Apple-Picking Farms Offer Crop of Fun

Posted October 5, 2009 at 4:12pm

While the White House boasts a backyard garden that provides fresh produce for the first family’s meals, most Capitol Hill residents pick the freshest ingredients at local farmers markets or farm shares.

But for those who want a little adventure, a day trip to the Virginia countryside for apple picking outdoes them all.

Nearly 50 miles outside of Washington, Markham, Va., boasts two orchards that let energetic customers celebrate the fall by picking their own apples from hundreds of blooming trees.

Stribling Orchard, a family-owned business since 1819, offers dozens of apple varieties and a Harvest House store full of country goodies, from homemade jams to nuts and cheeses. The main house was used as officers’ quarters for both sides during the Civil War. Just across the way, Hartland Orchard also offers an opportunity to pick your own fruit or pumpkins. Both orchards are close to the picturesque Skyline Drive, where visitors can take in sweeping views on a clear autumn day.

While the drive from Washington to the orchards in Markham can take more than an hour on Interstate 66, the journey from the city to the country is actually what makes this trip. The trek through Virginia’s congested Prince William County becomes a sightseeing drive, with signs for Manassas National Battlefield Park and the Chateau O’Brien and Naked Mountain wineries tempting visitors to stop, as do road signs for corn mazes and pumpkin patches.

A recent trip to Stribling Orchard brought freshly picked Golden Delicious apples that were baked into tarts for afternoon snacks. Different kinds of apples are prime for picking throughout the season, and Stribling offers everything from Golden Delicious in September and early October to Nittany and Stayman later in the fall.

But if apples are the reason for an hour’s drive outside the city, freshly baked goods are the real reward. Be sure to arrive at Stribling early enough for the apple fritters, breads and doughnuts that come fresh from the oven to the counter. Offered only on weekends and completely sold out by early afternoon, the baked treats are the reward for working in the apple orchard.

With farm-to-table cooking such a hotly discussed topic — most recently brought into fashion by first lady Michelle Obama — a quick day trip to a Virginia orchard is both a fashionable and delicious fall activity.