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For many Northern Californians, the first whiff of fall in the air signals it’s time to visit Apple Hill for their annual fruit fix.
The outing isn’t just for apple lovers — dozens of vineyards and tree farms line the rural roads along with the orchards east of Placerville in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It’s the 50th year that Apple Hill growers have welcomed families to enjoy a day at the farm, picking berries and apples, sampling ciders and pies, attending special events, or simply taking a lazy drive along the lovely back roads. (Don’t worry about getting lost — no farm is more than five miles from the highway!)
A farm for everyone
Many of the larger farms are destinations in themselves. One very accessible farm, High Hill Ranch, is just off Highway 50 at the Carson Road exit. With parking for those with limited mobility, restrooms, and a fairly level, paved terrain, it’s one of the few stops the entire family can enjoy.
A child-sized pumpkin patch sits alongside the main lane through the property, with pony rides and a pond where young ones can have their first taste of fishing. A row of umbrella-ed picnic tables overlook the gorgeous view. It’s just the place to enjoy lunch. Donuts, caramel apples, and meals are available in the apple house, where you can choose from a dozen varieties grown at the ranch.
Dozens of arts and crafts vendors surround High Hill’s pie house, where you can enjoy a piece of warm pie. Pick one up to take home, frozen or baked.
Or try this tart recipe — it couldn’t be easier! The fruit is so unadorned that all its natural flavors shine. I’ve added persimmon because I’m crazy for them, but this tart is delectable with apples alone.
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 Fuyu persimmon, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter or vegetable spread
1 frozen pie crust
Thaw pie crust on counter for 1 hour before unrolling from packaging.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Unroll pie crust on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Peel, halve and core apples; cut in approximately 1/4-inch slices. Peel and core persimmon; cut into thin slices. Arrange fruit in center of pie crust, leaving a 2-inch borders all the way around. Dot fruit with chunks of butter or spread. Drizzle the honey over the fruit.
Fold the edges of the pie crust up over the fruit, leaving the center piled with fruit exposed. Bake for 40 minutes. Cut cooled tart into quarters; transfer to serving dishes cautiously as the tart will be flaky and delicate.
Plan your visit to Apple Hill
It’s virtually impossible to visit every farm and winery in the area on a single visit, so as the Apple Hill Growers Association says: Come soon and come often. Their map of the area will help you get your bearings.
If you’re like me, you’ll need several years to visit all the farms that look interesting. Take your time and have fun.
Make a trip with the kiddies, then come another time with adult friends to visit the vineyards and sample the local wines. (Bring the grandparents a pie as a reward for babysitting!)
Apple farms open for the season on Labor Day, and the fun lasts into November. Check for special events and plan your trip on the Apple Hill Growers Association website.