Apples by the bushel

Apple season comes to a close

Apple season comes to a close

October 16, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Lost among the apple trees since 8 a.m., Raymond Smith lugs a crate of hand-picked Staymans toward a single lane dirt and gravel road.

Thirty, 40 feet away, a silver ladder sits propped against a second bushel of apples, the last of his five-bushel bounty collected since Gardenhour Orchards opened its apple crop to customers in late summer.

At 85, Smith's only accommodation to age is in the quantity of apples he picks. Time was, he would collect 50 or 60 bushels for neighbors, friends and family.


These days, five will do at $8 a bushel. Some he stores for himself. The apples will keep until March. Others go to a farmer friend in a straight-up swap for pumpkins.

"I just like to come to the orchard. I figure this is the best place to come for apples," the Waynesboro man says. "Some of the apples you get from the store are shipped in and treated, and just don't have the flavor of some of our local apples."

For 30 years the Gardenhour family has opened their orchard to visitors eager to aimlessly wander among rows of apple trees in search of their perfect fruit.

Last month, picking of Red and Golden Delicious and Empire varieties began in earnest; those trees aren't picked clean but have been worked over pretty well.

Oct. 7, picking of Staymans, Rome and York apples commenced. It is a condensed time frame, and most of the good apples have likely been snapped up already.

But Gardenhour will give visitors a chance to forage for fallen apples, and fruit picked by his staff is available for sale at their Gardenhour Road orchard.

"A lot of it is people with children. They want their children to come out," says Gardenhour, whose father, George, instituted the pick your own mandate that stands. "They see produce in the grocery store but don't know where it comes from. So it's educational."

Since many Washington County orchards sell their crops wholesale, Gardenhour's operation is a local rarity. But Henry Allenberg with the Maryland Apple Promotion Board says more pick-your-own opportunities exist closer to Washington and Baltimore.

The draw, he says, is the chance to bring families together for an afternoon together for fresh air and a social experience.

"It gets everybody away from the TV set and games and talking to each other while they do it," Allenberg, owner of his own Smithsburg area orchard says.

Gardenhour grows 100 acres of apples, augmented by 10 acres of peaches plus pick your own strawberries earlier in the year.

In a good season, between 3,000 and 5,000 bushels are plucked by customers picking their own.

This is not a good season.

Drought conditions haven't helped matters. Neither did the June storm with hail that ended up bruising a lot of fruit.

Gardenhour admits he almost didn't open up the orchard to customers this year, that his wife Julie talked him into it.

Smithsburg resident Jenny Forrester is glad he did. While Smith is collecting his two bushels she has one to show for her trip. This on top of four bushels she picked in September.

These apples will be used in pies throughout the winter, and Forrester has returned year after year for at least a decade for the quality and experience.

"I can pick what I want," she says. "It's nice. It's just something different to do."

The trees where Smith is are back a quarter-mile from a large, gray barn where visitors check in. Up a short hill, drivers first pass trees from the season's first phase of picking. Rotten apples flattened on the ground are surrounded by bees on a search of their own.

These picking trees are smaller than trees opposite the barn, where employees climb ladders to pick fruit. Gardenhour has purposely kept them trimmed back, dwarfed to make it easier for people to reach their fruit.

It isn't often his clientele come equipped with ladders like Smith has done.

Instead, some climb into the trees to reach fruit on upper limbs. Or pickers stay rooted on the ground, scooping up apples within arms length.

But Smith will have none of that. For 20 years he has picked his apples at Gardenhour's, and for his money the best specimens are tucked away in the upper reaches of trees.

"Those are choice," he says before heading off to retrieve his second bushel. "They're better. Mostly they've got better color and when you don't get a better colored apple they don't taste as good."

Pick your own apples

8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

Gardenhour Orchards

Corner of Md. 64 and Gardenhour Road


Varieties available include Stayman, Rome and York.

For information about availability, call 301-824-7466.

Quick Apple Tarts

  • 1/3 cup butter

  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

  • 1 egg

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/3 cups flour

  • 2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced

  • 4 teaspoons sugar

  • 4 teaspoons orange marmalade, melted

Whip butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in one egg and salt. Gradually stir in flour until soft dough is formed; cover tightly and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Roll dough on lightly floured surface to 10-inch square; cut into four 5-inch squares. Turn up an edge 1/4 inch all around and place on a baking sheet. Arrange apple slices over pastry, then sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 375 degrees about 15 to 20 minutes or until pastry is golden. Brush apples with marmalade and return to oven 1 or 2 minutes.

Serves 4.

Apple Upside-down Gingerbread

  • 1/4 cup butter

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 3 medium apples, peeled and sliced

  • 1 package gingerbread mix

Melt butter in bottom of a 9-inch square cake pan. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle on bottom of pan. Arrange apples in pan on brown sugar mixture. Prepare gingerbread mix as directed on package and pour batter over apple slices.

Bake as directed for gingerbread mix. Invert on serving plate. If desired, garnish with whipped cream and maraschino cherries. Cut into squares and serve.

- Recipes courtesy Maryland Apple Promotion Board

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