APPLE HILL WAS NOT ALWAYS THE PLACE TO GO FOR APPLE PIE.
Before this El Dorado County destination started attracting more than a million visitors a year for apple harvest season, pears were its main crop.
“There was a saying that a pear eaten in America in the 1940s and 1950s came from Placer County or El Dorado County because there were thousands of acres of pears,” says Chris Delfino, president of the Apple Hill Growers association and son of one of the group’s founders, Edio Delfino, departmental commissioner for agriculture for 33 years.
But a terrible crop disease in the 1960s wiped out the pear industry. Edio and three other men encouraged farmers to plant more apple trees. Later came the grapes. They formed an association, and 16 farms grew to more than 50, with the annual apple season—usually September through December—generating about $60 million in direct spending.
“Each farm is different in itself,” says Delfino. “Some are very small, but they have cool little things, and some are huge and they have a lot of things to offer. They are all unique.
Here’s a look at nine Apple Hill companies.
1. High Hill Ranch
It’s hard to miss High Hill Ranch. The 155-acre ranch at 2901 High Hill Road is one of the largest in the area and the most visited (as the parking lot will tell you). And for good reason. Visitors can spend an entire day on this property alone, eating apple fritters and caramel apples, pony rides for the kids, trout fishing in the pond, and browsing the displays of more than 75 artisans selling handmade leather works, carvings, paintings, jewelry, knitted garments and more.
The High Hill Bakery offers apple pies and other baked goods. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are also hay wagon rides through the apple orchard and a pumpkin patch where visitors can pick their own. highhillranch.com
2. Delfino Farms
For farmer Chris Delfino, there is no greater feeling than seeing the fruits of his labor, as he feels when visitors descend on Delfino Farms at 3205 N. Canyon Road.
Chris’ parents, Edio and Joan Delfino, bought the 20-acre farm in 1962, planted 2,600 apple trees and in 1964 opened it to visitors. In 2002, Chris returned home and spent the next two decades learning to farm like his father. His wife, Robyn, learned to cook like her mother. The family business now has the fourth generation.
Delfino Farms’ Edio Vineyards are open year-round for tastings of their small-batch wines. They also sell hard ciders made from farm-grown apples and blackberries. Joan’s Apple Bakery opens during harvest season; in addition to pies, they bake between 200 and 300 apple fritters every weekend in October. delfinofarms.com
3. Fudge Factory Farm
Something seems to be happening to customers of Fudge Factory Farm at 2860 High Hill Road. They rediscover the joys of childhood. “I love seeing everyone turn into a kid when they walk into the Fudge Factory,” says owner Jean Reinders, who started the business with her late husband, Ren, in 1985. She now runs the business with her daughter, Seana Hartsell.
Fudge Factory is one of the few female owned and operated farms in Apple Hill. Friendly alpacas and other farm animals delight visitors, along with homemade fudge — in about two dozen flavors — and candy apples, rock road clusters, and sundaes. Guests can also feast on organically grown fruit, including raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, marionettes and, yes, apples. This fruit is also found in jams, jellies, pastries and house wines.
“We’ve enhanced our playground with lots of fun things to do,” Reinders says of this season. “We have a new line of chocolates coming out this fall.” fudgefactoryfarm.com
4. Rainbow Orchards
When Tom Heflin and Christa Campbell bought Rainbow Orchards at 2569 Larsen Drive in 1977, they got something very special: the recipe for Rainbow’s famous hot apple cider donuts, a tradition since 1964. “When visitors ask for the recipe, I say they have to buy the whole farm,” says Christa.
They make the donuts with fresh apple cider ground on site and served hot right out of the fryer. Wine and cider tastings take place on weekends. “Visitors can watch the cider pressing and bottling process,” explains Christa.
A grassy picnic area welcomes guests as they dine on a three-prong barbecue, pies, cobblers, chips and other goodies. Customers can also purchase apples, pears, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines, pumpkins, winter squash and ornamental corn. A playground offers a hay bale activity for children. rainboworchards.net
5. Path of the Hidden Stars
Johann Smit, co-owner of Hidden Star Camino at 2740 Cable Road, says being open year-round, unlike many places in Apple Hill, gives him more time to chat with customers about the craft hard ciders served. in his tavern.
