Take Your Pick

Take Your PickTake Your PickTake Your PickTake Your PickTake Your PickTake Your Pick

A s summer stretches its limbs toward fall, fruit is heavy on the branches, practically begging to be plucked. It’s a yearly invitation I can never refuse—even on a broiling late August morning, when I head to Norton Brothers Fruit Farm in Cheshire, don a shady hat and set off down the hill, following big graphic signs like giant Candyland cards to the peach orchard.

“Please come help us pick the biggest peach harvest we’ve ever had!” the farm’s Facebook page had implored a few days earlier. Sure enough, the branches are still clutching big, firm, downy-skinned peaches, their pink-orange complexions the color of summer itself.

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The saw of insects, the call of birds and the occasional whir of a car engine from nearby Route 68 are the only sounds under the otherwise quiet orchard canopy, where heat reclines patiently at the start of a long summer day. Scattered around the low-forking trunks are dozens of “drops”—peaches discarded by the trees to give their remaining fruit more nourishment. I reach up and pluck my first peach, then set it carefully into my bag to keep it from bruising.

Lucky pickers may still find peaches ($2.49/lb.) as the fruit’s pick-your-own season winds down at Norton. I’ll be one of the last customers to pick blueberries this season. But the apple crop ($2.09/lb.) is just getting started. I find it hard to pass by the rosy red McIntosh—a family favorite—on their young trees in favor of the Zestars, a variety I’ve never tasted but which are marked as ready for picking. I snag just a handful of these giant fruits. Also available are Ginger Golds, described by the New England Apple Association as “juicy, with tangy, sweet-tart flavor,” a variety “discovered as a chance seedling in Lovingston, Virginia in 1969.” Norton Brothers grows 34 varieties of apples, according to its website, available for picking as they ripen right through to Thanksgiving. Six varieties of pears ($2.09/lb.) will soon be ready as well.

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The Norton family has been farming this land since 1759, across eight generations. “Every once in awhile the ninth generation helps out,” quips farmer Tim Perry, whom I meet when I stop in the market to pay for my yield (and pick up an impulse buy: a pint of late strawberries). Today Perry runs the operation with his mother, Phyllis, and aunts Betty Hail and Judy Hill. While the sisters are currently in control, the “brothers” of the farm’s name are Perry’s grandfather, Judson, and great uncle, Donald, who planted many of the fruit trees in the 1940s, though Perry says some of the oldest pear trees date back 100 years. His grandfather planted those as a boy with his own father, former Cheshire first selectman Birdsey B. Norton.

Farming has evolved over the years. The farm market is a former dairy barn, now offering not only fruits and vegetables—mostly either Norton Brothers’ or at least Connecticut-grown—but also other farm-related products such as jams, jellies, maple syrup, honey and salad dressings. Fall will bring Norton Brothers cider, pumpkins, mums and seasonal decorations like cornstalks and gourds as well as pies (pre-ordered) for the holidays. Overall, Perry says, the business today is 30% retail and 70% wholesale.

I congratulate myself on my restraint as I head back to my car with the strawberries, four apples, about a dozen peaches and a couple of quarts of blueberries. It’s easy to go overboard when so much fruit is lolling, sweet and warm, on the bushes and trees. But it’s mighty hot out, even at ten in the morning. And, to be honest, the picking isn’t my favorite part.

The eating is. There’s nothing better than fruit that’s literally farm-to-table. My peaches will spend a day or two ripening in a paper bag on the counter, an old trick that will make them softer and juicier. A couple of my Zestar apples are destined for a pie. But those blueberries? They’re promptly rinsed and ready to eat, a summer pleasure savored all the more because it’s fleeting.

Norton Brothers Fruit Farm
466 Academy Rd, Cheshire (map)
Pick-your-own hours (seasonal): Mon-Fri 8:30am-5pm, Sat-Sun 9am-4:30pm
Farm market hours (June-December): Mon-Fri 8am-6pm, Sat-Sun 9am-5pm
(203) 272-8418
Website | Facebook Page

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter at KathyLeonardCzepiel.com. Her favorite New Haven scene is a packed summer concert on the Green with dinner from the food trucks, and she loves that there’s always something new to discover here.

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