No visit to the Valley in September or October is complete without an expedition in search of apples. It’s the perfect excuse to travel the back roads and see some countryside. Having lived here since 1995, we are happy to recommend our favorite spots to get apples. Each orchard has its own personality but all have one thing in common: they are all family businesses, as in fourth or fifth generation orchardists. Not something you see very often.
Rinker Orchards is a classic pick-your-own (PYO) operation. Started in 1972, one of the first in Virginia, they are now seeing the return of a third generation of apple pickers. We have guests at the inn who remember coming out as children with their families every fall to pick at Rinkers. There are large bins of pre-picked apples, but picking from the tree really takes no longer that picking from the bin. You can probably get all the apples you want from just a few trees, so it’s not like you are wandering around the whole orchard. Things to know:
- PYO is available Friday through Monday only.
- The minimum purchase is a bushel, although it’s fine to mix together different types of apples.
- Apple butter will be made on site by the Stephens City Lion’s Club on September 14, 21, and 28. Just personal opinion, but Neil says this is the best of the local apple butters.
- Rinkers is maybe best known now for their cider, available at the orchard but also at other markets, including the local Martins Food Store. Made only from fresh fruit and flash pasteurized, we serve it at the inn until the supply vanishes, along about New Years.
Marker-Miller Orchard is a PYO operation that has grown into a destination all its own. There are 20 varieties of apples, 12 of which you can pick from the trees yourself. There’s a full bakery onsite, producing lots of treats including their famous cider donuts. The mountain view from the front porch rockers is the best of the local orchards and there is a wide variety of local products for sale. Things to know:
- The market is open daily in September and October.
- Their Fall Farm Festival in September 28 and 29, featuring live music from 1 to 3.
- Their Apple Harvest Festival is October 12 and 13.
Richard’s Fruit Market has a nice assortment of already picked apples, and mixing the different types is encouraged. You’re quite likely to meet at least a couple of generations of Richards while visiting. Listen to their banter, and get a little peep into life in the Valley while you are at it. The apples are sorted and graded right there at the market, and there’s almost always a small collection of “freak” apples or vegetables that have caught someone’s eye. A little off the subject of apples, Neil is a huge fan of their home-canned jars of Tomato Mix, which is the perfect starter for a quick midweek meal at home. Exactly what you would can if you had the time to do it yourself. Things to know:
- The market is open daily.
- Their Apple Festival is Saturday October 19.
- Richards is host to the Virginia State Gourd Festival November 2 and 3 (don’t giggle – there are fascinating things to be seen, and purchased).
Woodbine Farm Market in Lebanon Church offers 16 varieties of apples including at least two heritage varieties not found at the other markets – Spitzenberg and Ash Mead Kernal. The drive from the inn down Middle Road is lovely, and if you will be heading west on Route 55 to go hiking or touring in West Virginia, you can pick up some great pork or chicken barbeque there as well as a tasty dessert for a picnic. We’re definitely going back in October to try the Spitzenbergs. Open daily.
Long before Fresh-and-Local became a “trend”, these Shenandoah Valley families were out making the best of our sweet limestone soil by planting orchards. We’ve developed a great affection for them and respect for their hard work. We hope you’ll enjoy visiting them.