Contributing Editor
Walt Pickut

It’s apple harvest time once again in Chautauqua County and the partners who own and operate Whittier’s Apple Farm in Ashville have at least 16 fresh-picked, sweet and crisp varieties of the apples everybody loves… by the bushel, peck, pound and overflowing bagful.

The most popular apple varieties are waiting at Whittier’s barn to be sampled and enjoyed this harvest season along with traditional heritage apple varieties and a few of the more delicate kinds rarely found on store shelves.

Scenically rebuilt at 1507 Blockville Watts Flats Road in Ashville by lifelong Chautauqua County natives and now proud partners, Owen and Denise Whittier and Robert and Kristine Straight, Whittier Apple Farms is now a destination even more picturesque than the old fashioned, country-road apple barn and cider mill it used to be.

In the Barn

“I like meeting people,” Owen Whittier told the Gazette on a recent visit to the beautifully refinished apple barn. The partners enjoy personally serving their guests. “Our record over the last three years was a touch over 4000 people in one, single day. That’s a lot of apples!” Owen said, clearly pleased to meet so many apple lovers.

Along with apples, Whittier’s Farm tempts visitors with fresh-pressed cider, hot mulled cider, apple cider slushies, and locally tapped maple syrup, maple-black walnut syrup and a new local delicacy, bourbon barrel cured maple syrup. Local honey, a variety of farm-grown squash and pumpkins add to the variety of fresh autumn produce on offer. 

“I hear from a lot of customers traveling south for the winter that they come here for northern apples to take with them because they keep better over time than apples grown down south.” Owen explained that many of his apples feel waxy because they wax themselves naturally. “That keeps the moisture in so they stay fresher much longer.”

The Apples… and More

“I think there are over 2,500 different varieties of apples right now,” Owen said. “Researchers in just about every state – like the folks at Cornell in New York – are always trying to create new varieties of sweeter, crisper, tastier apples and better vegetables.”

“We put up samples of small apples beside each variety in our displays,” Owen told a curious customer, “because that’s the biggest question: ‘What’s the best Apple?’ Well, some people might like crisp and tart while other people like soft and sweet. There is no best variety, but everybody gets to get to try it for free.” Owen added with generous smile, “You get to decide for yourself.”

This year Whittier Farm offers 16 varieties of apples. The Cameo Apple, for example, is said to be a lot like the popular Gala, but the meat is redder, crisp and firm. Cortland is historically the biggest seller of all, so popular some customers say they are hard to find in stock elsewhere else, except at Whittier’s. The Honey Crisp apple, not as well known, “has a distinct sweet, tart flavor, super crisp and juicy.” Owen calls it “the gourmet snack. There is not a much better Apple than that.”

Posters over bins provide pictures and features of each variety to help shoppers find the exact apple they want, or try something new and interesting, weather for eating out of hand, cooking, baking, or making apple sauce.

“Here’s an early, sweet apple called Ginger Gold,” Owen said, offering a sample. “People love them but they don’t have a long shelf life. They have to be sold close to where they’re grown, and we only sell locally grown apples and produce.”

Varieties ripen at different times in apple season. By September 15, Whittier’s usual opening date, the Cortlands, Ginger Golds, Gala, Macintosh and the Ruby Mac – an attractive, dark red Macintosh – and a very early one, the Zestari, are ready for market. Then comes the 20-ounce Pippins (a huge, tart baking apple) and later, the Northern Spy, Golden Delicious and more.

In addition to enormous bins, bushel baskets and peck-sized bags of apples, piles of enormous Hubbard squash sit beside the barn’s other squash displays. The huge, deep green and nobly Hubbard is what Owen calls “the classic squash… there’s a lot of meat in them. A lot of people say they’re just right for a big Thanksgiving dinner for a big family. Try a Hubbard, or even a baked potato, with our Maple-Black Walnut syrup.”

Fresh – Farm to Table

Whittier caters to the local “farm-to-table” movement customer. Local produce and apples do not have to be trucked far and do not arrive dry and bruised. “Apples and vegetables bred to be shippable and durable’ wind up being bred for less flavor,” Owen explained, “and some people believe less nutritious.”

The Barn Wedding Venue

The beautifully restored barn is the centerpiece of Whittier’s Apple Farm. “We started this project around July 1 this year,” Owen said, proudly displaying the spacious, new, clean and creatively decorated space. “We worked seven days a week, even on Labor Day this year, putting up insulation so we could be ready for apple season.”

The partners also installed a new pond slated for scenic landscaping in the spring. Farm and country weddings, family reunions and other gatherings that enjoy natural settings are increasingly popular, according to Owen. Weddings pictures beside the water and forest are both picturesque and romantic. “And sunsets on top of that hill,” Owen pointed westward from the pond, “are just spectacular.” The Whittier Apple Barn now includes a new, large kitchen, two new bathrooms and is ADA approved for access throughout.

Historic Setting

“This old barn was once the Morse family farm, with stretches of apple orchards out through the hay fields,” Owen said. “I lived here my entire life, for 46 years. When I was a kid, this was still a dairy. In the 80s they started to sell apples out of the old barn, and they planted a grove of semi-dwarf apple trees for easy picking.”

The partners, the Whittiers and the Straights, have worked hard to keep the traditional feel of the old farm while creating a modern, all-new and beautiful space for apple season and for all seasons.

The last of the season’s apple crop arrived last week on a truck carrying at least a dozen 800-pound crates of apples from local orchards to top off Whittier’s stock for eating and for cider. The season’s best now awaits the autumn’s best customers.

Visit their website at www.whittierfarm.com and at Whittier Apple Farm on Facebook or simply take a pleasant country drive out to 1507 Blockville Watts Flats Road in Ashville, New York.

Previous articlePottery Sale to Benefit Health Professions Scholars
Next articleFluvanna Free Library to Host Holiday Craft Bazaar and Book Sale
Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.