Apple Hill: No stickers on this fruit
The trip to Apple Hill is one of the most beautiful routes from here to anywhere. When you get to all the orchards, you’ll be treated to more fruit than you could eat in a lifetime. Best of all, none of the apples there have those little stickers on them.
That’s because the 44 Apple Hill growers have better things to do – picking fruit at its peak, selling it at prices worth traveling for, and making fresh pies, fritters, homemade caramel apples, cider, and more from Labor Day to Christmas Eve.
Apple Hill is near Placerville, Calif., on Highway 50 about 90 miles west of here. It takes around two hours to get there if you don’t stop along the way and visit Twin Bridges, Horsetail Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and charming lodges at Kyburz and Strawberry.
Once at Apple Hill, there are many orchards to visit. Boa Vista is one of the first to remain open year-round. General Manager Brad Visman said his family grows apple varieties including (in order of harvest), gravenstein, gingergold, gala, elstar, Macintosh, jonagold, mutsu, golden delicious, red delicious, Braeburn, red Rome, Newtown pippin, winesap, granny smith, lady, Arkansas black and fuji. Boa Vista has a tasting table with samples of fruit from their 100-acre century-old farm.
“Everything is grown here,” Visman said. “This farm has been in my family for 100 years.”
Prices for the fruit varies, but it is almost always less than you will pay in the supermarkets- 39 to 59 cents per pound for apples, and quantity prices for canners are available at most orchards.
Boa Vista also grows many pear varieties, peaches (O’Henry’s preserve well), nectarines, plums, pluots (a cross between plum and apricot), cherries, blackberries, fresh vegetables and more.
Many of the orchards have picnic areas, and at High Hill Ranch, the trout pond for kids is popular as well as their large craft barn. In recent years, wineries have bubbled up, and apple wines are also produced on the “Hill.” A relatively new golf course and a private resort and spa are other recent additions.
In October, the pumpkin patches come alive with kids picking out their Jack-o-lanterns. Abel’s Acres has a free hay bale maze as well as fresh candy and fudge, a picnic deck and curio shop that sells “everything apple.” In December, the Christmas tree farms sell a variety of fresh trees.
Apple Hill’s history goes back to the Gold Rush days, along with nearby Placerville. The Pony Express came through the area in 1860-1861, and many of the orchards were initially established as potato farms, Visman said. Later farmers discovered this “perfect altitude” (2,600 feet) for growing apples and pears with minimal crop failures.
To get there, go south on Highway 88 to Highway 89, turn right, heading to Highway 50 at Lake Tahoe, then turn left. Follow that road over Echo Summit and on to Apple Hill. There are four exits and you can take any of them, find an orchard and go in to get a Apple Hill Cider Press “free guide to Apple Hill.” To get to Boa Vista first, use the Carson Exit and turn left onto Carson Road.
Everyone should have a homemade caramel apple at least once in their lifetime. You can either buy them at many Apple Hill orchards or make them yourself.
This recipe from the Rainbow Orchard is only a little more trouble than unwrapping dozens of tiny caramels. The hardest part about this recipe is not burning it – just keep the heat low.
Homemade Caramel Apples
12 small apples (they use golden delicious)
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
In a large saucepan (6 quart) melt the butter, then stir in rest of ingredients. Bring to a low boil and carefully cook until soft ball stage. On a candy thermometer, it will be around 225, but use the cold water test where you drip some of the hot liquid into a cup of cold water and then push it around with your spoon. If it forms a soft ball and then holds that shape, you’re there.)
Put sticks in the top of each apple, dip in hot caramel and set to cool on waxed paper.