When I called up Shelley Smith to let her know her doughnuts had won The Daily Gazette’s Cider Doughnut Taste Test, I had to move the phone away from my ear almost immediately to spare myself a hearing aid in the near future.
She was inside her Charlton bake shop on the Smith Brothers Dairy Farm at the time, and had mouthed the news to several nearby employees when the high-pitched screams broke out.
“Sorry, we’re just a little excited,” she said.
The Daily Gazette sampled doughnuts from 11 reader-nominated orchards last week. It was our first time hosting a doughnut taste test, and we received 16 nominations via email, phone and Facebook for orchards and farms from every corner of the Capital Region, including as far away as Schoharie and Sharon Springs. Two farms couldn’t make the drive. Two didn’t return our calls. And one farm’s phone line was mysteriously busy every single time we called.
Still, 11 cider doughnuts from 11 different farms was more than enough for our judging panel. Each orchard was incredibly gracious, bringing way more than the half-dozen doughnuts we requested, and Lindsey’s Country Store and Orchard in Clifton Park even brought us two big jugs of chilled apple cider. The leftovers quickly quashed any lingering envy had by Gazette employees who weren’t on the panel.
Thank you to all of our participants
• Lindsey’s Country Store and Orchard, Clifton Park
• Riverview Orchards, Rexford
• Fo’Castle Farm Country Store, Burnt Hills
• Indian Ladder Farms, Altamont
• Sand Flats Orchards, Fonda
• DeVoe’s Rainbow Apple Orchards, Clifton Park
• Lansing’s Farm Market, Niskayuna
• Saratoga Apple, Schuylerville
• Lake View Orchards, Mayfield
• Altamont Orchards, Altamont
• Smith’s Orchard Bake Shop, Charlton
We judged the doughnuts on cider flavor, crust, cake texture and overall quality. Readers nominated them on far less tangible qualities.
“When I was younger, my mom would take us kids at 8:30 in the morning to Fo’Castle and we’d have their doughnuts as they were first coming out of the oven all warm,” said Giovanna, a reader who left her nomination for the Burnt Hills farm on my voicemail a few weeks ago.
In addition to being just plain fun to read, the nominations also helped us learn more about the orchards in our midst.
“Not only does Fo’Castle make great doughnuts, they are great people, too,” wrote Niskayuna Town Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw in an email. “Every year, I throw a Halloween parade for the children of Niskayuna and they donate all the cider and doughnuts. When I hand a doughnut to each resident, they always say, ‘Where did you get these? This is terrific!’ ”
Our winner received one of our more curious nominations. When I checked my voicemail one morning, a message simply said: “Smith’s Farms in Charlton has the best pies.”
I was momentarily confused. We were asking about the best cider doughnuts. Should this nomination even qualify? Either way, what could it hurt to give them a call and invite them to the contest? We’re glad we did. Their doughnuts were tender and perfectly sweet, with a cider flavor and crunchy sugar coating in all the right ratios.
If you know Smith’s Orchard Bake Shop, you probably do know it for its pies. Owner Shelley Smith makes them from scratch using fresh or frozen fruit with plain or crumb toppings. She makes apple blackberry, apple blueberry, apple raspberry, pecan, pineapple, strawberry rhubarb and rum fudge pies, among others. She sells more than 120 of them each Saturday and Sunday.
She opened her bake shop in 1999, nearly seven decades after the Smiths began operating the family farm in the Saratoga County town of Charlton. The farm and bake shop are just north of Route 67 — a cluster of buildings and two big blue silos along Jockey Street.
“I’ve always used the maximum amount of cider they tell you to use,” said Smith of her doughnuts. “I just like them better that way. People know us for our pies — they’re hand mixed and hand rolled — but we pay the same attention to detail to everything we do as we do to our pies.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bethany Bump at 395-3107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.