorite sugar cookies.
After devouring two cookies in the car, I’m ready to pick apples across town at another farm. We’ve been picking apples here since I was little, back when filling a half bushel with apples seemed to take forever (and carrying it back to the car was hard work). The store is small and beautifully decorated. It’s filled with jars of preserves and packages of honey, flowers and a glass case with delicious baked goods, and many other things that are fun to pick up and look at. Out behind the store is a barn set up with tables and bushels of apples. It’s used both for informal lunches and special events, from tastings to weddings.
We pick up a half bushel basket and head out to the orchard. When we first started to pick our own apples, years ago, we went with McIntosh apples. Macs are juicy and tart. One season we missed the Macs and the folks at the farm recommended we try Empire apples. We did, and we’ve never looked back. They’re apparently a cross between Macs and Red Delicious (of which I’m not a fan), and while still tart they’re a little sweeter than Macs, a little smaller, and a little firmer. Out in the orchard, there are a few rows of Empires, with some trees picked over and a few still covered with apples. We fill our bushel and take a minute to sample our haul. Perfect.
After apple picking we check out the farm’s selection of pumpkins and choose one suitable for carving. We pay for the apples and pumpkin and drive back toward town. Our last stop is a big farm where we often cut down our Christmas trees. In past Octobers we’d sometimes take a hayride out to their pumpkin patch and pick out our pumpkins there, then explore their massive corn maze, but today we just check out their silly pumpkinhead scarecrows and buy a gourd at their produce stand. Maybe we’ll be back at Thanksgiving for a tree…
My other October weekends are packed, so unfortunately I won’t have much of a chance to look into farm market-like experiences in NYC, something I’ve been meaning to do. The cider (and cider donuts!) at the Fort Greene farmer’s market are pretty stellar all year round, though. Anyone have suggestions of good fall activities right here in NYC?