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Advertising itself as “the best-kept secret in Connecticut’s Quiet Corner,” Buell’s is considered the state’s most rural orchard—and the atmosphere is deliberately relaxed. “There are no age restrictions here,” says co-owner Patty Sandness. “If you want to take your 2-year-old to our strawberry patch and he wants to munch on strawberries while you pick, that’s no problem. We want you to have a good time.”
Prime picking season begins with strawberries in June and encompasses blueberries, peaches and pumpkins, but it’s the 20 varieties of apples—including McIntosh, Gala, Macoun, Cortland, Empire and newer cultivars Fuji and Cameo—that have inspired the greatest initiative. Buell’s has an on-site cider mill and for the last 25 years has run a thriving caramel apple business, selling thousands of treats every season.
At press time, the orchard was building a small bakery to produce its own cider doughnuts. Free cider and doughnuts are a big draw at Buell’s annual Harvest Festival on Columbus Day weekend, an event that also features live music, cider-press demonstrations, hayrides and a chicken/hot dog/hamburger barbecue. Purchasing the doughnuts from an outside vendor proved risky last year, when the orchard ran out of a 250-dozen order way too soon. “Hopefully, we won’t have that problem this time,” Sandness says. (860/633-2789; buellsorchard.com)
Easy Pickin’s Orchard
An appropriate name indeed, given that here you can pick all kinds of fruits, veggies, flowers, herbs and 20 varieties of apples. Rare cultivars include the Liberty apple (a cousin of the Macoun), the Kinsei (a Japanese apple with a tropical taste), the Rubinette (a Swiss-born cross between Golden Delicious and Cox Orange Pippin) and Pink Beauty (an apple from British Columbia, currently under evaluation, that hasn’t “officially” been named yet, but this is what Easy Pickin’s calls it).
Fall weekend activities include scenic Sunday wagon tours of the farm, the 15th annual Gourd Hunt on Oct. 18—in addition to competing for a grand prize, kids can engage in old-fashioned activities like musical chairs and sack races—and Make-Your-Own-Scarecrow crafts sessions. This is also a busy time for weekday school field trips. Farm owner Brian Kelliher reports that each visiting group “gets a wagon tour of the farm, a stop at the pumpkin patch to pick their own sugar pumpkins and a trip to the orchard to pick three apples apiece.” The visit concludes with a refreshing glass of juice, which the children can pair with snacks from home. Rough cost: $5 per child with a group minimum of 15. (860/763-3276; easypickinsorchard.com)
Horse Listeners Orchard
Formerly Crooke Orchards, Horse Listeners is owned and operated by Matthew Couzens, a 32-year veteran of IBM, who’s now in his third season (“This has been a steep learning curve for me,” he admits). Twenty-five varieties of apple include the “Miracle Mac,” a sweeter, smaller, hardier strain of McIntosh discovered at the orchard and patented by previous owner Richard Crooke, and the Creston, an emergent cultivar with a reddish blush and yellow flesh that’s similar to Golden Delicious.
Couzens also grows raspberries and blueberries (both PYO) and sells farm-fresh eggs (from his own chickens) and a signature “High Pie” made from Horse Listeners’ Cortland apples by a local baker.
Weekend visitors are welcome to greet the orchard’s horses, Hannah, Ted and Irish, as well as take a pony ride (for ages 2 and up), enjoy free hot cider and doughnuts or cruise the orchard on a “train” with whistle and bell (actually, a converted Jeep). Couzens says his own favorite activity is hosting “walking tours,” educating groups on agricultural sustainability. “I even have an ‘adopt-a-tree’ program for the kids,” he says. (860/429-5336; horselistenersorchard.com)
If Bishop’s Orchards is the Mercedes-Benz of its breed, then surely Lyman is the Disneyland. Established in 1741 on 1,100 acres of land purchased from King George III, it’s now a year-round family destination with a 15,000-square-foot farm market (the Apple Barrel); two state-of-the-art 18-hole golf courses (one designed in the late 1960s by Robert Trent Jones and recently given a $2 million face-lift, the other in the 1990s by Gary Player); a Grill Room serving breakfast and lunch; a four-acre corn maze that’s raised nearly $250,000 for the American Cancer Society in nine years of operation; and more festivals, dances, car shows and special holiday events than you can imagine. By comparison Lyman’s 100 acres of PYO apples (in 28 varieties) might seem almost a minor consideration, but on a peak fall weekend they’re the jewel that brings 8,000 to 10,000 visitors through the gates.
This year, an unkind July hailstorm hit Lyman’s orchards particularly hard; consequently, those who stroll the Apple Barrel will find great deals on blemished fruit. “The damage we’ve seen is strictly cosmetic; the fruit itself is still first-quality,” says executive vice president John Lyman. Meanwhile, nothing halts Lyman’s longtime scratch-bakery pie production, now the fastest-growing part of the business: All 20 flavors (including the famed Hi-Top apple pie) are wholesaled to Big Y supermarkets, and other chains are signing on. “Our pies are crucial to our operation, because they are the one part of our business that is weather-resistant,” says Lyman. (860/349-1793; lymanorchards.com)