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It’s Apple Hill Time!!!

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Here are some notes from my trip last year that I didn’t have time to post (it was late in the season anyway).

YOU MUST HAVE APPLE CIDER DONUTS. Leave your spouse and job if you must … mmm … donuts.

A post by Andy P clued me in on apple cider donuts. Entire link is below, but here’s his poetic excerpt extolling these lovely donuts

“Apple cider doughnuts from Rainbow Orchards. As you bite into one of these warm doughnuts, while smelling the subtle aroma of wood smoke from the cabins and homes in the area wafting down through the pines of the mountains, an incredibly pleasant, indelible memory will be created; a memory that your subconscious will beg for you to re-create year after year.”

Andy was right about those Rainbow Orchard donuts which I was lucky to be there when they were just made, warm and wonderful. However, just as good, and easier to find is Abel’s Apple’s donuts on the main road. They also had some wonderful pies. Here are the places I tried in order of favorites.

My main focus on my Apple Hill pilgrimage was to try every apple cider donut. There was also tasting of pies, cider, fresh apples and apple cake which is famous in that area

ABEL’S APPLE ACRES

Outstanding baked goods. The apple cider donuts were warm, cake-y, with a deep apple cinnamon taste. The grease factor was perfect ... not greasy but full of flavor. The exterior had a slight crispness with the light perfect interior. Only fifty cents will buy you a bite of paradise.

They have a large selection of pies which included flavors such as -
Old Fashioned Apple, Apple Crumb, Cherry Apple, Buttermilk Apple, Blueberry Apple, Pumpkin Apple, Old Fashioned Apple with Raisins & Lemon Glaze, Raspberry Apple Cream, Buttermilk Apple Berry, Pecan, Plain Mince, Mince Apple, Berry Apple, Apricot Apple, Cranberry Apple, Plain Pumpkin, Berry Apple Cream

All pies are excellent. The apple buttermilk with its streusel crust was the standout for me.

The apple dumpling with sauce was a huge apple covered in a nice crust. That sauce is outstanding. I’m not someone who usually likes sauces on my baked goods, but I licked the Styrofoam on this one.

They have a large selection of candied apples as well including red candy, caramel (plain, chocolate and nut), walnut, butter pecan, pink cinnamon, and fudge (three fudge apple varieties – plain, caramel fudge, caramel fudge with nuts).

It wasn’t available while I was there, but people kept inquiring about the apple strudel. They also had Apple Fritters, Crisp; Breads, Cakes, and Cookies.

You can see the bakeshop where crust is being rolled out, donuts and fritters are turning golden in huge pots of oil and baked goods are taken out of the oven.

There is a big selection of cookbooks including the three official Apple Hill Cookbooks.

The fresh apple selection was only adequate though, which I found through much of Apple Hill. Maybe I’m spoiled by all the heirloom varieties available in SF, but fresh apples were pretty much limited to the chain supermarket types.

There are arts and crafts and canned jellies and jams.

RAINBOW

Besides those outstanding donuts, Rainbow had the best cider. Really smooth with little pieces of apple in it (which tastes better than it sounds).

As I noted, they were a dead heat with Abel’s for best apple cider donut. They had slightly less cinnamon than Abel’s.

There was a limited selection of baked goods, jams and jellies. This is a small picturesque farm where the products are sold in a huge real barn (not just something to amuse the tourists).

They had nice picnic grounds and lawn. They were also selling BBQ, but I didn’t check that out.

HONEY BEAR

This has always been my favorite in terms of atmosphere.

It is a little off the main drag so the atmosphere is more relaxed. There are picnic tables on grassy lawns shaded by apple trees. Be careful not to step on a shiny red apple that may have fallen to the grassy ground. There is also a pretty pond.

They have a lunch menu, baked goods and cider. I liked the cider which was not too tart and had a nice apple taste.

Their specialty is the pie royal which is apple pie, ice cream and caramel sauce. They have sandwiches, hamburgers and another specialty – chicken streusel.

MILL VIEW ORCHARD

This had one of the best and flakiest crusts and was one of my turnover favorites. Very nice lawned picnic area with pine trees. They had donuts, but I have no notes on them. I hope someone will report back on them.

MOTHER LODE ORCHARDS

They had some of the best cider and fresh apples. There are jams and jellies, but no baked goods. Near Rainbow. Nice grounds. There’s a pumpkin hunting activity for the kids. It’s on a hill, so if you need to slow down the tots and tire them out, you might consider this.

