Apple Picking: Hudson Valley, N.Y.
For the last few years I’ve found myself in New York’s Hudson River Valley at least once a year since my older son Thomas goes to college right outside of Rhinebeck, N.Y.
It’s about a four hour drive to the mid-Hudson valley from our house in southeastern, P.A., which isn’t too bad.
On our first trip we spent three days scouting out the region before dropping Thomas off at his dorm. The idea was to get our Freshman used to the area, and since I like exploring new places, he really had no choice but to tag along. Which he did happily because, you see, he likes exploring too.
We checked out places you must see when you’re in the area, like the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the near-deserted town of Hyde Park, and the Culinary Institute of America, where lunch is a must and dinner is a treat.
Not crazy about crowded trails (or crowds), we sought off-the-beaten track places to hike and happened upon Ferncliff Forest in Rhinebeck. This is an old-growth forest of about 200 mostly shaded acres and four miles of trails worth walking. There are tons of soft fern, as you probably guessed, and hiding beneath the fern or atop rocks you’ll find small, red salamanders. On warm days, they are everywhere. After a time in the woods you are rewarded with an observation tower and views of the Catskills and the Hudson River.
And I made sure we stopped at Storm King Art Center, the 500-acre sculpture garden featuring works by some of the world’s finest artists. I first visited this outdoor museum twenty-some-years ago, a trip I can’t remember well, but revisiting Storm King with my family, I will never forget. Thomas still talks about it. We spent hours in a landscape that is the backdrop for sculptures collaborating with nature. I promise you, if this is the one place you stop in the Valley, you’ll never forget it either.
But this past weekend as we drove to N.Y. for an overnight stay, I had apple picking in mind.
Before departing I scoured the Internet and discovered that there is no shortage of orchards in this region.
What I wanted, though, was a quiet place that had no hayrides, no haunted woods and no fall festivals.
I chose Greig Farm in Red Hook, N.Y., the perfect tree-lined orchard with sagging, apple-filled limbs.
And not a soul around.
Before picking we ate at GiGi’s Market, a farm stand and café filled with local goods and made-to-order meals. After a cup of warm cider and a hearty lunch, we wandered out back to pet the local goats before heading to the orchard.
There was a cheerful young woman who greeted us with the details: “Pick all you want, and be sure to taste them before you start collecting. We’re no-spray here so you can pick and eat if you’d like. It’s $1.00 a pound but if you fill your bag it’s $20 even.”
Or, if you want to make cider or just don’t care about perfect apples, you can stuff a bag with as many of the fallen fruit you can and pay $5. Now that’s a good deal.
I have no idea how long we roamed amongst the apple trees. It was cloud-covered and cool, perfect picking weather, and not a bee in sight. We had no plans we needed to keep, so we took our time and stuffed our bags with apples: Staymen, Jonagold, Empire.
Twenty-eight dollars in all. We felt rich.
Afterwards we stole an hour at the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, a place we’ve driven by many times but never took the time to stop. This trip we decided to take a peek, and I am glad we did. The grounds are free and open to the public so we explored awhile before the skies darkened and we were once again thinking of our next meal.
The following morning we caught another glimpse of the changing season in the Valley when we crossed the Walkway Over the Hudson, a short walk we try and make time for whenever we are in the area. The height freaks me out a little, but the boys like it, so I manage by walking in the middle of the bridge.
We said goodbye to Thomas, leaving one son in his townhouse with a bag of apples and his buddies, and taking the other, littest son home with us.
It was the perfect twenty-four hour escape. And we would wake up with all of Sunday left at home. Which meant, of course, we’d soon be baking with our apples.