The Western Massachusetts college town of Amherst is lovely but is by no means a hop, skip and a jump away from my family’s home in Central Mass. Actually, the Pioneer Valley as a whole is beautiful and definitely worth a trip by urbanites looking to see Fall in New England in all of its splendor. During my orchard crawl, I was looking forward to visiting Atkins Farms. It was going to be a trek, but I’m willing go anywhere for apples. Plus, Western MA was near peak foliage, and the drive provided for some much-needed leaf peeping. While Atkins turned out to be a dud, my day was saved thanks to the good folks at Boston Magazine (let’s just ignore the fact that they praised the Atkins cider donuts).
I’ve always been enamored by apple orchards. An orchard outing serves as one last chance to be somewhat outdoorsy before the snow falls and I’m confined to a chair next to the radiator for five months. I missed out on autumnal activities last year; this year was going to be different. I craved a bite of a crisp, freshly picked apple (plain or enrobed in chewy caramel and nuts), I wanted to walk the open landscapes that put turning leaves proudly on display, since those leaves seem to come and die in the blink of an eye around here.
I was determined to find my ideal orchard. And of course, for me, the perfect orchard is not just the most picturesque, but the one with the best treats. And the most iconic treat of the New England orchard is the cider donut. Going into this, a little part of me knew that orchards could not keep up with the demand and used mixes for their confections, but the other part of me pictured little old ladies in hairnets making cake donuts and adding glugs of the farm’s pressed cider. The purist in me was disappointed when some snooping found the former to be true in most cases. Since all orchards are run by extremely passionate and hard-working growers, I knew that my favorite farm would probably be the one that sold a scratch-made donut.
Here’s a comprehensive account of my Orchard Crawl.