Growing up in Florida, apple picking is logistically impossible. It's one of the many reasons why I've made it a tradition to go each year since I've been living up north, along with the amazing views and resulting fresh-baked pies. This year, the orchard of choice was Russell Orchards in Ipswich, Massachusetts, known more for the products sold in its outpost than for the myriad varieties of apples growing on its trees.
Among its biggest claims is that Russell Orchards is home of New England's best cider donuts. Only when I saw how intensely dedicated they are to this special treat did I start taking the claim seriously: not only does Russell Orchards make all their donuts fresh throughout the day, but the dough is only pumped into the oil when customers are waiting for some piping hot sweets.
The batches are kept rather small, and the line moves quickly. It's a good thing, because the smell of frying apples in the air is completely intoxicating. In the end, it takes less than two minutes from the time the dough hits the oil to the time it's stashed in a paper bag for payment, and that's possibly Russell Orchard's most distinguishing factor.
But let's not forget about taste and texture. Sweet and subtly cider-y, fluffy with a crispy exterior, these are fine, fine creations. So much so that you most certainly will not be able to stop at one. Or two. Should I go on?
Well, Russell Orchards isn't only about cider donuts—in fact, one of their most unusual features is their production of fruit wines, which utilizes the whole array of fruits grown on the farm. Apparently, this tradition far outdates the production of normal grape wines in North America, and at Russell, wines are made from such crops as pears, cherries, dandelions, rhubarb, and peaches.
Some flavors are better than others. Strawberry wine was almost cloying in its sweetness, but when complemented with rhubarb, it's balanced into a lovely and far more complex blend that Russell Orchards considers the most popular flavor.
Peach tasted most like the fruit that goes into it, though the notable alcohol content (about 12 percent, same as most common varieties) is a constant reminder that this is wine—not juice. And ciders ranging from slightly sweet to dry to perry (a less common style made with bosc pears) feature clean, crisp flavors that make them equally worthy of a "Best in New England" title.
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