One of the best aspects of living in (or near) the Hudson Valley is the chance to be close to nature, surrounded by small businesses, and the opportunity to see and touch exactly where your food comes from—sometimes literally. The Clarke family has known this for nearly 40 years, when they started offering the chance to pick your own fruit at their own Prospect Hill Orchards farm, in Milton, NY.
Prospect Hill has been a feature of the Hudson Valley area for over 200 years, since well before New York was known as the second-largest apple-producing state in the country.
“Every generation adapts to the current conditions and shifts the focus of the farm as the years go by,” said Pam Clarke Torres, one of the orchard’s family members, when describing the farm’s transformation from a subsistence farm back in the 19th century to a commercial business. As it turns out, sticking to their roots is a winning formula for modern day New Yorkers, too—remaining a small-scale, family-owned operation means the Clarkes have been able to focus on quality control while changing with the times, installing solar panels and sustainable irrigation systems to keep their carbon footprint as small as possible.
The farm has offerings to impress families, foodies, and everything in between. Visitors can pick fresh, tree ripened fruit throughout the season: sweet and sour cherries in late June and early July, apricots, plums, nectarines, and peaches through July and August, and apples, pears, and pumpkins in the fall months. And don’t miss the shop, where you can grab hyperlocal honey from the farm, homemade jams and granolas, and baked goods—including, of course, apple cider donuts during the fall. Heck yeah!
Apart from fruit picking, parents can keep an eye on the event calendar for Kids’ Days during the fall, where the little ones can look forward to arts and crafts, cider pressing, and scavenger hunts. And visitors of all ages can enjoy picnicking in the fresh farm air and admiring the farm’s gorgeous views of the surrounding Hudson Valley.
This time of year, the peaches are the star of the farm. The orchard grows a whole array of varieties, including Coralstar, Newhaven, Salem, Canadian Harmony and Flaming Fury yellow peaches and White Lady, Sugar Giant and Blushingstar white peaches. Staff can point you to the ripest, juiciest peaches available. Is there anything better than a fresh-as-can-be, tender peach that’s literally dripping with flavor? Just be sure to stop by before the end of August, or you’ll miss them.
Looking ahead to the fall, the apple offerings are just as diverse, including more varieties than you probably knew existed. The busy farm family has three pick your own locations during apple season: Homestead, Hilltop and Clarke’s Family Farm, all of which offer a different experience. “The most fun part of pick-your-own apples is finding a lot of different kinds of apples to choose from, and sampling the many flavors,” Clarke Torres said. “Tree-ripe and super fresh makes a big difference in fruit quality.” Look out for heirloom varieties like Esopus Spitzenburg and brand new breeds like Snapdragon, or stick to modern classics like the crisp, sweet, and just slightly tangy Macoun.
The Clarkes aren’t planning on resting on their laurels anytime soon. Upon arrival, the first thing you’ll see is the brand-new, gorgeous blue barn—the crown jewel of the Hilltop orchard. It currently stands empty, but within the next five years, they plan for it to house a bakery, a distillery, and some event space as well. Those looking for local tipples don’t need to wait too long, however—Pam, her brother Brad Clarke, and their close family friend Mark were just granted their distillery license. Come by in the fall for some of their handcrafted apple and peach eau de vie, and by next year, they plan to sell their own hard cider as well.
Pam agreed to share one more family jewel: Grandma Clarke’s original cobbler recipe.
“My grandma Marion Clarke rarely wrote down her recipes, so this is handwritten by my mom, probably while watching my Grandma make cobbler,” Clarke Torres said. “I would suggest starting at 350 F and bumping up to 375 F at the end to encourage the topping to crisp up nicely. Mace is an unusual spice, but is great for baking in this recipe -you can substitute nutmeg if that is what you have on hand.”
Try it with peaches, apples, or even pears—if you can manage not to eat them all first.
Grandma Clarke’s Cobbler and Topping Recipe
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Slice any fruit to fill 9″ square pan (roughly 4 cups).
3. Add 1/4 cup brown sugar, 3 tbsp flour to the fruit, 1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional).
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp mace (the outer shell of nutmeg)
1/4 tsp salt
Spread topping evenly across fruit. Melt 1/2 cup of butter and drizzle on top. Bake for 30 minutes or until juices are bubbling and topping is crisp.