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Stories from the valley

6 Secrets to Apple Hill

Contributed by Jennifer Harrison

Fall and apples go hand in hand in the Sacramento Valley, but if you’re heading to the El Dorado County Apple Hill area, there’s so much more than meets the apple eye.  Here are six secrets to Apple Hill, (Pay special attention to number four!)

1.  It started with pears

“In the 1950s this was a large pear growing area,” said Edio Delfino, of Delfino Family Farm and Kids Inc., who you could say is the founding father of apple farming in the region. In 1959 pear blight demolished the industry.   “We tried everything!” explained Delfino, who then planted apples, and the rest is history.

2.  It’s a destination, not a location

There’s no special zip code here, Apple Hill isn’t a town, but a general area.  Back in the 1960s when Delfino experimented with apples, he planted the trees much closer together than usual, getting a bigger apple yield, said son Chris Delfino, who now owns and operates the farm.

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3.  Farms galore

Fifty-eight farms dot the area.  Some have been around since the inception of the Apple Hill idea, which started in 1964.  The winding roads, fall colors and festive roadside farms make the drive, which can sometimes be slow, (see number 4) bearable.

4.  Get there early!

A million visitors come here annually.  Here’s a tip from the Delfino family –start your trek early!  They suggest hitting the farms by 9 am and leaving by 11 am, when the crowds thicken dramatically.  The season itself runs from early September to mid-November, and some farms run through December, or even year round.

5.  Apples aren’t equal

Different apples peak at different times.  Some are picked as early as August; some aren’t picked until late November, depending on the variety.  The drought brought a drier year, so apples in general are ripening earlier this year.  Looking for the best pie friendly apple?  Both Delfinos swear by the Golden Delicious.

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6. Apple Pie, Apple Cider and Mother Nature

Speaking of pies, the farms up here specialize in them!  Add to that apple ciders, hard apple ciders (yes, alcohol included here), fudge, nature trails, corn mazes and pony rides.   Yes, there’s a lot more to Apple Hill than just apples.