Way back in August when the heat was really getting to me, I was dreaming– desperately dreaming– of Fall. Cool temperatures and blue skies, soccer and the fair, pumpkin pies and all things apple. Born of this wistful, wanton daydreaming was the idea that in the midst of a comfortable, clear day, we’d drive to the mountains where, amid the beautiful fall foliage that was certain to be in full swing, we’d pick the sweetest of autumn’s bounty: apples.
And so we did.
Back in the middle of all that daydreaming– before I’d experienced the joy *ahem* of pushing a stroller filled with apples, diaper and camera bags, and– oh yeah– a twenty-three-and-a-half-month old child up the side of a mountain– I began the search for a place to actually pick my fantasy apples. Ultimately, I turned to everyone’s friend, the ubiquitous Facebook, and I wasn’t disappointed when a friendly fellow Facebooker offered up the suggestion of Sky Top Orchard in Flat Rock, North Carolina as her top choice. Having been to Flat Rock three years ago to visit Carl Sandburg’s estate, Connemara,
we were very familiar with the area. And with twenty-one varieties of apples, not to mention Asian pears and sour cherries and grapes and pumpkins and gourds, to choose from– it seemed as though we really couldn’t go wrong with Sky Top.
The only difficulty was deciding exactly which kinds of apples were worth driving two-hundred-twenty-four miles to pick (yeah, I know– nuts). We eventually decided that the middle of October seemed right for the apples we liked the best, and it offered the best opportunity for cool weather and the oh-so-beautiful color autumn in the Blue Ridge Mountains has to offer.
So I waited two excruciatingly long and excessively warm months, finally taking off last Saturday. The plan to leave immediately after the morning soccer game didn’t exactly work out, but we did manage to make it to Greenville with enough time to visit both the zoo and park that were only a few miles from our hotel. Driving up to Greenville Saturday to spend the night allowed us to leave early enough Sunday morning that we were able to get to the orchard about fifteen minutes after it opened, which seemed to be the right call, since the market area was virtually empty. Perfect for browsing without major hustle and bustle.
The lack of people also allowed me the opportunity to get up close and personal with a wagon full of pumpkins without having to ignore the strange looks I’d undoubtedly have gotten otherwise.
Having read a blog post earlier in the week (thank heavens some wonderful soul decided to document her trip for all the world to read– complete with pictures of menus and prices and doughnuts! and one super cute puppy dog), we opted to do our cider, apple butter, and apple cider doughnut buying before we went out into the orchard. The sainted blogger had documented a doughnut wait of forty minutes! It took us three. (Thank you, dearest Diana of The Sweet Life. I don’t know you, but your post was amazingly helpful!) Truth be told– I’d have waited forty minutes for them, too. Wow.
Not the greatest shot, but the kids and husband ate most of them before I could even get a shot of the package!
Once we’d loaded the van with three gallons of cider, a jar of apple butter, and our bellies with doughnuts, we grabbed a wagon and a few small baskets,
and we started our trek into the orchard. I had the wagon at this point–Jake gave up on it after about two feet.
Now, I have to say– the colors of the leaves did not disappoint. The clear blue sky– perfect. However, the temperature was close to eighty, and was I ever regretting my jeans and turtleneck sweater. This was not middle-of-October-in-the-mountains weather. No, sir. I also wish we’d worn some sunscreen. My fair Irish skin was not best pleased. As long as I’m wishing here, it’d have ben nice if we’d taken a minute to ask what the best way to go about finding the apples in the orchard would be. I knew from reading the aforementioned post that there wouldn’t be much until we crested the hill, though, so I felt prepared.
See where those apple trees (the ones completely devoid of apples) curve downward? That’s the other side of the hill…ahem…mountain. There weren’t any apples there. There really weren’t any apples until the last eight or so rows…way, way down the mountainside. Perhaps next time, we’ll go a little earlier in the season. I have to warn you– if you are not a patient person and get frustrated easily, you’d have been miserable. It was difficult walking (remember, we had the stroller, bags, two kids, wagon, and baskets) downhill over rotten apples and around yellow jackets in the unusually warm weather in our jeans and long sleeves through many, many, many trees without so much as a glimmer of the promised fruit in sight. But we knew there had to be apples somewhere, and lo and behold halfway down one of the rows….
we found them!