They have apple cider and blends like cherry apple, pomegranate apple, lemon apple, and grape apple. “We go from beer styles to wine styles to kombucha styles to mixed drink styles, all in cider format,” says Smit, who along with life partner Wendy Holm bought the abandoned farmhouse. in 2019.
Families are welcome, with picnic tables and benches where you can sample the lunch menu of bites. Shorty’s Donuts runs the bakery, selling artisan donuts, pastries and pies. For the apple season, a dozen artisans will be on site. A children’s area is “designed so that children are not tied down” and consists of play structures using natural or recycled wood and other local materials. hiddenstarcamino.com
6. Apple Ridge Farms
Kandi and Steve Tuso often took their two children to Apple Hill for family outings. Then, in 2009, they had an idea: why not buy a farm there? “We always like to say we came for apple fritters, we came home with the apple ranch,” Kandi says.
They established the 20-acre Apple Ridge Farms at 1800 Larsen Drive. They have a Country Store with homemade fudge, chocolates, jams, jellies, and gifts. Their barbecue house has a 500 pound smoker where they cook their own meats and homemade chicken pies, and at the bakery customers can buy apple pies and other baked goods to enjoy in the picnic area grassy picnic.
There’s an apple barn, hay maze, nature trail, gem mining for kids, 50,000 zinnia flowers in bloom in September, and a pumpkin patch. From Friday to Sunday, around 40 artisans sell handmade soaps, jewelry, paintings, pottery and other items. “What we get from a lot of our customers, they call it Apple Hill Disneyland,” says Kandi. appleridgefarms.com
7. Grandpa’s Cellar
Parents exhausted from an entire day of exploring Apple Hill are in luck when they arrive at Grandpa’s Cellar at 2360 Cable Road. They have coffee flights in all kinds of flavors, says Jericho Kelsey, co-owner with his wife, Becka.
“This is the third season that we’ve owned Grandpa’s Cellar, and Becka wanted to put our mark on Grandpa’s Cellar,” says Jericho. “So she went to the bakery and made 20 different flavors of coffee in the span of two months.”
Grandpa’s Cellar started in the 1970s as a roadside stand and expanded a few years later to include a bakery and gift shop. They sell a variety of fresh baked and frozen pies as well as jams and jellies. They also offer gluten-free pastries including mini pies, apple crisps, and muffins to enjoy surrounded by century-old apple trees. grandpacellar.com
8. O’Halloran’s Apple Trail Ranch
Regular visitors to O’Halloran’s Apple Trail Ranch at 2261 Cable Road will see a familiar sight. Decades after husband and wife Pat and Donna O’Halloran opened the farm in 1968, Donna, now 90, still comes out every day during apple season to greet customers.
“People love coming to see her,” says Laurel O’Halloran, who manages social media and is married to Donna’s youngest son.
Pat, who died in June 2020, always wanted to stay true to rural farming and refrained from the more entertainment-oriented options of some other locations, Laurel says. “This is a working apple farming business. We don’t make apple pies. We sell apples. You walk in, pick up apples from their bins.
O’Halloran’s grows 16 varieties of apples, as well as pears and squash, and also sells Indian corn, apple cider and apple butter. The biggest attraction is a 3-acre pumpkin patch where families can cut pumpkins from the vine. Later in the season, customers can cut Christmas trees. In addition, they offer a hiking trail and a picnic area. ohalloranranch.com
9. Harris Family Farm
Like so many Apple Hill farms, Harris Family Farm at 2640 Blair Road started with dreams of a better life. This led brothers John and James Blair to California in 1857. Their brother, Matthew, arrived soon after and farmed 160 acres. The land remains in the family today, with sisters Jane and Pam Harris in charge.
Their pie shop sells pies, donuts, turnovers, jams, and lunch food. Visitors can also buy apples, pumpkins, pickles, cider and fresh eggs. The location stays open until Christmas, giving customers the option to cut down a tree or purchase a freshly made wreath. They offer jam lessons, tea events, a nature trail, rock painting and gem mining for kids. The farm also welcomes campers on its large wooded area. harrisfamilyfarm.com