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Most people hear “apple picking” and think of a chill in the air, scarves, tromping through a bucolic orchard and maybe coming back to the farm house to get apple cider and apple cider donuts. Or maybe that’s just what I think of when I see folks posting pictures on Facebook of cloudy skies and bright red apples. And I wanted that! I wanted the cool weather and the feeling of Fall. Sweet apples and apple cider donuts. I didn’t quite get that when I convinced my husband and our friends to venture to Petaluma, CA for the only apple picking place I could find in the Bay Area (it helped that it was sort of out of the way but north so we could do our wine club selections on the same day!).

In the Northern California Bay Area our Fall is known for stupendous Indian Summer weather. Instead of cold and overcast, as San Francisco can be for most of the summer, suddenly the sun glares down and we get hot weather. As it turned out, this weekend we had already selected for wine tasting turned out to be over 90-degrees. It felt like the height of summer, not a beautiful fall day. Undeterred, we headed to Chileno Valley Ranch to pick apples. If it was going to be hot, we could still enjoy a day spent outside in the beautiful California countryside.

Our first impression of this place when we arrived: Holy smokes, the parking lot is chock full of mini vans and Subarus! And we arrived at what we thought was a reasonable morning hour (around 11am after about an hour and a half drive). We pressed on. We got our “orientation” from a nice volunteer after walking by the sheep and goats. Each couple grabbed a paper bag and we did our best to ignore the throngs of city parents with their rug rats. Then, I wandered over to the front of the orchard and discovered…. it was yellow jacket season! There was a peach tree, right up front, swarming with the bitey bugs. And my husband is very allergic. Super. He decided to play it safe and wandered off to feed sheep apples while the other three of us went to collect our apples in the hot sun.

We had been instructed to gently tug on the apples and if they didn’t come off easily, they weren’t ripe yet. The volunteers also directed us to which varietals were ready for picking which were about half of the 15+ types they had planted. I will say, once we were in the orchard there were significantly less yellow jackets and kids around so it wasn’t too bad. It was fun to see all the different kinds of apples and go around picking and choosing.

Near the end, when my bag had a little more weight, I thought I would try one of my lovely apples. I bit in and …. not really that good. Not juicy, kind of tart (when it was supposed to be sweet), and maybe not very ripe? Lucky me, there were cows who were happy to eat apples, even if they had a bit out of them.

When we were done, there was no apple cider. No apple cider donuts. Or pies. Or canned goods. There were eggs and meat for sale, but that wasn’t what we had in mind. This certainly was not the apple picking experience I envisioned. While it wasn’t terrible, most of the apples got used for baking (apple cider muffins covered in sugar and spice and overnight slow cooked apple butter) and we probably won’t be going back any time soon. I think we were all glad we did it because now we know what that farm is like, but next time we head up north, we’ll stick to wine tasting and picnicking al fresco.

Tell me, do you/have you gone apple picking in your area? Is it more of the chilly weather, delicious apple experience that I thought this was going to be?

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