I decided to take a bit of time off on Monday and went out for an aimless drive. As I drove past it, I realized that the Owen Orchards was a story to be told so I turned, parked and went in. I had not been here in a long time. It was welcoming. I was greeted by a clerk and I asked if I could see Gordon. She said he had just left to deliver to Dundee, but his son David was around, and she left me to look for him. Dave is the great-grandson of the orchard’s founder.
He was on a forklift out in the orchard. She said I could come back, or I might wait anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes, or a bit longer. I decided to wait. Glancing around it was an interesting place to pass a few minutes. There were apples everywhere, at least a dozen and a half of varieties, all nicely displayed and labeled by name. A shelf on the west side of the building had a whole lot of jams and jellies, with fascinating names. One had a name that stood out, so I bought it: F.R.O.G. When I got home and put my glasses on, I found that it stood for figs, raspberry, oranges and ginger. It should be quite interesting on my toast tomorrow morning. There were also preserved fruits and vegetables. They must move a whole lot of cider because there was a very large wall of gallons, half gallons and quarts.
The roots of the orchard go back to the 1920s when Charles Owen began growing a few apples, some of the forerunners of the great apples we have today. Apples like the McIntosh, a sweet, all-around apple good for eating out of hand or cooking, especially in pies, and Cortland are still around, though you might not notice the Cortland because there are so many more types to choose from these days. Beside that the Cortland season is short, and they do not store as well as many other varieties. Yet, their tenderness makes them a good choice for salads and sandwiches. Many people slice them thin and use them rather than crackers with savory dips. I love an apple cobbler using Cortland apples. By the way, if you like to make cobblers, I have a shortcut. Go to the Bass Pro Shop right here in Auburn. They have a wonderful mix that cuts the work to almost nothing.
Dave indicated that the crop this year was quite good. He said that they have some 15,000 trees and as happens every year many are above average in flavor and production, then there are others where production is low. I was also curious about what it takes to be an orchard such as this. He answered that when you plant an acre of trees it will be about three to four years before that tree begins to produce and then another three to four years to reach maturity and really begin producing. As I am writing this, I realize that I did not ask what the productive life of that tree is. I will have to call and get that answer for another time.
I asked Dave what was his favorite apple? He would not commit to a variety; he just said that it was the sweetest and freshest variety on the day that he was going to eat one. He answered that question just as I do when I am asked about my favorite flower. He also said one of the most asked questions from shoppers was, “which is the sweetest apple” or “which is the juiciest?”
Then I learned that all those pumpkins in the front of the store came from their own 15-acre pumpkin patch and that the peaches I had purchased at their Auburn Farmer’s Market stand came from their own peach orchard. If you miss them at the market they are there on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Why not spend a few hours this weekend, go to Owen Orchards, get some exercise, enjoy some cider, and pick some apples to enjoy at home? The family will enjoy it. You will, too.