A week ago last Wednesday was one of those days that makes you absolutely love living in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada: sunny and warm, but cool in the shade, with a bit of a breeze and the smell of Fall in the air. A perfect time to visit one of the Apple Hill growers, and why not visit the first one on the list, High Hill Ranch.
I have known members of the Visman family for a number of years. Together the extended family has several orchards and Christmas tree plantations.
High Hill Ranch is owned and operated by George and Jerry Visman, father and son. Over the past several years Jerry has been taking on more of the responsibility, but George is there every day, riding around in his golf cart making sure things are working properly.
George Visman was born in Placerville in 1929. After high school and some time in the U. S. Air Force, he returned to help his father, Carl, in their pear orchard, but he still found time to race motorcycles. In the early 1960s he purchased the Gatlin Ranch and renamed it High Hill Ranch.
The crop was mostly pears, but the pear blight put an end to them and he planted apples, which he sold from a fruit stand.
When the Apple Hill association was formed he became the first member and business has grown ever since.
I made an appointment to talk with Jerry Visman, but ran into George first, so I hopped into his golf cart and went searching for Jerry. “We grow about 12 varieties of apples in 12 acres of orchard” said George as we rode along. “Our mainstay is the Golden Delicious and we still have some older varieties like the Pippin and McIntosh.
“We also add new varieties as them come along. Some of them just don’t do well here, but do well at other local orchards, so we buy those from the best local growers, like Pat O’Halloran.”
We found Jerry and he and I decided to just walk around the place as he showed me what was going on. It was a busy Wednesday with several senior facility’s busses, and even a school bus, dropping off people.
“This is a great time of year to be here,” said Jerry, “and from the predictions, October looks like it is going to be a great month with beautiful weather.”
As we reached the front of the apple sales area, I noticed first lots of people sitting at the more than 150 picnic table enjoying the weather. There was also a large crowd around the bins filled with at least eight apple varieties, especially the Fuji bin. “The Fujis were picked about a half-hour ago,” said Jerry. “You won’t get fresh ones like those in the grocery store, and they will charge you more for what they have.
“We are all about apples,” Jerry continued, “we sell fresh apples, apple butter, baked and unbaked apple pie, several kinds of apple donuts, apple fritters, our special blend of apple juice, caramel apples and a lot more. We depend on the Golden Delicious for most of our products: it doesn’t break down in the pies, stays solid in the fritters and, because it has less natural wax, the caramel stays on the caramel apples.
“We also bring in other fruit and vegetables from local growers like winter and decorative squash and pumpkins for Halloween.”
We then stepped into the donut shop where he introduced me to Lorena, the “Donut Queen.” “She is in charge and everything they make is wonderful,” added Jerry, “but I should stay out of here because I know where they put the donuts that aren’t perfect and I eat them. Want one?”
The cider mill wasn’t in business that afternoon, but as we passed the apple coring and peeling machine it looked old, so I asked how old it was. “Only about 30 years,” answered Jerry, “the technology hasn’t changed in a century. We have a collection of some 300 old apple peelers and corers in our gift shop, It’s the biggest collection west of the Mississippi and a lot of them work the same way.”
Not all the craft stands are open on weekdays, but as we walked by them Jerry added, “We only allow them to sell handmade articles, no imported stuff. And, we have a long waiting list of crafters wanting to sell here.”
If you are hungry when you are there the Pie House serves burgers, nachos, hot dogs, salads, sandwiches, fries and pie, while the Chicken Kitchen serves their famous chicken dinners, sandwiches, wraps, salads, soup and more. On weekends they barbecue Swingle Meat’s “Kona” tri-tip and even serve tacos made the traditional Mexican way at their old apple wine tasting building.
And, if you are looking for something different, there are hay rides and their trout fishing pond.
As I was leaving Jerry said to me, “You know, I love to tell people this. I love my job. I get up in the morning, jump in a golf cart, drive about 300 yards and I am there. And I enjoy everything I do.”
High Hill Ranch is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., every day from Labor Day to Christmas Eve. The rest of the year it is available for rent for weddings and events. For more information call (530) 644-1973 or visit www.highhillranch1.net.
Oh, it is dog friendly, but they ask you to pick up after your pet.