Surely the apple is the noblest of fruits.
~Henry David Thoreau~
Apple cider becomes a favorite drink during autumn, and apples are ranked number one in the top ten healthiest foods. So harvest time felt perfect for a trip to Hillcrest Orchard of Walnut Creek to get fresh apples and cider. Rain or shine, this is a bustling place in the fall.
With over 20,000 bushels of apples this year, they have over twenty varieties from which to choose. Two customer favorites are Golden Delicious and Honey Crisp, my personal choice. Their newest variety is now available – Evercrisp, a combination of Honey Crisp and Fuji.
Hillcrest Orchard has been in the family since 1968. Today Merle and Lela Hershberger own and operate the orchard with help from their children. Their grandfather, Jacob Hershberger, still helps out as often as possible.
With over 75 acres of apple trees and 5 acres of peach trees, the Hershberger family works all year round. When the new year begins in January, it’s time to trim trees and remove a block of old trees.
Then in April, it’s planting time each year for approximately 4,000 dwarf trees – most of them being apple. Luckily, they have a tree transplanter, which is pulled behind a tractor. They can sit on the transplanter and drop in the new trees three feet apart. With this method, they can plant over 1,500 trees in one day.
There’s always work to be done. After planting trees, the trunks are hand wrapped with wire to keep them straight. Trellises, holding two wires that go through the trees, keep the branches from hanging to the ground. During the summer months, the apples need to be thinned on each tree. An apple tree cannot be too full of apples for best production.
In the fall when picking begins, some extra help is needed from young people in the community. All the apples are hand-picked from ladders. That is one of the reasons they switched to dwarf apple trees so they could more easily be reached.
Fresh pressed apple cider is made at their business operation every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. During October they make 4,000 gallons each week. One Friday/Saturday last year they sold 2,250 gallons.
Their cider is unpasteurized so it’s placed immediately in a cooling tank. That also means that it’s only good for about two weeks. Be sure to get a free sample while visiting.
Whatever cider isn’t sold is placed into wooden barrels for one year. There it becomes apple cider vinegar, which is also available at their store.
However, apples and their products aren’t the only things on hand. Hillcrest Orchard’s the perfect place to find organic fruits and vegetables while in season. Their products look picture perfect. You can also buy pumpkins, mums, baled hay or straw. You’ll be surprised at all the treats available.
Outside during the fall months, you’ll enjoy the flavor of Hostetler Kettle Corn. Freshly popped in the lot, the smell draws you to their tent. Pick up a bag to munch on while driving home through beautiful Amish country.
The children and grandchildren feel part of the business as they have grown up in the orchard and store. Hopefully, those youngsters will someday continue providing apples and peaches for all to enjoy.
Merle’s son, Mark, lists pressing cider and picking apples as his favorite chores. When asked what he’d like to do in the future, his answer, “Plant more trees.” What do these hard-working young men like to do for fun? Deer hunt! There’s evidence of that around their store with several deer head mounts.
Hillcrest Orchard is open from July through April. It has even become a requested stop for tour buses. Many people make an annual visit there in the fall and some stop by often to pick up fresh produce. One man said he took the cider home and froze it in small containers so he could have fresh tasting cider for months to come.
Stop by the orchard and pick up some apples straight from the tree. Apples can be enjoyed in so many different ways: apple pie, applesauce, apple butter, apple crisp, dipped in caramel, or just take a bite of a fresh, juicy one. However you decide to use the apples, they will taste delicious.
Remember, apples are also healthy, so that old adage of ‘an apple a day’ is a good rule to follow. Stop at Hillcrest Orchard of Walnut Creek on your next trip to Amish Country and experience the fresh taste of fall.
Hillcrest Orchard of Walnut Creek can be reached off I-77 at Exit 83. Go left on OH 39W until you reach 515. Turn right at the light, then go straight back about a half mile to the Orchard on the right.