It’s that time again. The leaves are starting to turn, the days are just a bit shorter and football’s on the TV. It’s fall! And in North Georgia that means apple-mania is beginning.
Each September and October, thousands of people descend on the little town of Ellijay to pick up as many delicious apples as they can carry. Many of them come from right here in the northern suburbs. The nationally known Apple Festival happens the second and third weekend in October. Today’s article is part review, part advice, and part commentary from someone who has braved Hwy 52′s “Apple Road” for the last 6 years.
I had never heard of the apples of Ellijay until about 6 years ago. My wife and her family have visited the orchard for years and years. I decided to tag along and see what the excitement was about.
The drive up to Ellijay is actually quite nice. Take 400 north past the outlet mall and hang a left on Hwy 53 and keep going. You drive through Dawsonville and ascend into the North Georgia Mountains to Hwy 52. There is traffic in two key spots. The first is the turn off to Amicoloa Falls. The second is caused by the big boy on the apple block, Hillcrest Orchards.
Hillcrest is the biggest orchard on the street, and they are also the first you come to. I have seen literally miles of stopped traffic waiting to turn into the parking lots. My advice is to not go on the weekends. We have had to park at least a mile away in a cow pasture before. There are pick your own apple times and tours of the orchard. There is also a petting zoo, a Hillcrest exclusive. Be prepared to spend a few more bucks to get in to feed the hugely fat goats. There is often a line to get into the store, and once inside there isn’t much room to move around. That’s the same way at most places.
For my money and time, we skip Hillcrest and check out B.J. Reece’s Apple House. It’s a little further down on the right – much easier to get in and out of. Still crowded, but not as bad as it seems that most people stop at Hillcrest. Pretty much every orchard has the same apples, but if you’re looking for a specific type, then call ahead.
When I was standing amidst the chaos of all the stores (we went to 7), I noted something. It seems that everyone who went to these orchards had never seen an apple before because they were going crazy! I saw people buying pecks, half bushels, and bushels of apples. More than most small countries could eat. I even saw one guy with a furniture dolly carting out several crates of apples. I could only think, there must be a lot of pie around here somewhere.
Once again, come during the week if you can to avoid the crush. Wear comfortable shoes. If you have a SUV or truck, you might want to take it as most of the excess parking is in fields and dirt lots. The weather can be quite warm even that late in the year, so dress appropriately for crowds and if you’re going apple picking.
Many of the orchards offer times where you can pick your own apples off the trees for a fee. I saw a lot of families trotting off with their baskets into the trees. I have never done this, feeling that the only apple picking I want to do is picking the bag off the shelf.
One more item that is for sale all over that I feel like I must address is the fried pie. They are everywhere up there. You start seeing signs for fried pies just about Jacksonville. According to the signs, they can make fried pies out of just about everything, apple, cherry, peach, blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, chocolate, or possum. OK, I made that last one up. I have seen people go insane over the fried pies. Their appeal is lost on me. If you like fried pies, then be sure to pick up 1 or 12.
If your appetite cannot be satisfied by apples alone, do not fret. In addition to apples themselves, most orchard sell a variety of apple related products such as apple cider, apple doughnuts, apple butter, apple bread, and dried apples. Get as many doughnuts as you can, they are delicious. There are a lot of non-apple products for sale as well. Loads of country related items that us city folk go crazy over like local honey, jams and jellies, crafts, and pumpkins. There’s literally something for everyone.
So take some time this fall and make the trip to Ellijay to fill your car up with apples. It’s a great experience, and you’ll get to see some of the most beautiful countryside that this state has to offer. I’ll see you by the overfed goats.