And– even though somehow the kids and I had gotten separated from B– we began to pick as many apples as we could. I went in knowing exactly what type of apples I wanted to pick, but by the time we finally found these, I didn’t care what kind we were picking. We were just happy to have something to pick!
We eventually found B, who had temporarily abandoned the wagon and found some tasty Pink Lady apples. The kids and I headed in the direction he pointed, and he went back for the wagon and baskets. I noticed a lot of people abandoning their wagons– they really were a little cumbersome.
Anyway, we found those apples, and they were a beautiful sight to behold.
The Pink Lady apples were a lot easier to get to than the Granny Smith apples. The trees were low (I don’t know how well you can see that we were walking and standing at a thirty degree angle in between these rows),
and the fruit was plentiful–
not to mention utterly drool worthy.
Before this trip, the most experience I’d had with apple trees was watching The Wizard of Oz. Seriously, I’d never even seen an apple tree before. I’ve picked strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries before, and as a child I’d collected pecans from my Grandmother’s pecan tree. Somehow, those experiences were nothing like standing in that orchard looking at thousands upon thousands of these shiny semi-round pieces of pure deliciousness. There was something satisfying about plucking those apples from the trees. A feeling you just don’t get taking an apple from the giant bin in your local grocery store.
Getting these apples required an effort that was equally proportionate to the reward.
Besides, you can’t climb a tree in a grocery store!
Once we’d collected two mostly full baskets, we decided that should be enough. Point of fact, though, just this morning B and I were discussing how we wished we’d picked more. They’re going faster than we anticipated.
Anyway, at this point, we began our hike back up the mountainside. It was a little rough because (a) we’re a bit out of shape, and (b) we’re from the low-country, a land that has no hills to speak of unless you count our bridges, and one that lies seventy-five feet above sea-level, not two-thousand-two-hundred-five feet above it.
Viv had a sweet ride uphill, complete with snacks. One of the gentlemen we passed on the way back up said, “I want to ride in one of those!” I panted back, “So do I!”
We had the chance to take in the surrounding area during our occasional *pant* *pant* *pant* I wish we’d brought some water with us moments.
The moon was even visible. Totally picture worthy.
Oops. I forgot that I had my camera in manual mode. Painful to look at, isn’t it? The changing light was a killer while I was trying to get a hang of exactly from which points I should take my meter readings. Good practice, though.
Anyhow, you can see the moon here right next to the giant black schmutz in the upper left that’s letting me know I need to clean my camera!
When we finally made it back (and while we listened to the smart people ask the employees what the best way to go about picking the apples was), we grabbed one of the larger bags and packed up our haul.
We ended up with a half bushel of Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples. Yum!
The bag weighed in at around twenty-six pounds, and to that I added one of the last two bags of Rome apples that they had. Phew! They told me the Rome apples should last into mid December if kept in the coldest part of the refrigerator. I hope that’s right because I have big Thanksgiving plans for those guys.
After we’d paid for the apples, the kids and B rested up with an apple cider slushie and a chilled apple sipper cup. That cup– so cute and totally not toddler friendly. Viv did end up wearing a different set of clothes on the ride home.
B took a sip of Viv’s cider and I got one of Jake’s slushie, and we promptly went back and picked up another gallon of cider for ourselves. Oh my gosh. It was like drinking an apple. I don’t think I can explain just how good that cider is. We’ve already finished one gallon. The other is hidden in the back of the ‘fridge. I’m determined that it will make it at least one week in our house.
While B was getting the final last-minute gallon of cider, I took a moment or two to take some more pictures of the market area.
I’ve never seen so many apples in one place in my life.
And it was just beginning to get really busy right before we left, but we felt compelled to take some silly pictures in front of pumpkins,
and giant apples complete with someone else’s random child,
and of playing with the old cider press.
Overall, it was a really enjoyable trip. I highly recommend Sky Top. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. When Jake accidentally tripped over his ever-untied-shoelaces and spilled his first just made apple cider slushie, they kindly cleaned it up and gave him a brand new one without any fuss. We met interesting people from Kentucky, Arkansas, and Virginia, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. I can’t wait to do it again.