They go by names like Winesap, Pinata, Mutsu Crispin and Gala. They’re apples — some of the more than 20 varieties of the crisp, juicy fruit produced in the prized orchards of North Georgia’s apple-growing region, located mostly in Gilmer and Fannin counties.
The region’s apple-picking season usually starts around late August. But it is in October when folks seem to be hit hardest by a hankering for a half-bushel or so of the freshly picked fruit. It draws thousands of folks, often with families in tow, to the several apple houses and orchards nestled in North Georgia’s picturesque mountains.
Many folks come to pick their own fruit right off the trees. To accommodate them, growers often set aside parts of their orchards each season for “U-picking.” This season, though, U-pick apples may be limited because of a late frost in April that killed blooms on scores of trees — a devastating blow for several North Georgia orchards.
Nevertheless, North Georgia’s growers report that they have “bushels and bushels” of tree-ripened apples — including several varieties — for sale in their apple houses.
Many customers probably are like my wife, Laura, and me, who every October take an apple-buying day trip to several of the apple barns and orchards, most of which are scattered around Ellijay in Gilmer County. (Outside Gilmer are Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge (Fannin County) and Jaemor Farms in Alto (Banks County.)
Laura likes to patiently inspect and pick out individual apples from among the thousands piled high in bins at the apple houses, and bag them herself. I’m less choosey: I prefer buying already-filled bags containing several apple varieties. The result is that when we return home in Decatur, we’re often lugging a bushel or more of apples, which we happily share with friends and neighbors.
That’s not all. Most apple houses also offer a slew of related mouth-watering goodies — fried pies, apple butter, jugs of cider, donuts, syrups, jellies, jams and on and on.
And what would October be without pumpkins? That’s why visitors also are likely to find rows of bright orange pumpkins for sale at nearly all apple houses — just in time for Halloween.
For my wife and I, there’s one other must-see attraction to visit during our apple forays — the Fausett Farms Sunflowers near Dawsonville on the outskirts of apple country. It features some 30 acres of tall, neon-bright sunflowers whose beauty is breathtaking.
October is significant in North Georgia for another reason — the annual Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay, which celebrates the harvest of the beloved fruit. The event was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic but is scheduled this year for the weekends of Oct. 9-10 and Oct. 16-17. More information: georgiaapplefestival.org
Here’s a list of several of North Georgia‘s apple houses and orchards. For latest updates, call them or visit their websites.
—B.J. Reece Orchards, Ellijay
—Hillcrest Orchards, Ellijay
—R&A Orchards, Ellijay
—Hillside Orchard Farms, Lakemont
—Mercier Orchards, Blue Ridge
—Red Apple Barn, Ellijay
—Jaemor Farms, Alto