There is more than one way to get your apple a day–pour a glass of freshly milled cider instead.
By Thea Marie Rood
Photography by Charlene Lane
We are spoiled this time of year in the Sierra Nevada, where an easy day trip takes us to our very own Apple Hill—located on Highway 50 just east of Placerville. For more than 50 years, in fact, Apple Hill growers have provided carloads of eager annual visitors with fresh apples, as well as apple pies, apple cakes, apple donuts, apple dumplings—well, you get the drift.
But no matter what apple variety or baked good draws you here, no one leaves without a jug or two of apple cider—that spicy, refreshing fall drink that seems to mark the changing of the seasons. You can buy cider in the grocery store, but it will not taste the same as the handcrafted version you can find at small farms and ranches throughout Apple Hill. It is worth the (admittedly pleasant) drive.
Here is a sampling:
Bolster’s Hilltop Ranch, 2000 Larsen Drive, Camino, CA, 530-697-2395.
Well-known for you-pick blueberries, Bolster’s is in the apple and pumpkin business too, with you-pick apples, a pumpkin patch and its own cider mill. The farm is open on weekends in September, and open daily October–November, when the pumpkins are ripe, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Boa Vista Orchards, 2952 Carson Road, Placerville, CA, 530-622-5522, boavista.com.
Boa Vista has been operating its cider mill for more than 50 years, and its bottled brand is sold onsite, at farmers’ markets and throughout the Apple Hill-area. Boa Vista produces apple wine too, which is available for tasting at its sample bar, and for purchase in the farm market, where you can also find fresh produce, soup mixes, salad dressings and jam. (And don’t miss the “Take & Bake Freezer”—no one needs to know that pie coming out of your oven is anything but homemade.) Open daily year-round, 7:30 a.m.–6 p.m.
High Hill Ranch, 29041 High Hill Road, Placerville, CA, 530-644-1973, highhill ranch1.net.
Not only can you buy fresh-pressed cider here, you can learn all about the process if you take the tractor ride and guided tour through the apple orchards (weekends only). Kid-friendly activities include the catch-and-release trout pond, pony rides and face-painting, while adults can sample High Hill’s apple wine and hard cider (the latter can be paired with ranch tacos). Open daily late August–October, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
Kids Inc./Delfino Family Farm, 3205 N. Canyon Road, Camino, CA, 530-622-0184.
This farm has been in business since 1964 and was named “Kids Inc.” because the seven Delfino kids worked it with their parents. It is still owned by one of those kids—Chris Delfino—and his family. A relatively new venture for Delfino is Henrietta Stich Hard Cider— named for his grandmother—which uses the ranch’s own tart apples and is aged for five months in oak barrels before bottling. The working apple farm also has a bake shop, a ¼-mile nature trail, farm animals and a corn maze. Open Labor Day weekend through late November, Friday–Monday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Rainbow Orchards, 2569 Larsen Drive, Camino, CA, 530-644-1594, rainboworchards.net.
Rainbow Orchards celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and is a three-generation family farm. Its apple bins and bake shop are housed in a colorful barn—a rainbow is painted on it, naturally—where you can purchase freshly pressed apple cider made onsite, as well as the ranch’s true draw: hot apple cider donuts. There are fun fall events too, like a barn dance (Sept. 13), Johnny Appleseed’s birthday celebration (Sept. 18) and weekend barbecues. Open Labor Day weekend, then open daily from mid-September–late November, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
Yes, “hard” cider means there is alcohol content (5–7 percent on average), so this is not the juice to put in your 4-year-old’s sippy cup. But like the craft beer revolution and the farm-to-fork food movement, hard cider is attracting new interest, especially among millennials, who are producing small batches by hand using locally sourced ingredients. (In fact, some “ciderists” started out making beer and then made the switch.) Amusingly, however, hard apple cider has a long history:
• Julius Caesar and his soldiers drank it during Roman conquests as early as 55 B.C.
• British sailors in the 1600s and 1700s realized a barrel of cider would keep on board ship and get even better tasting with time; there were even fewer scurvy outbreaks.
• The Pilgrims toasted with hard apple cider at the first Thanksgiving.
• Johnny Appleseed planted cider apple trees all over the West in order to make alcohol, not pies.
Seasonal Fall Cocktails
It’s not just Pilgrims and Johnny Appleseed who would approve of these adult beverages made from apple cider. So would your local “mixologist,” who is all about creating cocktails that use in-season ingredients. Wow your friends this fall—or that bartender—with these fun drink recipes (courtesy of Barsotti Family Juice Co.):
Spiced Rum ‘n Cider Sipper
2 ounces of spiced rum
6 ounces of fresh apple cider
Twist of orange
Pour rum into a cocktail shaker. Add apple cider and ice. Shake well and pour over ice in small glasses. Add the twist of orange to the rim of each glass.
Fresh Baked Apple Pie-tini
(serve hot or cold)
2 parts fresh apple cider
1 part vodka
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 squirt of lime juice
1 part vanilla liqueur
Shake all ingredients over ice, strain into a martini glass. For a cold weather treat, warm apple cider, add other ingredients and serve in a mug.