Armed with my mud boots and an auntâ€™s best-ever pie dough recipe, it was time for my AAO (annual apple outing) with cousin Kim.
Each year we celebrate natureâ€™s last hurrah â€“ eating, baking and drinking up the local apple harvest.
Of course, Niagara County apples are fantastic, but for folks looking for a longer drive or overnight excursion, Central New York is a hot spot to celebrate the big apple crop, especially since last yearâ€™s crop was mostly destroyed by the warm March followed by an April freeze.
The places we visited are fairly close. The scenery is spectacular, so enjoy the ride whether you do one or all. There are plenty of roadside stands along the way too.
Apples ripen at different times; if you are looking for a certain variety, call ahead. Dress for the weather and prepare to be immersed in everything apple.
Hollenbeckâ€™s Cider Mill
With Cortland as my cousinâ€™s home, we started at Hollenbeckâ€™s. The main attraction? Cider and fresh, hot doughnuts.
Crates of apples (with help-yourself bags) pave the way to the doughnut window, where visitors can watch the funky doughnut machine drop dough into hot grease, onto a conveyor, then into your mouth (not really, but one can wish). Securing a bag of cinnamon-sugared, we stopped to watch the magnificent apple-coring machine strip skins off at warp speed. The cider press wasnâ€™t running yet, so what were these apples for? The major Dutch apple pie operation in the next room. Here, too, was a line for pies. Since we were making our own later, we checked out Hollenbeckâ€™s baked goods, fudge, sauces, dressings and jam selections. Loved the â€śGood & Evilâ€ť Sauce. How very apple!
Before heading to Beak & Skiff, we woofed down (as did others) a fresh, light doughnut in the parking lot, bending over to avoid telltale powder on our coats.
Hollenbeckâ€™s Cider Mill, 1265 Route 392, Cortland. (607) 835-6455. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Beak & Skiff
Beak & Skiff was our favorite place, hands down. Happily we discovered it was newly renovated with the addition of a distillery and cafĂ©.
The place is busy, but a good system keeps folks organized. A tractor/wagon pulls guests into the orchard for a brief tutorial on how to pick. (Grasp and twist; donâ€™t yank.)
Apple picking is great for youngsters, who can run like crazy up and down rows. It isnâ€™t tedious and a bag fills up fast. We headed to the Honeycrisp section where just about every tree was picked clean. Eat one and youâ€™ll know why. After filling big bags, we headed to pick McIntosh and Gala.
For youngsters, thereâ€™s Apple Hill where kids can climb, get their face painted and ride a pony, among other things.
Back at the barns, we paid (by the pound), then stowed our apples in the car.
Beak & Skiff has added a giant barn that houses a fantastic hard cider/vodka/gin tasting room, shop and cafĂ©. The structure was built using reclaimed barn wood. The walls of the tasting room are crafted from old apple crates. The result is stunning.
We sampled a few hard ciders, which ranged from dry (original 1911 Hard Cider) to sweeter (1911 Raspberry and Blueberry). All are available for purchase.
Next, we hit the cafĂ©. The menu incorporates apples where it can. Still full from the Hollenbeck doughnuts, we ordered a cup of Distillerâ€™s Chili ($4), made with hard cider. It was absolutely delicious, especially with the hunk of moist, sweet cornbread. (Richardâ€™s Barbecue Pork tacos with apple mango slaw are on our radar for next time.)
Fortified, we stopped at the apple barn to buy prebagged apples for our pies â€“ â€śWealthyâ€ť (one of the oldest varieties) and â€śCortlandâ€ť (named for Cortland County). Beak & Skiff organizes the apples by use, such as eating, sauce, baking. Handy charts help you find just the right apple for its purpose.
The last stop was the aromatic bakery where apple cider doughnuts, apple dumplings, apple fritters, apple cookies and apple bread are made. At the adjacent gift shop we perused pottery, dishes, candles, gourmet food and cooking gadgets. A small side room houses honey products and live bees to view in a hive.
Just down Route 20 we visited Beak & Skiffâ€™s beautiful distillery to see the giant copper still used to make vodka and gin. There is no tour but maybe that will come. However, guests can taste the spirits and cider, as well shop for mixers, rimming sugars and specialty bar items.
Beak & Skiff , 4472 Cherry Valley Turnpike (just off Route 20), LaFayette. beakandskiff.com. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Last wagon leaves at 5 p.m.)
1911 Distillery, 1911spirits.com. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Close to Beak & Skiff along Route 20 in LaFayette are McLusky Orchards (see their Facebook page), which sells apples, cider and local food items. Oâ€™Neillâ€™s Apple Orchard, www.oneillsorchard.com, has apples and u-pick fall raspberries.