By Ahren von Schnell | Photos By Ty Kretser
Rulfs Orchard is the kind of cultural institution that defines a community. It’s a byword amongst locals and a magnet for visitors to the region. Sitting just off Northway Exit 35, it is the embodiment of a picturesque pastoral ideal that typifies what the North Country is so admired for.
Rulfs has a storied history in the Town of Peru, and the greater North Country for that matter. In 1952, Bob Rulfs of Valhalla, New York in Westchester County, relocated to this region and purchased a modest dairy farm that over time became the beloved, local cultural institution it is today. Bob was a young and tenacious German American who had recently graduated with a degree in Animal Husbandry and, despite the admonitions of his doctor that it would exacerbate his allergies, was determined to build a life as a farmer.
The farm he acquired was the one he had worked on during a previous summer. Aside from the land itself, his purchase also included four dairy cows and 12 acres of apple trees. It was those trees that would make Rulfs a household name.
With the guidance of veteran apple growers, Bob quickly became skilled at managing his orchard. He initially sold apples on his front lawn, using a simple jar as a means for customers to pay by the honor system.
The produce that Rulfs brought to the local community proved to be so popular it wasn’t long before he and his family had begun to expand the variety of their crops. Items like corn, tomatoes and pumpkins were some of the first to be added, and would go on to be perennial favorites. Greenhouses were built to support a new, broad array of fruits, flora and vegetables. A cider mill capitalized on the reputation of their apples and provided an additional pipeline for any surplus.
Apples remain a mainstay of Rulfs with an ever-expanding selection of varieties, including everything from the classic Red Delicious and McIntosh, to the more boutique Mutsu apple, a cultivar which hails from Japan. Customers can purchase them by the peck or bushel and they are also available in bulk quantities, a popular option for feeding animals.
Another attraction at Rulfs is its petting zoo. According to Shannon Wilkins, Business Manager, “This year we are planning to build a barn for our petting zoo. We want it to be more visitor friendly and it is important for the animals.”
The management team at Rulfs emphasized they couldn’t grow such a bountiful offering of apples without the help of the industrious honeybee indefatigably shuttling pollen from one blossom to another, calling forth a new crop, season after season. Indeed, Bakery Manager Riley Wilkins, noted, “If we don’t have bees, we don’t have food. It’s not just fruits and vegetables the bees on the farm help bring to the table, they also supply our store with locally produced honey.
But one can’t have artisanal honey without an appropriately indulgent baked good to drizzle it on, and store bought just won’t do! Here again, the staff at Rulfs has distinguished itself. The bakery has been a constant fixture, in one iteration or another, since the early days of the business. Initially, its bread and butter (so to speak) was cider donuts, which to this day have become something of a de facto official pastry of the Adirondacks. That quickly expanded to include much wider offerings, including their famous pies, cookies and breads. “We use our own zucchini in our zucchini breads, our own apples to make our apple pies, apple cider donuts and our apple breads,” Shannon explained.
By 2015, demand for all Rulfs was producing overwhelmed its production capacity. It was time for a much larger building — one that has become the nerve center for the 170-acre operation.
When summer comes around, homemade ice cream is on the menu, with North Country signature flavors like apple pie, maple walnut and pumpkin cheesecake. In winter, one can still find locally grown fruit available. “The bakery freezes strawberries, raspberries and blueberries for purchase and for our production year-round,” Shannon offered.
And for those looking for a more robust meal, Rulfs now includes a café with a variety of breakfast and lunch options. The menu showcases standouts like the breakfast quesadilla and the veggie wrap, as well as timeless classics like the BLT and comforting grilled cheese and tomato soup.
As fall approaches and the days become shorter and the air cooler, it’s Rulfs time to shine. Whether it’s apple and pumpkin picking, or just exploring the annual corn maze, the orchard becomes a beacon of quintessential Adirondack culture that draws visitors from all over to our region, helping to support local businesses and fuel the North Country economy.
Bob Rulfs was a visionary and today his dream is alive, well and thriving as his family carries on his tradition.
531 Bear Swamp Road
Peru, NY 12972