The Do's and Donuts of Apple Hill
By Cindy Gibbs
Autumn is in the air and it is Apple Hill time again. Orchards and shops in the Apple Hill area are really open during most of the year in the Gold Country. October, though, is the time of year the majority of people seem to go. However, other “off peak” times of the year offer their own adventures and benefits. Just ask Janet.
In October, on a weekend, prepare for crowds. Apple Hill is a major Sacramento tourist attraction. If you want all the goodies and fewer crowds, take time off work, school etc. and go up mid-week. Just ask Carol. If you don't want as many craft stalls and such, go in November or December. Also, remember that Apple Hill area is also a great place to go cut a Christmas tree.
Regardless of when you go to Apple Hill begin your trip by puting an ice chest in the trunk of your car and going to the ATM for cash. Enough cash to fill your tank plus the limit you are willing to spend on the Apple Hill. All the places will take credit cards, but one time the power went out and cash was the only payment method. It is a shame to be deprived a piece of pie after driving up the Hill.
If you're into the atmosphere and craziness of October, then go to Apple Hill on a Saturday or Sunday in October. I did. My husband and I husband go to Apple Hill on an annual basis. Some years, it is an entire day adventure in the area. It depends on the weather, crowds and what goodies are discovered.
Hit Apple Hill for breakfast and arrive just after 8:00 a.m. when the first batches of hot fried apple donuts are being served up. The donuts are still crisp from the frying, and they are warm and melt in your mouth. The day always starts off great with donuts. Buy extra for work and home. Move on to the next stop. Set your priorities. There are always the favorite stops and places to buy baked goods, canned goods. Load your trunk with apple and pumpkin butter, apple turnovers, strudel and dumplings, black berry dumplings, and apple cake. I start buying items for the freezer first. I take a large ice chest with ice blocks to put all my perishable items in.
As the craft stalls start opening (closer to 9:00 a.m., although some open at 8:00) wander in to discover what creations the artists are displaying this year. Sometimes it seems as if the same sort of item appears year after year, but there is always something new to discover. Over the years many decorations acquired for the home and yard, gifts for family and friends become treasures that will be kept for generations.
By lunch time you will have visited one or a half dozen places and stocked up on vegetables, fruit, jarred/canned goods and half-filled the ice chest with froze baked goods for Thanksgiving. You will have eaten a couple more sweet treats, but now it is time for something savory. Lots of options on the hill. Either bring a picnic lunch to share or buy one of the many sandwiches, soup, chilli, or hot dogs at whichever stop you are nearest. The dining options are endless. Wash that lunch down with cider or a fabulous Apple Milk Shake. Continue on to the next stop.
You’ll find your favorite place to go for pie, or cake, or cookie, or other treat. You may want to stop at one of the orchards and pick your own. Buy a case of apples to bring home. Don’t forget a pumpkin or two – one to carve for Halloween and another to bake for a pumpkin pie.
Feeling full, happy and tired, head down the mountain back home or Sacramento hotel. Drive the long way around the back roads of the Hill to avoid the worst of the traffic. Instead, enjoy the Gold Country wineries, groves and countryside. Roll the windows down on the car and admire the changing color in the leaves as the green has changed to various shades of gold and red.
Time Change Sunday
By Janet Lewis
I prefer to visit Apple Hill in late autumn, after the first rain. Sometimes this means November. Last year, it was “Time Change Sunday.” My husband and I had an excellent time visiting some of our favorite locations in the eastern Apple Hill area. We also discovered something new (to us) and very historical place to eat.
All summer long, whenever we’d drive up Highway 50 from downtown Sacramento to a day-hike destination, we noticed an historic site sign for Sportsmans Hall. “What is Sportsmans Hall?” we’d ask each other. Sure, we could have looked it up on the Internet, but instead we decided to check it out when we visited Apple Hill in the fall. So on Time Change Sunday that is what we did. The exit is at Pollock Pines, a bit east of the usual Apple Hill exits, but that is a good thing, as it means less crowds and easier driving. Sportsmans Hall is a building that was a stop on the Pony Express. And it still is one of the places that the modern day Pony Express reenactments stop on their way to Old Sacramento. Sportsmans Hall is also a restaurant that serves rib-sticking food in an old-timey ambiance. You can get breakfast on Sundays until 3 PM. My selection was the corn beef hash and eggs, with coleslaw. They make the hash and the coleslaw themselves. It sure was delicious! I think we’ve started a new Highway 50 tradition: breakfast as Sportsmans Hall! From Pollock Pines, it is easy to get back to Apple Hill, without getting on Highway 50 again. Just head west along Pony Express Trail and then follow the Apple Hill marker signs.
On this year’s Apple Hill trip, we stayed east of Larsen Road (except to see the 150 year old apple tree in the park at Larson & North Canyon Road). We enjoyed driving a leisurely pace on the back roads along the ridges and into the hollows. On a cool day later in the season, the roads are less crowded and more scenic in a quiet and mysterious late-autumn sort of way. The leaf colors are bright yellow against dark green. Leaves fall silently in the darkened shaded curves of the road, yet it is sunny on the flat open ridges. And you might catch sight of Canada geese feasting on fallen red apples in someone’s orchard.
Even the “crowded places” have shorter lines and more elbow room, and we don’t feel as hemmed in when parking as in the busier west Apple Hill venues. We made four stops in three hours, and purchased several varieties of apples. We’ve found that the best cobblers come from combining several kinds together under a biscuit style crust!
Cider samples: be sure to try at any place offering them. One thing we learned this year is that each place’s offering tastes slightly different than another’s. When you find one that you really like, buy extra half gallons to put in the freezer at home! (Be sure to take out a cup or so to allow enough head space and avoid cider explosions.)
We finished our Apple Hill jaunt with “universally famous” hot apple cider donuts. We topped them with a spoonful of homemade apple sauce and washing down with a swig or two of cider and ate them sitting on a straw bale in an orchard, mmm- mmmm! It just does not get any better than that! This is a Gold Country attraction not to be missed!
Satisfied, we headed home to Sacramento on Time Change Sunday in time to feed our dogs by the clock but one hour late by their stomachs!