Sunday, November 2, 2008

Shelburne Farm

Heading west from Boston, apple country begins in the Town of Stow, blessed with many orchards. A cheerful example is Shelburne Farm, north of the center of town on the road to West Acton.

Shelburne is one of those pick-your-own places that caters to families. Besides the basic picking experience, there is a hay ride, ponies, a moon bounce, kettle corn, cheddar cheese, and such warm goodies as apple crisp, mulled cider, apple turnovers, and cider donuts.

(The farm offers still other ancillary blandishments in season and can frankly be quite a mob scene on weekends. They even had a Morris dancing team out this year.)

I was riding my bicycle down the road and just had to stop--you could smell those donuts a quarter of a mile away. (They're selling the baked goods from the little stall at the right of the photo above.)

Stopping was arguably pointless, because even the smallest picking bag is too much for me to carry on my bike. But I thought I'd ask, for future reference, if they ever had any heirlooms in addition to the classics like McIntosh and Macoun and the modern favorites like Gala and Honeycrisp.

It was the very last picking day of the year--a week earlier than they'd expected--but I'm glad I asked. Come at the right time next fall and you can pick Winesap, Sheep's Nose (a curiosity named for its shape) and the legendary Cox's Orange Pippin.

The orchard posts an interesting map that says a lot, at a glance, about the choices and priorities of a successful modern apple orchard over time.

(Click here for a close up.)

The map guides pickers to the varieties they seek, but also shows what is sought. In this case, lots of McIntosh, Cortland, Red Delicious, and Macoun, with patches of modern favorites such as Empire, Idared, Jonagold, Mutsu, and Spencer. There is a sprinkling of older apples like Baldwin and Northern Spy. A lone half row at the bottom, labeled "Antique Apples," must be where they grow the Winesaps

I suspect this is a typical allocation of resources for an orchard of this size. It is not a snapshot of what is most popular today because apple trees take years to grow to bearing, and also growers have their own preferences and habits. It is rather a mix that continues to succeed year after year, offering something for every taste.


  1. I was asked by Warren Hoskins to post to your site, so here's a contribution regarding apples.

    Our favorite cider mill in the Ann Arbor area is Dexter Cider Mill, a cute, little place that also sells fresh donut holes and a variety of jarred fruity stuff like jam that make nice gifts as well. We would go on a weekend and sit by the river in the back and munch on the donuts and drink hot cider.

    Wiard's Orchard in Ypsilanti grows a few apple trees, has a large store with few items and 2 cashiers and long lines. Took Gen Gen to their fall country fair. Big disappointment. I told them she was under 2 years old so I wouldn't have to pay $8 for her entrance. Sometimes you gotta lie on principle. I was told that the fair used to be free.

  2. That's very kind of you, and of Warren.

    Growers here in New England face many economic difficulties, as described in a recent Boston Globe article. I don't begrudge any farmer who has found a way to grow his or her business along with the apples. (And, the donuts are good.)

    It can be a bit of a zoo on the weekends though. Sometimes I prefer a simple place like Phils.

    Thanks for dropping by!


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