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Stories from the valley

From a Pear Place to Apple Hill

Contributed by Jennifer Harrison

Over a million visitors flock to Apple Hill each fall, but a different fruit started it all-the pear. In fact, if it wasn’t for pears, Apple Hill may not be here today. There’s quite a history to this Sacramento Valley sweet spot.  

Bouncing Back

Nestled in the Sierra foothills in El Dorado County, sits the community of Camino. Pears prospered here. In the late 1950s, farmers grew 52 thousand tons of pears a year, but by the mid-1960s that number was down to less than 9,000 tons. 

Pear blight had ravaged their beloved crop. Putting their collective minds together, farmers formed a coalition and looked for another fruit to grow. They found that apples thrived in this climate.  Rich soil and an ideal growing season (with a lengthy winter chill time) means trees stay dormant longer, yielding exceptional fruit flavor. The rest is Apple Hill history. The growers then set out to establish this corner of California as apple central.

Taste of History

Get a glimpse of all things yesteryear at Larsen’s Ranch. A Rhode Island Greening, the oldest apple tree planted in El Dorado County is found here, along with their Apple Hill museum. Special note, they are closed on Saturdays, so plan accordingly.  

Delfino Farms started in 1964, is another vital part of the region’s history. Grower and El Dorado County’s agriculture commissioner at the time, Ed Delfino, along with other farmers formed the original Apple Hill Growers Association.  Matriarch Joan Delfino must get credit too.  She helped introduce the idea of selling sweets, and her famous Walkin’ Pie, a small shaped individual mini pie, is still sold on the premises today.  The next generation of Delfino family members now run the farm, and they do it with a nod to past.

Today, what started as a group of 16 ranchers has swelled to over 50 Apple Hill growers welcoming apple-loving people to their special spot in the hills each fall.  You can thank a pear for that.