For many families, it’s not autumn without visiting Russell Orchards Farm & Winery in Ipswich for hot cider donuts, apple picking, and Thanksgiving pies. Of course, this isn’t a typical autumn, which is why the Russell family did everything it could to ensure that customers could still enjoy the season—despite the ongoing pandemic—by adding a new outdoor weekend market to their fall offerings.
“They can still uphold some of their traditions, even though a lot of their lives have been upended,” says Miranda Russell, who co-owns the farm with her husband, Douglas.
The family, which has owned the property since 1979, is also celebrating 100 years of the orchard itself, so perhaps it’s fitting that this year has been one of reinvention. They’ve reimagined and redesigned every element of the farm experience to maximize safety for its customers with a kind of grit and determination that their farming forebears would certainly have recognized.
“It hasn’t been easy, but we just take a page out of any farmer’s handbook, which is work hard, and if it’s not working, work harder,” Russell says.
At first, they were nervous about how customers would react to losing a lot of their favorite elements of their experience visiting the farm. Not only did they redesign the farm store layout and install plexiglass barriers and rigorous sanitation procedures, but they also removed outdoor picnic tables, animal food dispensers, and wine tastings of the farm’s more than 30 fruit wines and hard ciders.
“At first, we thought that was going to be really tough, that stripping away all those frills that was going to make this a no-win for people,” Russell says. “But the opposite was true.”
Instead, they’ve received so much positive feedback from people who were grateful to the lengths to which the farm was going to keep them safe while continuing to provide fresh, local food and a beautiful place to spend time.
“Despite people feeling their purse strings tightening, and maybe a looming sense of insecurity about their own financial futures, they’re still wanting to get out and buy things locally,” Russell says of customers. “They’re wanting to do anything with their families that’s outdoors where they feel some sense of normalcy.”
That desire especially extends to autumn, when the barn and orchards are hives of activity and it’s not unusual for people to stand in long lines waiting for apple cider donuts to get out of the frier.
Since such crowds would be unsafe this year, Russell Orchards has added a new outdoor weekend market in its field. Now, favorite fall items are outside, like bags of apples, donuts, and pies.
“It eliminates that crowded feeling inside the barn,” Russell says. “It’s an attractive place to go shopping, and it’s outside and people feel safe.”
Ordering holiday pies from Russell Orchards is another tradition that’s still in place this year. Among Russell Orchards’ most popular pies are apple cranberry, apple mince, and an apple crumb pie topped with an apple crisp topping. In addition to ordering freshly baked pies, customers can also pick up holiday pies from the farm store freezer that they can bake at home.
Russell Orchards fruit wines add another local taste to holiday tables. The wines are all made from the farm’s own fruits and come in an incredible range of varieties like dandelion, elderberry, lilac, and pumpkin spice.
For the holidays, Russell recommends its blueberry wines—both its wild blueberry and dry blueberry, which is aged in French oak—to pair well with turkey and even substitute for a cabernet, as well as its zingy, jewel-toned jostaberry wine.
For an old New England feel, opt for one of their hard ciders, such as the Sweetheart Hard Cider served with desserts like apple pies and crisps, or its drier cider varieties like Middle Ridge or Max’s Dry. Also nice to pair with dessert or serve before the meal is the Pink Lady apple wine, or the sweet and sparkling J’s Ice Cider, Russell says.
Although this year doesn’t feel like one to celebrate, Russell Orchards is celebrating not only 100 years of its orchard, but also the fall season, its customers, and the value of holding onto tradition in the face of hardship.
“Despite the most difficult circumstances that our area has seen in most everybody’s lifetime, right now we are celebrating that we’re hanging in there, and we’re still seen as a place that families and customers can come to get their fresh local fruit and vegetables,” Russell says.
For more information, visit russellorchards.com.