When my older son was about nine he became fascinated with raptors: eagles, osprey, hawks, owls – any bird of prey with a sharp beak is a raptor. One of his favorites was the red-tailed hawk, a popular bird in NYC since the fame of Pale Male, a red-tail that lives above Central Park.
Autumn is hawk-watching season. The annual hawk count begins on Sept. 1 and runs through November. Designated watching spots for hawks include: the Lenoir Nature Preserve, Hook Mountain, and Montclair in New Jersey. There are also events in NYC and you can find hawk watchers in Central Park (check out Belvedere Castle) and Riverside Park.
One reader suggests this lovely day trip: Hawk Mountain in Kempton, PA (not far from Allentown) truly is a premier site to view birds of prey (especially during fall migration), and is a lovely hiking spot as well. You can find out more at Hawk Mountain.org.
Go To HawkCount for details of more hawk watches in other locations, including Long Island.
For a family or individual experience that you will never forget, take an intimate Hawk Walk with Lorrie Schumacher of Talons! Birds of Pre, located upstate in Earlville, in the center of New York State. This adventure is worth the cost! Lorrie travels to other events (many of them free), and you mY well find her at at Prospect Park on September 30. Check out her Facebook page.
The Raptor Trust
CLoser to home, you can visit the Raptor Trust near Morristown, New Jersey, a 45-minute drive from the GWB. This is a bird hospital in the forest where they rescue all birds but have a focus on raptors. Wander through the ramshackle aviaries where you will find eagles, owls, and hawks. Open year-round seven days a week, free but asking for a modest donation, this is a great family experience. On the way you will pass an Environmental Education Center and there is another nature center just off the road, as well as a nearby bird watching site, in the Great Swamp National Refuge.
Enjoy the last rays of Indian summer at outdoor festivals. In late September or early October, there's the annual Medieval Festival in Fort Tryon Park, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.. See the Festival website or call (212) 795-1600. If you love raptors, you won't want to miss the Hawk Watch, usually 1-2 p.m.
The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT, used to offer an all-weekend boat-building workshop where families each built their own 7-foot seaworthy pram. Now, you will have to settle for their 20-minute toy boat-building workshop (at a cost of only $5 instead of $1,250). They also have afternoon fall foliage cruises for about $20/person (passengers must be over 42"tall). For info call (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206
Autumn arrives late in the Big Apple, so you can still collect leaves in November. Aside from Central and Prospect Parks, favorite leaf-picking trails include Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Park at the north end of Orchard Beach and try the trails on the adjacent twin islands. You'll find good bird-watching there too, wild pheasants and more.
Just across the Hudson River is Fort Lee Historic Park. Take the GW bridge to the first exit in NJ, Fort Lee. Turn back towards the Hudson to Edgewater Road, and turn right (south). Directly under the GW bridge you pass the original Fort Lee, with old Revolutionary War fortifications still intact. ($5 parking fee in season.) Revolutionary War reenactments are held on the weekend closest to November 20th.
Further south, just before you pass the big shopping malls along the river, two stone pillars flank a road to the left. This is the southernmost entrance to Palisades Park (closed in winter), a magnificent drive along the Hudson, with picnic spots, marinas, and loads of maples and pines that offer colorful leaves and huge pinecones perfect for holiday decorations. This is the closest park to NYC that is truly wild and unspoiled.
An apple a day is said to be good for your health. For me, it is also the symbol of a happy family life. Nothing makes me feel cozier than the smell of an apple pie backing in the over, or spiced cider warming on the stove. One of my very happiest memories is going apple picking with my children. Every year our kids would ask if it was time — if the apples were ripe yet, or if the fruit was still hanging from the trees and it wasn't too late to go. On a perfect autumn day, with the sky a bright blue and the air as cool and crisp as a new apple, we would pack a lunch and drive upstate. Farms provided bags or baskets and picking poles. We paid by the volume for what we took away, but while we worked we ate all the apples we wanted for free. Those days sparkled with laughter and energy as the kids climbed trees (sometimes forbidden) and we filled our car with the bounty of autumn.