LARSONS APPLE BARN

Basic pies and a nice apple cake with cinnamon sauce.

The cake donuts were moist, mildly spiced with chunks of apples. Not up there with Abel’s or Rainbow, but good.

Pretty lawns with picnic tables. I have the word “museum” in my notes, so there may be something like that at Larson’s, but I can’t seem to recall it.

GRANDPA’S CELLAR

Huge domed apple pies and sixteen other varieties in addition to basic apple that include Blackberry Apple, Caramel Apple, Cranberry Orange Apple, No Sugar Added Apple Pie, Strawberry Rhubarb Apple, Whole Wheat & Honey Apple, French Apple, Pecan Crunch Apple, Pumpkin Apple, Raspberry Cream Cheese Apple, Sour Cream Apple, Sour Cream Blackberry Apple, Walnut Apple, and Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pies,

The pretty little bake shop surrounded by picnic tables, trees and lawn also produces Apple Dumplings, Apple Strudel, Apple Pie Cheesecake, Apple Crisp, Apple Hill Cake , Apple Turnover or No Sugar Added Apple Turnover, and Pumpkin Nut Bread.

Don’t remember anything about this place taste-wise. I do have some notes about an apple cake without the name of the farm noted. It could have been here. The cake, while pleasant, was more like a walnut cake. It lacked apple and spice. The frosting was very sweet like that on the old fashioned wedding cakes.

HIGH HILL RANCH

It’s one of the biggest, but, IMO, not one of the best. The whole carnival, tour bus atmosphere was a turn off to me as well. I’m looking for the little farm when I go to Apple Hill.

Their cider was tasteless.

The donut’s were ok, but, IMO, not worth the wait in line. They had plain (cake), glazed, crumb and walnut varieties. The plain cake donuts had visible bits of apple but didn’t have that slightly crisp exterior that both Rainbow and Abel’s had. The glazed were too sweet and soggy. The crumb and walnut are only available on weekends (went during the week).

They had about eight varieties of fresh apples.

There was a large selection of canned goods like pickles and relishes which included apple sauce.

I tried the Sour Cream Apple pie here which had the sour cream blended into the filling and not sitting on top like Marie Calendar’s version. There was a crumbly streusel topping with walnuts. Seems this is how Sour Cream Apple is defined at most farms in Apple Hill. The crust was good but not outstanding. It was shortening based rather than buttery.

The apple cake was a 2 inch high 3”/3” hunk that was spicy with nutmeg dominating. It had a carrot cake like texture, bordering on gummy.

BOA VISTA OARCHARDS

I was so unimpressed.

They did have the largest variety of fresh apples.

They had both raised and cake apple cider donuts, each type could be had plain or glazed. Both were oversweet and lacking apple. In addition they had a stale taste to them.

The apple cider was too tart. The apple wine was pleasant enough, if not outstanding.

They have a large selection of dusty canned goods.

PERRON ORCHARDS

This is one of the first stands coming from the SF direction. A sign on the wall said that they were voted best pie of 2000 by the Mountain Democrat. I tried apple turnover which was uninspiring. The crust was shortening based which seems to be the standard in Apple Hill. No buttery crusts here. The apple filling was undistinguished.

The one thing I do remember is that I spent some big bucks for a jar of delicious looking bread and butter pickles which turned out to be soggy and tasteless. Pass on these. There is also a limited selection of jellies and preserves.

BOLSTER'S HILLTOP RANCH

Lot’s of different products with sampling. The vinegars I found way too harsh, but, as I said, they have samples, so you can judge for yourself.

Their apple wines were way too sweet and reminiscent of Boone’s Farm.

The cider was too acidic for me.

The baked goods looked like they had been sitting around too long. The cake donuts were a little too greasy without noticeable apple pieces.

Big selection of dusty arts and crafts.

ELDORADO ORCHARDS

Tried to go her but they were closed during the week except for their arts and crafts section. Supposedly they have the largest craft selection, but isn’t it supposed to be about the apples and not junk and train rides.

APPLE HILL COOKBOOKS

The best of the cookbooks, IMO, is the third in the series. There is a little background of each of the apple farms with recipes from each farm. It has, among many, recipes for Aebleskiver (Danish Pancakes), Capirotada (Mexican bread pudding) and all the standards like apple fritters. Nice main dishes also like Baked chicken with cider and apples (involves applejack), pork chop apple bake and apple scalloped potatoes.

