- Posted October 21, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Weekends in America
Days of Wine and Pumpkins
Long Island’s eastern north fork provides a scenic vista peppered with farm stands and wine vineyards. While enjoyed by many throughout the year, residents from the entire island, stretching west into Manhattan, are all drawn to this idyllic location every weekend from September through October in their primary quest for carefully chosen pumpkins.
Farmers’ boldly painted signs dot the roadways’ edges, beckoning all to stop and pick their pumpkins. Why perform the laborious task themselves when so many are quite willing to carry out the deed for them? After all, that is half of the expedition’s fun, to gather the perfect specimens that will be destined for transformation into grinning, grimacing and glowering jack-o-lanterns to stand sentry on porches, on decks, up stairways and along walkways. Home decorating enthusiasts rejoice in the incredibly vast selection of pumpkin sizes, shapes and even colors. No longer restricted to the traditional orange hue, pumpkins now appear in odd incarnations, from purple-tinged orbs and green-speckled pear shapes to reddish, wart-covered gourds and the popular current decorator’s trend of white. Epicureans seek out pumpkins that will lend the richest flavor and most unique visual presentation to their fall culinary projects.
The eastern pilgrimage is not limited to pumpkin picking. Every farm boasts fall festivals, complete with musical interludes, corn mazes, hayrides, pony rides, pumpkin carving demonstrations, scarecrow creating and other festive activities. While the children get lost in the corn mazes, parents marvel at the array of colorful bounty as they select farm fresh fruits and vegetables to bring home to the family table. In addition to the cornucopia of produce, many farm stands offer additional locally produced provisions such as jams, preserves, honey and baked goods. Autumnal outdoor decorative lawn ornaments and boldly colored fall plants also await selection by home decorators. Briermere Farms is famed island-wide for their sumptuous home-baked pies. No trek out east is complete without the requisite pie purchase. While my husband and I live locally and can get away with purchasing a single pie at any moment’s notice, most visitors who have traveled the length of the island stroll away from Briermere with multiple boxes stockpiled within their arms.
Apple orchards, such as Woodside Orchards in Jamesport and Aquebogue, promote apple picking from trees that produce a host of different apple varieties, from the ubiquitous Red Delicious and McIntosh to the uniquely crisp and flavorful Mutzu and Arkansas Black. Be sure to pick up some extra Macoun apples for your own home baked pies, cobblers and crisps. Freshly pressed cider is another orchard favorite among shoppers, as well as apple cider doughnuts, candied apples and apple butter.
Wineries offer tours of their vineyards and winemaking facilities. Tasting flights are offered, prompting visitors to drive away with bottles of their favored samplings in tow. There are over fifty wineries on Long Island. While Pindar is the largest vineyard geographically, it is therefore also the most crowded. My personal recommendations include Macari Vineyard for their variety of excellent quality wines, Roanoke Vineyard for their superior unique blends and Osprey’s Dominion for their extensive lineup of award winning wines. Many vineyards host weekend fall festivals as well throughout the months of September and October, offering sips and nibbles on their scenic grounds while relaxing to the soothing notes of a live musical ensemble.
Dairy farms also welcome guests. Catapano Dairy Farm not only offers numerous varieties of goat’s milk cheeses, yogurt and other dairy products, as well as goat’s milk skin care products and soaps, animal lovers will delight in meeting the goats responsible for these wares. The friendly goats welcome interaction and the shop welcomes cheese sampling.
At some point in the day, a pause for dining is called for. After all, picking those pumpkins works up an appetite, and you imbibed how much wine at the wineries already? Replenish some caloric energy at the Lobster Roll, home of the best fried seafood on the island and known for their puffers, deep-fried nuggets of blowfish served with a creamy dipping sauce. Their lobster bisque is exquisite. If seafood isn’t your preferred edible, consider starting the Sunday adventure with a brunch buffet at the Cooperidge Inn. Situated further east is the Soundview Restaurant for those who crave fine dining with a stunning tableside view of Long Island Sound.
Those who press on further still will ultimately arrive in Greenport, a waterfront village that is home to the celebrated Grumman carousel, scenic dockside dining and plenty of charming village shops to explore.
The fun doesn’t end when the sun goes down. As one begins the return journey west, a detour in Wading River to brave the Dark Side Haunted House is in order. This particular haunted house, complete with a staged adjacent haunted village, is worth the thrills and chills thanks to the quality special effects and elaborately constructed sets.
It all sounds like a perfect environ in which to wile away a sunny and colorful autumn weekend, doesn’t it? It is indeed, but for those of us who reside just a stone’s throw away, the scene is not so idyllic in October. Because the eastern north fork has become such a coveted autumn attraction, the two main roads that traverse the fork become clogged with aggressive and uptight Manhattan drivers who have long ago forgotten the concept of leisurely demeanor. It can take twenty minutes to advance two miles, and the tailgating and horn honking will attest to the furor. Thus, we are infinitely grateful for the neighborhood farm stand called the Pumpkin Patch that sits just ten minutes from home, yet in the opposite direction. This friendly and thoroughly stocked farm stand peddles locally produced goods, an extensive variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables, autumn decorative items and fall mums. In the foreground sits a large cart that is perpetually brimming with pumpkins.
During the summer months, the entire southern coast of Long Island is bustling with the hoards that frequent the Hamptons and the Fire Island beaches every weekend. Throughout the month of December, tourists storm Manhattan every weekend for the seasonal ice-skating in the park, viewing of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and taking in the holiday theatrical productions. Just as the residents of East Hampton heave a sigh of relief when the summer tourists recede, so too do those near the north fork every November when we can once again reclaim our playground. Tourism is crucial for the survival of our local farmers, winemakers and artisan producers, however, and so the traffic jams are simply a cross that we must bear for one month out of the year. Once the premier weekend of November rolls in, we will once again embark on leisurely weekend quests for locally produced wine, artisan cheeses and, of course, another one of those luscious Briermere pies!