Chilly weather always seems to trigger that grizzly bear "time to eat up before winter" impulse in many of us.
Pick your poison -- stews, soups, roasts and on the sweeter side, apples and cider.
Apple pie, caramel apples, apple crisp, applesauce, cider and doughnuts -- these are the real reasons apples are considered the "forbidden fruit." All this lusciousness starts with fresh homegrown fruit, of course, and now is the time of year to hit the Northeast apple trail.
While Niagara County has fabulous apple opportunities, we headed east to find places near Letchworth Park, so those aiming for a fall foliage tour or attending the park's arts and craft show (Oct. 9-11) could combine their trips with some apple and cider gathering.
Today is the final day of the AppleUmpkin Fall Arts & Crafts Festival (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; www.appleumpkin.com) in the Village of Wyoming (about 50 miles from Buffalo).
We headed out route 20A from East Aurora, kind of in the middle of our two destinations -- the Roanoke Apple Farm in Stafford and the Castile cider mill. There is some backtracking involved, but it is a beautiful drive through Western New York farmland.
Changing leaves are a perfect backdrop for the ride. We made several stops at roadside stands to buy some late summer crops and pumpkins. Here's what else you can do on a journey down apple lane:
*Roanoke Apple Farm, 6370 East Bethany Leroy Road, Stafford, in Genesee County; (585) 768-2042: Picking your own apples is the main attraction the Roanoke Apple Farm. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the farm provides bags (peck), half bushels and bushels visitors can use to head out to the orchard. Pull wagons make it easy to haul apples, kids and a picnic if you bring one.
Throughout the orchard there are benches for the young (and old) to rest, but compared with the back-breaking bending of strawberry picking or tedious blueberry gathering, apple picking is a piece of pie.
Trees are short and apples hang low, so even the tiniest little farmers can grab big pieces of fruit. And filling your container takes no time at all (perfect for those wee ones with short attention spans). Kids can romp around the orchard, which is mazelike with its many rows. The little ones we saw were rosy-cheeked, running around squealing and munching tart apples.
The farm grows a variety of apples. We were told everything is two weeks early this season, and some are almost done, so if you are planning to pick, don't wait too long.
Macoun, Empire, Jonagold, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Crispin are available and varieties are marked. The best part is you can mix and match your apples. A bag (peck) cost $7 and a half-bushel was $11.
The farm store also has apples already picked and for sale along with other treats, including cookbooks, cider, cider slush, mulling spices, doughnuts and apple walnut muffins. We snagged a few free apple recipe cards (Macintosh apple and Vidalia onion slaw; cider baked apples; apple smoothie) before heading out.
*Castile Cider Mill, 29 Park Road, Castile (www.castilecidermill.com; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, until 5 p.m. on Sundays through November): The Castile mill (established in 1945) is operated by Dan and Pam Chasey. A mural on the outside depicts Chasey's family (including his father and grandfather) and a local fruit farmer, Lawrence Kelly, who still provides apples.
Chasey says this year the cider is fantastic thanks to the wonderful growing season. Apples are sweet, and he uses a variety of them in his cider.
While he won't give out his ratio of sweet to "neutral" apples (like Macintosh), Chasey says making cider is an art and one bad apple variety can really spoil the lot.
Between 15 and 18 bushels of apples are used for one "squeeze" in the giant, vice-grip looking cider press. A stack of apples is squeezed to half its original size, yielding about 50 to 60 gallons of cider. The cider is put through the pasteurizer, then into jugs.
Visitors can sample the cider inside the small shop attached to the mill. We purchased delicious cider slushies to drink as we checked out local culinary delights that fill the shelves. Hot cider is also available.
Chasey operates an apiary (he keeps bees) and sells the honey along with Nunda Mustard (nundamustard.com), homemade fudge, jam and, of course, doughnuts. But wait -- we soon discovered these weren't ordinary doughnuts. The pumpkin-flavored ones are delightful, but the apple cider-flavored doughnuts are heavenly. We never dreamed a simple doughnut with granulated sugar could be so delicious. Missing was the heavy, lard taste (and the need to wash them down). Instead, they are substantial, yet light and full of flavor. (Is it legal to wolf down doughnuts while driving?) The label credits Max's Bakery (585-689-5702) in Fillmore, but we secretly wondered if Max isn't a burned-out New York City pastry chef hiding out in the rural town. Fabulous!
To learn more about apples and get recipes, visit www.nyapplecountry.com.
More to do
At the corner near the cider mill is the Clunky But Funky Antique and Thrift Store (585-493-9420). It may only be open Saturdays, but it's hard to tell in this shop, which looks like a cross between "Hoarders" and "American Pickers." Still, if you can get in, it is an interesting place to poke around.
Just outside the Town of Castile is the Stonewall Craftique gift shop, 4286 Route 39 (www.stonewallcraftique.com; 585-237-5835). Open Wednesdays through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. this nifty shop has a little of everything, from home decor and candles to gourmet food, jewelry and purses. We found a fun spider hat to use for our Halloween costume.
Lorraine's Place Restaurant, 55 N. Main, Castile, is just what a family diner should be -- heavy on the charm rather than gourmet selections. It serves good old stick-to-your-ribs food and great homemade pies. Crusts are hard to do well, but Lorraine's nails them. Open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, with chicken barbecue on the weekends.