BEST APPLE ORCHARD - 2004
We admit that part of the allure of Afton Apple is the beautiful drive to Hastings. From I-94, the nearly 12-mile stretch along Manning Road and County Road 76 oozes rural charm, especially on a crisp fall day when the leaves are blazing and the sun is out. Then there's the hayride across some of the orchard's 170 acres of rolling hills toward whatever apples are ready to be picked among the eleven different species available. Naturally, you chomp a couple already on the ground, but not yet rotted, hearing that unmistakable "keroosh" as your teeth cut into the fruit and set off all the sweet and tart sensors on your tongue. The more you pick, the better you get at it, looking for that gem at the back of a cluster hidden behind the leaves, so corpulent and fresh that it falls into your hand with just the slightest rustle. It might be a Haralson, or a Cortland, or a Sweet 16, or something you've never heard of (call before you go to see what's ripe that week), but you know the apples you pick yourself taste the best. Afton Apple also features strawberry picking in the early summer, raspberries later in the season, and pumpkins and a corn maze in the fall. They also bring in blueberries, cherries, and peaches from Michigan. But keep your eyes on the prize: fresh apples, best picked from Labor Day through Halloween. And after you get your hayride back to the main building, indulge yourself in a glass of hot cider.