[Ann Gilzow lives in Somerville, MA, with her boyfriend and her fatty fat cat. She enjoys bootleg BBC dramas and box wine.]
I frequently tell people that I love apple orchards. What I should really say, however, is that I love a very specific kind of apple orchard. I grew up going to Wasem Fruit Farm in Milan, Michigan, a place that has resisted (or simply ignored) the trend toward commercialism. It remains simply an orchard where you can pick your own apples, buy cider, and stuff your face with delicious doughnuts.
Unfortunately, most of the other orchards I’ve visited tend to be carnival-esque. At the very least, they have hayrides and petting zoos; the worst offenders have giant parking lots and admission fees. When my boyfriend, Tom, and I moved to Massachusetts in August, I made it my goal to locate an orchard that represented my orchard ideals. The requirements: u-pick apples, fresh doughnuts, and unpasteurized cider.
Carver Hill Orchard seemed like it would fit the bill. Its website is simple and surprisingly understated, and Yelp promised a pastoral apple-picking experience. When I read the review in which a parent griped about the lack of “kid-friendly activities,” I was sold.
Tom and I are reluctant to acknowledge any virtues of our new home state, but we agreed that the drive out to Stow from Somerville was very picturesque. I was even more heartened when we arrived at the orchard to find a moderately crowded parking lot, a modest structure comprising the “farm store” and kitchen, and long rows of gnarled trees. When we stepped out of the car, the air smelled like cider and wood smoke. Things were looking good.
We quickly acquired our one-peck bag for picking ($12) and set off. Apple varieties were limited and fruit was somewhat sparse (thanks, climate change!) but it was a beautiful orchard.
We returned from picking ready to assess the other key orchard attributes: cider and doughnuts. Doughnuts were available in one variety only (cinnamon sugar) and the production seemed a bit unpredictable. Thankfully we timed our arrival well and nabbed four doughnuts fresh from the fryer ($4), along with a gallon of cider ($5). These we took outside to a weathered picnic table, dutifully documented on Instagram, and then consumed with gusto. The doughnuts–while a bit irregular in appearance–were phenomenal. Piping hot with crunchy, sugary exteriors and tender cake-like interiors, they were pretty much the epitome of a cider mill doughnut. The cider, on the other hand, was a disappointment. Not bad, but it lacked the depth of flavor we were expecting. A closer inspection of the label revealed the problem: this cider had been pasteurized, rendering it, in Tom’s words, “glorified apple juice.” Major point deduction for Carver Hill.
All in all, our visit made for a very pleasant afternoon, and I’m looking forward to turning our apple harvest into applesauce and maybe a pie or two. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that Carver Hill might surpass the beloved apple orchard of my childhood in ambiance and doughnut quality. However, Wasem’s has nostalgia and unpasteurized cider on its side, and those are hard to beat.
Next up: Russell Orchard in Ipswich, MA. While this one looks a bit more commercial than Carver Hill, they also make and sell an astounding variety of fruit wines. We’re planning a trip in mid-October.
(Tom would like me to add that we were bothered by a few yellow jackets during our visit. He hates them, but in my opinion these are to be expected at any orchard and do not detract from the experience.)