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Move over wine: This Finger Lakes trail is for dessert lovers

What better reason for a road trip then to satisfy your sweet tooth?

The crisp crunch of a fresh-picked apple, the allure of pancakes smothered in maple syrup or the taste of a strawberry dipped in melted chocolate — these are the mouth-watering mile markers along the Finger Lakes Sweet Treat Trail.

Meandering through Cayuga County, the trail is a self-guided tour that includes 20 or so scrumptious stops.

“Culinary excursions are a growing niche of cultural tourism, so we created the Finger Lakes Sweet Treat Trail to combine travel with a unique, memorable and sweet local eating experience,” said Meg Vanek, executive director of the Cayuga County Office of Tourism.

It’s hard to hit all the trail partners in one day, but here’s a sampling of some of the delicious destinations.

Farm to market

A good place to start is the Auburn Farmers Co-op Market on State St., off Route 38. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from June until October. The open-air market features fruits and vegetables, jams and jellies, cider and wine, honey and syrup, baked goods and fresh meat.

From the market, head north on Route 38 to Fair Haven, home of the Fly By Night Cookie Company, which produces 65 varieties of cookies and pastries.

“Everything is made from scratch with real eggs, butter, fresh fruit from local farms and no chemicals or preservatives,” said Bonnie Bridson, owner of the bakery/tea shop and miniature museum.

She also offers a six-hour kitchen adventure by appointment for $75. “We’ll give you a hat and apron, and you can work with the chief  ‘Cookie Monster,’ learning new skills, tips and baking tricks.”

The bakery at 14508 Fancher Ave. is open March 20 to Dec. 24. To arrange for high tea and scones on the porch, call (315) 947-5588.

Cider and doughnuts

The aroma of fresh-squeezed apples and warm doughnuts welcomes visitors to the u-pick farm and cider mill at Owen Orchards on Route 5.

You can’t beat the prices — $1 for a cold cup of cider drawn from a keg tap on the wall, or $2 for a cup and two doughnuts.

“We press about 400 gallons per day during apple season,” said Gordon Tripp, who tends the 30 acres of apple and peach trees. “We have 18 types of apples, including seven heritage/antique varieties.”

“We also own the exclusive rights to Snap Dragon and Ruby Frost, two brand new varieties developed at Cornell University,” he added.

From August to March, Owen Orchards sells caramel apples, apple butter, cider slushies, hand-crank apple peelers, pumpkins and gourds and 12 different pies made from scratch according to recipes from Tripp’s great-grandma.

On fall weekends, four tractor-pulled wagons haul families out into the orchards to pick and picnic. The store is located at 8174 Grant Ave. Road in Weedsport.

Sweetness on tap

A little farther northeast is Smokey Hollow Maple Syrup, off Route 5 in Jordan. “Just follow the sweet smell to the sugar shack” are the directions Jim Hotaling gives to sap seekers.

His maple syrup evaporator is located at the end of about 1,800 plastic tap hoses. Using a reverse osmosis process, Hotaling filters the tree sap seven times before it becomes the amber elixir that elevates the taste of pancakes.

“We make 600 or 700 gallons of syrup,” he explained, “and turn it into pure maple sugar, maple ice cream, maple candy, maple fudge, maple popcorn and maple cotton candy.”

Endless pancakes

If you miss that syrupy fest, New Hope Mills Store and Café in Auburn offers all the fixings for your own flapjack feast.

The flour mill operation, which has been owned by the Weed family since 1947, has been producing baking supplies since 1823. The store’s shelves are packed with spices, dried fruit, honey, nuts, sewn bags of flour and mixes for sweet potato pancakes, pumpkin muffins and gluten-free chocolate cupcakes.

The café offers all-you-can-eat pancakes for $3.99 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Friday. The record is 22½ pancakes (the locally-roasted coffee is not included).

The Weed family may soon offer tours of their original mill and covered bridge in New Hope.

