(page 3 of 3)
Though it offers 50 acres of 15 different PYO apples as well as 100 acres of sweet corn and 12 greenhouses devoted to growing tomatoes, we’d bet a significant number of visitors—particularly the munchkin-sized—pay little attention to the produce at March Farm. For them, bigger draws may be the Hayloft Playscape (consisting of a 6-foot-wide track on which one can ride various wheeled vehicles, which encircles a complex with tractor-tire sandboxes, a playhouse and hay-bale pyramid to climb), the animal yard and the hand-cut corn maze. This month, the maze is haunted on weekend evenings, with spooky lighting, scary music and local actors.
March’s farm market is comprehensive, offering produce from other Connecticut farms, goods from its own bakery and a diverse array of regional specialty foods. A newly dug pond with its own little beach helps make the farm a great place to host birthday parties; accoutrements include small-gauge paddleboats, a stage and sound system, grills and picnic tables, a horseshoe pit and beach volleyball court. (203/266-7721; marchfarms.com)
Located on one of the highest elevations in eastern Connecticut (affording views of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and, on a good day, Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire), Palazzi Orchard has a foot in both old and new, offering 20 apple cultivars that range from heirloom varieties such as Baldwins, Gravensteins and Russets to Honey Crisps, a 1990s breed that’s soaring in popularity. None of the orchard’s trees are dwarfs, and a significant number are more than 100 years old (paging Norman Rockwell). So visitors must brush up on how to use apple pickers (a tong and basket on a stick), but most regulars manage just fine. “We have an Asian couple that comes and picks five bushels of Mutsu apples every year,” says Jean Palazzi.
When the Palazzi family bought the 75-acre orchard in 1978 it produced apples only, but they since have diversified into a wide array of other fruits and vegetables—plums, apricots, potatoes, sweet corn, onions and peppers—that they also sell at farmers’ markets in Danielson and Putnam. A historic two-acre cemetery on the property is an attraction all its own, featuring the gravesites of soldiers from the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 and a 200-year-old oak tree grown from a seedling of Hartford’s famed Charter Oak. (860/774-4363; buyctgrown.com/palazziorchard)
Scott’s Yankee Farmer
McIntosh apples rule among the crop-pickers at Scott’s, though when it comes to varieties that are best for cooking (versus eating out of hand), co-owner Karen Scott’s vote goes to the Ida Red. “You can make an apple pie with them and it won’t be nearly as mushy as a pie made with Macs,” she says. On the other hand, this Red Delicious non-fan claims that it’s the Mac factor that makes Empires (a child of the two) so juicily superb. Anyway, here you’ll also find Baldwins, Macouns, Mutsus, good-cooking Romes and hardy-storing Braeburns.
Like Palazzi Orchards, Scott’s has an especially old-school feel with standard-size trees (it’s not unusual to see pickers doing some climbing). Pumpkins and mums are also PYO, and diversions include weekend wagon rides, free cider donuts and an operating 100-year-old cider mill that hosts demonstrations on Saturdays or Sundays. A particular pride and joy is the three-acre, hand-designed and -cut corn maze, which this year is shaped like a pumpkin, “complete with ribs, eyes and a mouth,” says Scott. She typically turns it into a letterboxing game, with “stations” where visitors can collect ink stamps, stickers or puzzle pieces. (860/739-5209; scottsyankeefarmer.net)
If Lyman’s is the Disneyland of orchards, then Silverman’s Farm is the Taj Mahal. “It’s really well run, perfectly situated and set up explicitly for tourism,” says Macsuga. “And demographically speaking, that land is worth billions.” Owner Irv Silverman says that when his father acquired the property in the 1920s, he didn’t initially have a farm in mind. “Back then, a lot of people had big homes with orchards. It was the European lifestyle.”
Now the farm grows peaches, plums, pumpkins, autumn squash and 18 varieties of apples. Like other Connecticut farmers who grow them, Silverman asserts that it’s a good thing Honey Crisps are now so popular with visiting pickers: “It’s a very difficult apple to raise, like a spoiled child.” One of his newer breeds is the Candy Crisp, an acid-free cultivar also known as a “papple” because of its pearlike taste.
Silverman’s animal farm is also a big draw, exhibiting Jacob sheep, pygmy goats, fallow deer, bison and zebu (the oldest cattle breed in the world). Scattered turnstiles dispense handfuls of cracked corn for 25 cents, and two prominent hand-washing stations stand at the exit. The farm shop carries baked goods (including 18 different pies), specialty foods and country crafts; seasonal attractions range from live music and wool-spinning demonstrations to book signings. Perhaps the most beloved multigenerational tradition, in place for 30 years, revolves around PYO pumpkins: Guess the weight within two ounces and your pick is free. (203/261-3306; silvermansfarm.com)