Many people love the fall. It’s like the spring’s half-brother. It’s not filled with new beginnings, but it does seem to have its possibilities, especially if you are a sports fan. Another high school, college, and professional football season embarks, and everyone is convinced that this will be the year. (Except for Jets fans, particularly after watching them lose to the godforsaken Cleveland Browns.) The leaves change, and the scenery comes alive with beautiful foliage. The holiday season is almost upon us, and that brings its own brand of excitement. Still others don’t see it that way. For many fall comes down to football, leaf-pickup, and pumpkin beer. (Pumpkin everything!!!)
While the Capital Region may not be as renown as the Berkshires, or Vermont when it comes to being a quality fall destination, I believe that our particular portion of New York State takes a backseat to nobody in regards to its fall festivities, traditions, and customs. There are plenty of farms for example which feature hayrides, pumpkins, apples, cider, apple cider donuts, candy apples, and pretty much all things apple. However, sometimes, the fall comes in like July, which can hold your autumn enthusiasm at bay, but fear not, fall in the Capital Region will most assuredly hold true to its seasonal integrity, with the humidity breaking, the cool breezes stirring, and most likely a lot of rain.
While there are certainly festivals and parades in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, there’s something about the rural landscape of fall that is integral for most who enjoy the season. Simply put, there are certain autumn delights that a trip to Albany cannot satisfy. If you wish to find the following, your desires can only be satiated in the more rural regions in this area:
Things you don’t go to Albany, Schenectady, Troy, or any other city for in order to celebrate the onset of fall:
- Pumpkins – I suppose if you were desperate enough, you might purchase a pumpkin at a Price Chopper or Hannaford, but purchasing a pumpkin on a city corner is the equivalent of playing three-card Monte at Bowman’s Orchards in Clifton Park. It’s a non-starter.
- Hay/Straw – Hay, as in “Hay,” not “Hay,” as in “Hey, got any straw?” Again, nobody stands on a city street corner hawking hay or straw. (Admit it, you don’t know the difference between hay and straw, but you’re dying to know. Let this city boy, born in Washington Heights in Manhattan explain: Straw is a waste product of wheat, typically used as bedding for barnyard animals, Hay is grass, and used as animal feed. Now that’s what I call a “bushel” of information.)
- Fresh Made Cider Donuts – Here’s how it all breaks down, jelly donuts, Entenmann’s, Krispy Kreme, black & white cookies, danish, Hamantash, rugelach all constitute “city cookies,” and trust me, the list goes on and on. Cider donuts however, are a country treat.
Fall fun seems to be embedded into the rural and suburban lifestyles. In Clifton Park for example, every year we celebrate “Farm Fest.” (Celebrate may in fact be too strong a word, I prefer, “acknowledge.”) Many of the venerable farms that dot Clifton Park get together to put on demonstrations such as cow milking, sheep herding, apple cider donut making, and cow manure sculpting. (I can’t vouch for that last one since I kind of made it up.) Many towns in fact have their own unique signs that indicate that summer is about to give way to fall.
I believe that we as individuals have little indicators as well that we pick up on, certain sights, smells, and sounds that illuminate the fact that the summer is in its death throes. This is a different phenomena than the start of the school year, which is an artificial and arbitrary feeling that only affects children and teachers. The coming of fall on the other hand is more visceral. We feel it instinctively, as if we are channeling our inner Neanderthal. Ancient man after all had to be in tune with his surroundings since the beginning of fall meant that winter and all of its menace was right around the corner.
Personally, the first piece of evidence that I take note of involves a tree that grows right above the train bridge on Carlton Avenue in Clifton Park. Its leaves actually begin to turn red in mid-August. It seems too early, and at first you think that maybe the tree is dying. However, every year like clockwork, the tree above the train bridge signals that fall is arriving There are other signs of course, the grass smells differently after you mow your lawn, the sky gets a little bluer on sunny days, it starts getting dark alarmingly early, and my pool becomes the world’s most expensive leaf collecting apparatus.
Everybody in the Capital Region has their favorite place, and by that I mean their favorite place for apple cider donuts, , apple cider, and other fresh fall products that offer proof positive that the season has arrived. People even have their favorite fall beer. In fact, as a society, we’ve now reached a place where every season has its own beer, and every town in America has its own brewery. There is pumpkin beer for the fall, darker ales, and spice beers for the winter, Killians and Guinness are consumed in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, and as a way to signal that spring is finally here, and of course lighter and lemon/lime beers for the summer. Has there ever been a better time to be alive?
In the spirit of the fall, I thought it would be an entertaining idea to take a look at some of the top destinations where Capital Region consumers can go to find the so-called “Legends of the Fall,” at least as it pertains to apples and such.
Farms/Orchards (In no particular order)
- Lakeside Farms – The pride of Ballston Lake has a fresh and impressive supply of fall-ready apples. They are priced competitively, and service is friendly and filled with helpful hints such as, “Those peaches are really good.” Hey, how would I have otherwise known? They also have an impressive bakery with all of your country favorites, plus there is a restaraunt where you can get a really fresh and tasty breakfast. The cider and donuts aren’t too shabby either.
- Riverview Orchards – (Rexford, New York) If you don’t mind getting out of your car and walking around the orchard to pick your own, ( Like an animal) you will literally have every conceivable choice of apple known to man, plus you can look at a honey bee hive in full function without ever having to get stung. (I’m not saying you can’t get stung, you’ll just have to work a little harder, but as I always say, anything that’s worthwhile shouldn’t be easy.) Oh, and have yourself a cider donut, you won’t be sorry. They also have interesting salsas and jams.
- Devoe’s Rainbow Orchards – (Halfmoon, New York) Okay, full disclosure, this is more out of loyalty than anything else. I discovered Devoe’s shortly after moving up here in late summer 1993, and I thought it was incredible that I had access to an apple orchard so close to where I lived. Their apples are fine, but their cider donuts are in my humble opinion the best around. Their cider is superb as well, but what really makes Devoe’s unique is that not only do they run a U.S. Post Office out of their business, but now you can also rent a U-Haul truck or trailer as well. Somehow it all works.
- Goold Orchards – (Castleton, New York) The apples, the bakery, the donuts, the fun, it’s all here, plus you are actually in farm country.
- Altamont Orchards (Altamont, New York) – You can pick your own apples, plus they have the killer cider donuts, but they also have an impressive array of annuals and perennials.
The fall season now is completely intertwined with everybody’s favorite vegetable orb, the pumpkin. Pumpkin flavoring has taken over the Capital Region the same way it has overwhelmed the entire nation. The pumpkin’s influence can now be found in beers, salsas, raviolis, ice cream, donuts, scones, jams, coffees, teas, cakes, pies, (of course) muffins, soup, and I suppose you can carve them if you feel so inclined. We are awash in pumpkin everything, and every major brewer either produces a pumpkin flavored beer or an Oktoberfest style brew. I’m partial to Sam Adams Oktoberfest, but it’s not a local brand, so keep it on the down-low. If we ever run out of pumpkins, than the only thing standing between summer and winter will be the grossly underwhelming acorn squash.
People love to complain about the weather here in the Northeast. They say it’s too cold, too wet, and winter is too long. However, autumn in upstate New York has more than enough charms to offset a bitter cold, and snowy winter, and while you may find yourself suffering through winter time in the Capital Region, you get to enjoy a beautiful fall before it all comes crashing down. Remember, you have to have a little pain if you’re going to relish a little pleasure. (Don’t ask me about this in February, I might not see this scenario in such a positive light.)