AP­PLE HILL: A SWEET PICK

A day trip to an ap­ple lovers’ par­adise

Riverbank News - - LIVING - By DENNIS WY­ATT

209 Liv­ing CAMINO — If you want some whole­some fun take a bite out of Ap­ple Hill’s of­fer­ings. Sit­u­ated in the rolling ter­rain at 3,000 feet east of Pla- cerville, this is where the hills of the west­ern Sierra is about to give way to the moun­tains. The soil here drains well, pro­duc­ing sweeter and tarter ap­ples than you will find on the val­ley floor.

Nor is Ap­ple Hill just a sea­sonal thing. Be­sides the winer­ies there are lilac farms, sev­eral year round ap­ple grow­ers that add to their ar­ray of of­fer­ings as the cal­en­dar pages turn, and 14 Christ­mas tree farms.

If you thing this is just about ap­ples per se, guess again. This is about “ev­ery­thing ap­ples” from Ge­or­gia ap­ple crunch cake, ap­ple dumplings, and ap­ple frit­ters ap­proach­ing the size of a plate with the taste to match to ev­ery kind of ap­ple pie imag­in­able. Sev­eral of the farms of­fer the ab­so­lutely fresh­est ap­ple cider around. And if you are so in­clined, you can get hard cider as well.

Some of the 18 ap­ple or­chards of­fer BBQ and other food. Al­most all have a place where you can se­cure a pic­nic ta­ble, an ex­panse of green grass to en­joy lunch while soak­ing in the rolling hills jammed with trees, ponds, var­i­ous farm crit­ters, and low key old fash­ioned fun cen­tered on har­vest themes. There are also gift shops with coun­trystyle ar­ti­san cre­ations

Kids can en­joy pony rides, pet­ting a lamb, or sim­ply burn­ing off en­ergy.

Not to dis­miss the winer­ies — they get great rav­ing re­views from friends of mine that ven­ture up into El Do­rado County from Sacra­mento at least twice a year to sam­ple the wares of 10 winer­ies and shop for their wine cabi­net while stop­ping in Plac­erville for din­ner in the his­toric Hang­town district where brows­ing spe­cialty shops to cap off the ex­cur­sion.

I go for the ap­ples. I used to hit Ap­ple Hill once a year to load up on ap­ples when I lived in neigh­bor­ing Placer County. Since I’ve moved to Man­teca my trips are far­ther apart but each time I make them I kick my­self for not go­ing more fre­quently.

While San Joaquin County is the state’s lead­ing county for ap­ple pro­duc­tion grow­ing 31 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s crop, there’s some­thing a bit bet­ter about Ap­ple Hill ap­ples. It may be the fact the ones that reach the lo­cal fruit stands may take one to two days af­ter be­ing picked and then lingers for a while. Friends I know from San Jose and San Fran­cisco rave about the ap­ples they do pickup at pro­duce stands that line East High­way 120 be­tween Man­teca and Escalon when they head up to­ward the moun­tains or re­turn home. I can’t dis­agree. They are good and taste much bet­ter than the store.

But there is some­thing about scor­ing an ap­ple that was just picked that morn­ing. It’s al­most like eat­ing corn fresh right off the stalk when the cob has just been cut off from its wa­ter source. The corn ker­nels are so sweet they prac­ti­cally

melt in your mouth. And they taste 10 times bet­ter than when they are cooked. It’s sort of the same with ap­ples when it comes to be­ing juicy that al­lows the taste to be height­ened just enough that you can tell it is a notch above the rest.

It also helps that the scenery adds to the en­joy­ment.

Ap­ple Hill Grow­ers of­fer plenty of on­line in­for­ma­tion to plan a trip along with a down­load­able map. There’s also an app for Ap­ple Hill as well.

The map lists 133 stops but that in­cludes ev­ery­one that of­fers a solid ex­cuse for you to re­turn dur­ing other sea­sons as well as a few whole­sale op­er­a­tions.

Among the 55 ranch­ers are 18 that grow ap­ples.

You can’t go wrong, with any of the choices at Ap­ple Hill. That said I’m go­ing to pro­vide a run­down of some of my fa­vorites. LARSEN AP­PLE BARN: If I was forced to have a one-stop shop for ap­ples, this would be it. It’s be­cause they have over 20 va­ri­eties. It is where I first re­al­ized there were more ap­ples than just red and green and that each va­ri­ety has a dif­fer­ent take on sweet­ness or be­ing tart. They have a va­ri­ety of other fruit as well. The deli is my fa­vorite eat­ing spot on the hill and the bak­ery is solid as well. (To be hon­est I have yet to come across a bak­ery — and there are 14 — on Ap­ple Hill that isn’t good.) HIGH HILL RANCH: Did I say you couldn’t go wrong at any Ap­ple Hill bak­ery? That is es­pe­cially true with a slice of their Mile High Ap­ple Pie — you’ll see

why it’s named so — ala mode. I’m not a wild fan of dough­nuts. I make an ex­cep­tion when it comes to High Hill’s freshly baked ap­ple dough­nuts. They also have a large pond, fish­ing, hay rides, crafts, a BBQ, and more. FUDGE FAC­TORY

FARM: While they have fresh ap­ples they also have 20 fla­vors of can­died ap­ples. I’m not that big of a fan of can­died ap­ples but I am of their ap­ple jel­lies and jams. But let’s be hon­est. The real rea­son I love this place is the home­made fudge and hand­made choco­late. Grow­ing up, the one dish my mom could make bet­ter than any­one around was her home­made fudge. Peo­ple wouldn’t just hint that they wanted some for Christ­mas, they openly asked for it in lieu of any­thing else. One year at Christ­mas she made 60 batches all as gifts plus eight batches we pol­ished off be­tween Christ­mas and New Year’s. How good are the 40 plus dif­fer­ent fudge cre­ations that are whipped up daily? Let’s put it this way. Any­time I can get an ex­cuse to take some­one from out of town to Pier 39 when we head to San Fran­cisco, I drop $20 at Choco­late

Heaven for the ab­so­lute best four truf­fles. If the Fudge Fac­tory Farm was closer to home, I would make a pil­grim­age ev­ery three months or so. The rea­son not more fre­quently is sim­ple. It is that good that you want to re­serve the fudge they make as a spe­cial treat. BOA VISTA

OR­CHARDS: Two words — ap­ple cider. They press and bot­tle it daily year round and its 100 per­cent ap­ple. It is also a treat to peak through the win­dows and watch as the press squeezes out the juice. I have yet to taste ap­ple cider that tastes bet­ter and cer­tainly not as fresh.

There are a ton of other places you can’t go wrong that of­fer ev­ery­thing from ap­ples sold next to cus­tom hand­made dolls — yes they have ap­ple dolls — to places where you can cut fresh flow­ers.

The great part is you can sa­vor the ap­ple sea­son now through Oc­to­ber mak­ing it a great drive with a day des­ti­na­tion.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OF AP­PLE HILL GROW­ERS

LEFT PHOTO:The Ap­ple Pantry Farm is one of 18 des­ti­na­tions for ap­ples. RIGHT PHOTO: Ap­ples ready for har­vest­ing in an Ap­ple Hill orchard.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OF AP­PLE HILL GROW­ERS

Wine tast­ing is avail­able at 10 winer­ies in­clud­ing Boeger Win­ery.

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