The second book in the series has a nice index of apple varieties and how each variety is best used – eating or cooking. This one had recipes that were a bit too fussy for me. However, like all three in the series, it had a number of interesting recipes like smoked sausage and apple sandwich.

The first book is the smallest and pretty much sticks to the basics but also has some interesting recipes like paper bag apple pie. This is the only one with a recipe for Apple Hill cake. None of the books repeats any recipes.

For everything you wanted to know about Apple Hill, their web site is, what else,

www.applehill.com

There are links to many of the orchards (you don’t think I actually wrote down all those pie varieties, do you? Cut and paste).

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  1. Thank you so much! I've been wanting to go up there (have never been), and now I have what I am sure will be an excellent set of recommendations to guide me!

    1. I went to Apple Hill last year for the first time. It was great. Rainbow Orchards has great apple donuts and another apple dessert, but I can't remember the name.
      The Jack Russell Brewery has good beer and great root beer, for those looking for a really good root beer.
      Boeger Winery has great free wine tasting, too. I love their Zinfandel.

      1. Checkout Harris Tree Farm for a less commercial atmoshphere. Great jams, and the best pies IMHO. Lil ol ladies are churning out the fresh pies. You'll have to look on an Apple Hill map to locate it.

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          Nancy Plantholt

          It was a lot of fun to read all the reviews and tips on Apple Hill as we were driving up yesterday. Honey Bear and Mill View were probably our favorite places for ambience. Both are picturesque little farmy places that make you feel like you've time traveled back into a Norman Rockwell painting.

          We were prepared to buy some apple desserts at Honey Bear but the line was out the door and there was only one person behind the counter taking orders for everything from hamburgers to apple pie. We saw another counter where they were selling a few sundry items like doughnuts and cookies, so we bought a doughnut to sample and, sadly, it compared unfavorable with something you'd get out of a Hostess box... dry and tasteless. On the bright side, we did enjoy the beautiful setting, musicians on the lawn, koi pond, etc, so would recommend as a view stop vs. eating stop.

          Fortunately, Mill View was our next destination and their bake shop line was short and efficient. Their apple doughnuts were wonderful, hot and crispy on the outside, melt in your mouth warm on the inside. The apple strudel was also quite good and the pie (Dutch apple) passable. I'm with those who prefer buttery crusts and have never been wowed by any pies at AH.

          We always end the day at High Hill, more for tradition than anything else. They have the best crafts, real artisans as opposed to the country crafters. Not so much of the junk Stan alluded to. We never buy food there as their lines compete with Disney's. We heard the line for just the caramel apples was a half hour long. I think you could melt your own caramels quicker than that.

          We did stop at Abel's first as we hadn't been there for awhile. Again, the long food lines were a turn off so we meandered around the "backyard." All those tables lines up together on the patio looked a little cafeteria-ish, so probably not the best place to eat if you're looking for a more bucolic setting.

          All in all we had a great day and were thankful for the tips that Stan and others provided. I'd be interested in reading about some hidden gems for next year's trip.

          P.S. One tip I have is that even though it's more crowded on the weekends, the baked goods are fresher and there is more to see and do (music, crafts, etc.)than during the week. We have experienced Apple Hill both ways. On the plus side for weekdays, it feels more like the original Apple Hill from bygone days. One year we went during the week (I think it was Veterans Day) and met one of the older Larsons, whose family runs the Apple Hill museum. His stories about the old days on Apple Hill, such as when they were stranded by snowstorms, were priceless and made us feel more connected to this magical area.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Nancy Plantholt

            I understand your disdain for High Hill, but in not getting the caramel apple, you missed out on the single greatest thing in all of apple hill, (YES even better than Rainbow Orchards donuts!) I go every year for that, I never buy anything else there though

          2. going by on Hiway 50 in a few weeks on the way to Reno. we vary our route every year, and have been by Apple Hill area many times, mostly weekday afternoons (thurs-fri). Have always wanted to stop, but not knowing what lays beyond the highway (you can't see much!), never have. Those donuts sound too good to miss, though!

            Can anyone give a report on where these places are and how to find them? Where to trun off the highway, etc.(a good beer would be a great way to get non-chowish DH to stop!)