For weeks afterward we made apple pies and applesauce; baked apples stuffed with raisins and walnuts; cobbler and brown betty; sliced fresh apples served with cheese or nut butters; added to smoothies; tossed into soups or stews or salads or sautees; and apple slices dipped in honey for Rosh Hashanah, a symbol of sweet times to celebrate the Jewish New Year. If we couldn't find the time to go picking, we would settle for a morning trip to a nearby cider mill, maybe stealing a short walk in the autumn woods, and coming home with gallons of fresh-pressed cider that seemed to get sweeter every year, and a sack full of ever new varieties of apples. Even their names were a delight: Pippin, Granny Smith, Winesap, Macoun, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Braeburn, Ida Red, Courtland, Crispin, Empire, Gala, Macintosh, Gravenstein, Rome, Northern Spy, Fuji, and so many more. Each offers up a different color, flavor and texture. Some are better in pies, or better in applesauce, or better baked in cider. Experimenting to find out which were best in which dish was our annual pleasure!
It might surprise you to know that there are 2500 varieties of apples grown in the US, 7500 in the world. Find more apple facts.
Have your kids do apple math by halving or doubling a recipe, figuring out how much a bushel or a peck is, how much the average apple in your basket weighs, the round-trip mileage to a u-pick farm, etc.
Here is a list of u-pick farms and cider mills suitable for a half- or full-day trip.
The Thompson Cider Mill in Croton-on-Hudson, NY is open just on weekends during the fall season through Thanksgiving. This is a real old-fashioned cider mill with a wide variety of fresh apples for sale, about a 45-minute drive north of NYC. Cider is made Saturday mornings at ten a.m. and you are welcome to come and watch. The cider mill is located adjacent to the Teatown Lake Reservation Nature Preserve, where you can take a lovely walk in the woods. Note: no apple-picking.
U-pick apple farms (most also have farm stands selling cider and other items).
Note: call before you go to check their hours and find out which apples are ripe and what the picking conditions are like.
In Westchester County:
Just under an hour from NYC is Wilkens Fruit and Fir Farm in Yorktown Heights, open weekends (Fri-Sun) through October. Like most u-pick farms, they have a page on their website saying which apples ripen when.
If you don't have a car, you can take Metro North to Croton Harmon. Call a taxi in advance so they're waiting for you at the station.
Stuart's Farm in Granite Springs, open daily 9-5 through the first week in November.
In Orange County:
A bit further than Wilken's or Stuart's, but perhaps less crowded and more family friendly, is Masker Orchards in Warwick, NY. (Note: Warwick is accessible by bus from Port Authority and you can call a taxi to take you to the farm).
Fishkill Farms is a low-spray orchard. They are open seven days a week through October. If you don't have a car, take the Metro North Hudson Line to Beacon station. Then take a ten-minute taxi to the farm. This farm is about a 1½-hour drive by car.
Laurie's Spiced Mulled Apple Cider
Empty one quart of freshly pressed apple cider into a large saucepan. Add the following (if you don't have all of the ingredients, then just add what you have):
five whole cloves
two cinnamon sticks
a few strips of fresh orange peel (or lemon peel)
three pieces of star anise
three pieces of allspice
Heat through for 15 minutes, on a medium-low flame. Don't let the cider boil. When you can smell the spices it's done. Serve by ladling the hot cider through a small strainer into mugs. Leftover mulled cider can be refrigerated and reheated later.
Laurie's Favorite Apple Cake: Cinnamon Whole Wheat Apple Cake
(adapted from Sinfully Vegan, by Lois Dieterly)
2 cups whole wheat flour (or white whole wheat flour, such as King Arthur)
1-½cups unbleached white flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 tsp. flax powder (or ground flax seed)
1/3 cup apple cider
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup maple syrup (or maple flavored agave)
¾ cup vanilla soy milk (or substitute yogurt or sour cream for a richer cake)
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 cups apples, peeled and grated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a rectangular baking dish (like a lasagna pan) or a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray (preferably canola oil).
Soak the flax powder in the apple cider, mixed well.
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well.
Combine wet ingredients in another bowl. Tip: Put the oil in your measuring cup first and then the maple syrup won't stick to the cup. Add the applesauce and mix well. Pour wet ingredients into dry and combine together, adding the grated apples.
Pour batter into pan and bake for 45-50 minutes. Cool for ten minutes and then glaze with a heated mixture of 2-3 tbsp. maple syrup and 1 tsp. ground cinnamon.