Strawberry fields forever

Strawberry Fields Hydroponic Farm on Route 20, east of Auburn, has 20,000 plants producing delicious berries all summer.

“We grow our plants in a medium other than soil,” explained Linda Eldred, who operates the dirtless quarter-acre farm with her husband, Doug.

The plants in rows of elevated pots are watered three times a day with a nutrient-rich solution. “There are no weeds, so the plants produce more strawberries,” Eldred added.

The efficient five-tier stacks of Styrofoam pots are just the right height for kids or berry pickers in wheelchairs and walkers.

Along with jams and jellies, fudge, raw honey and strawberry cheesecake, Eldred sells shortcakes and whipped cream. There’s also a chocolate fountain for dipping fresh berries.

Places for pies

“Flavors change with the seasons,” said Kelli Morgan, who makes fruit pies, quick breads and fruit shakes at Morgan’s Half Acre Produce on Route 326, west of Auburn.

Morgan runs the fruit and vegetable stand with her husband, Bill, who manages a dairy farm with 800 cows.

She bakes pies in the store’s kitchen, “starting the season in June with fresh strawberries and rhubarb.”

Another great spot for fruit pies is The Produce Place at 293 Cayuga St. on Route 90 in Union Springs.

The garden center, owned by Mary and Tom Sawdey, is known as much for baked goods as bulk seed and bedding plants. Mary bakes amazing coconut cream pies and Tom frosts holiday cutout cookies.

“We get pie orders from all over the country,” said Tom, who also makes garlic hummus and bacon-horseradish dip in the store’s deli.

Orchards and autos

The Apple Station is a winery and u-pick orchard located near the junction of Routes 326 and 90. The country store is decorated with antique auto signs, a Texaco pump, old maps and gas station memorabilia.

Kathy and Robert Wintamute produce apple, grape and fruit-blend wines with names like Rumble Seat Red, Thirty Weight White and Roadster Red that reflect these automotive themes.

Along with apples, cider and doughnuts, they sell blueberries, honey, Indian corn, cheese and potatoes. Next to the tasting room is a large banquet facility, where wine-pairing dinners, music events and murder-mystery dinners are presented.

Breakfast delights

Karen Luziani is the “queen of breakfast treats” in Union Springs. She gets up at 5 a.m. each day to make sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, biscotti, fruit kolaches and breakfast bars packed with nuts, coconut and fruit.

“My weekend specialty is a breakfast twist stuffed with eggs, bacon, green onions and cheese — all wrapped in homemade pizza crust,” said Luziani at her Karen’s Country Confections Bakery at 147 Cayuga St.

She also bakes ciabatta, Italian and herb breads, which she turns into tasty croutons at the end of the day. “Nothing goes to waste,” added the former tractor-trailer driver.

A little farther south on Route 90 is Dorie’s Bakery, which supplies breads, scones and cakes to the Inns of Aurora, a luxurious complex of restored mansions on Cayuga Lake.

The historic properties are owned by Pleasant T. Rowland, the philanthropist and entrepreneur who created American Girl dolls.

Dorie’s offers breakfast croissants, deli sandwiches, quiches, locally made ice cream and pastries like chocolate mousse tarts and bourbon pecan pie.

More sweet stops

Other stops on the Sweet Treat Trail include purveyors of fine kefir cheese, craft beer-flavored desserts, fruit wines, homemade ice cream and sherbet, dessert wines and wine jellies, honey products and the Niles Farmers Market in Moravia.

New places are joining each season. Take the time to not only sample the treats, but also chat with the growers and bakers. Each member has a special story to tell, making the visit even sweeter.

How to hop on the Sweet Treat Trail

Taste trekkers can print or pick up a free map at the tourism office at 131 Genesee St. in Auburn, which is about 126 miles from Buffalo.

The map includes a Tasting Tour Pass, which can be stamped at trail stops from May 1 to Nov. 15. Visitors with eight stamps are eligible to win a basket full of local goodies.

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