Pennsylvania Apple Farms
Bite into a sweet harvest
Story by Renee Sklarew
The phrase “As American as apple pie” has a lot of meaning to the farmers of Central Pennsylvania. Each fall, local orchards burst with apples of many colors and tastes: 72 different apple varieties grow in this region!
One family has made the art of growing and selling apples their business for the last 63 years. On a 500-acre farm in Biglerville, Penn., four generations of the Hollabaugh family tend the land to produce enough apples for their own market as well as for wholesalers who buy half of the 100,000 bushels they harvest each year.
“There’s something in the upper Adams County region that is perfect for growing apples,” explains Ellie Hollabaugh Vranich, who graduated with an agri-business management degree from Penn State University. “The mountains to our West protect the farm from horrendous weather. We get a nice amount of rainfall, and the combination of warm and cold weather here is very conducive to growing apples.”
Some larger agricultural operations offer to buy farms like the Hollabaugh’s, but most farmers in Adams County remain committed to preserving their farms for future generations. “The younger generations are coming back to the land,” says Vranich. “Our family is rich in land,” she laughs, “but not with money in the bank.”
Farm Markets Full of Fresh Apples
There is a long tradition of planting orchards in Adams County. The Hollabaugh’s orchard, just 20 minutes from Gettysburg, pre-dates the Civil War. The land was a path on the Underground Railroad, and the family discovered an overgrown burial ground on their property once called Yellow Hills Cemetery (and has since marked each grave).
Vranich says people regularly drive from all over to buy produce directly from the Hollabaugh farm. The family operates a community-supported agriculture program (CSA); each delivery includes recipes, directions on how to store the produce, and recommended canning methods. Vranich says that the farm’s most popular apple is the Nittany—developed at Penn State, naturally—and Honey Crisp, which is used for applesauce and to make hard cider. The Hollabaughs grow other varieties, too, like the York Imperial, an apple with an unusually long shelf life; the long-standing Golden and Red Delicious apples; plus the Rubinette, Fuji, Empire and Crimson Crisp. Part of the fun of visiting the farm is the chance to taste test these different types of apples.
Of course, trees take time to grow, and apple varieties trend in and out of favor with consumers. The farmers at Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. forecast nearly seven years in advance in order to decide what variety to plant. As agricultural researchers develop new varieties, growers must keep up with the latest findings, as well as evaluate whether their specific soil and climate are a good match for the new plant options. “It’s a complicated system. You have to gamble on what the consumer wants,” says Vranich. “Today, it’s hard to keep up with the demand for Honey Crisp.”
On a wagon ride around the farm, you can learn how the land is irrigated and about high-density orchard planting. High density refers to how apple trees are planted close together, and pruned to grow wide. The Hollabaugh Bros.’ farm typically plants 750 to 1,000 trees on every acre. Young trees grow faster when attached to a trellis for support.
Environmental issues affect every crop. There’s the sun factor: Apples need sunlight to develop good color. They also require pollination; “Native bees need a habitat, so we help them along by providing one,” says Vranich while pointing to protected wooden beehives. Sadly, there aren’t enough native bees left in this region, so bees are rented from Florida during the growing season. Lastly, there’s the ubiquitous deer factor—a pest many of us face in our own gardens. Vranich says field workers hang bars of soap in each tree, because it usually keeps deer away—aha, a remedy to try at home!
Another thing to try at home is making apple dumplings. Savor a taste of the season with this recipe courtesy of the Hollabaugh family:
Apple Dumplings Recipe
Hollabaugh Bros., Inc. farm offers lessons on baking and cooking with apples. The family has generously shared its recipe for apple dumplings with FoodieTravelUSA.com. The recipe makes one apple dumpling; increase as needed for the quantity desired.
1 rectangle of pastry dough sized to wrap around an apple (make your own dough or buy ready-made pie pastry like Pillsbury)
1 apple (your choice of apple varietal, but Golden Delicious has a nice tartness)
1 tsp. of cinnamon
1 Tbsp. of brown sugar
2 Tbsp. of white sugar
1 tsp. of vanilla
1 small aluminum pie plate with sides
- Mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and white sugar in a bowl.
- Roll out the pastry using flour to keep it from sticking to your roller.
- Peel the skin off the apple, then remove the core with an apple core tool.
- Place the cored apple in the middle of the dough and pour half of the bowl of mixed ingredients into the hole in the middle of the apple.
- Pull the sides of the dough up around the apple, until it looks like a package that becomes the dumpling.
- Sprinkle the remaining mixed ingredients on top of the dumpling; it’s okay if it fills up around the sides of the baking tin.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees F. until golden brown.
Plan A Trip
Adams County and Gettysburg have a plethora of charming inns and hotels where you can enjoy a hearty breakfast before heading out for the day. The Baladerry Inn is located beside the battlefield and only a short distance from the heart of downtown Gettysburg. Enjoy a multi-course breakfast either on the terrace or inside by the roaring fireplace.
The Altland House Grill and Brewery opened its doors in 1753 in one of south-central Pennsylvania’s oldest towns, Abbottsown. The fine dining restaurant, brew pub and upscale inn have undergone many changes since Colonial times, but have always been an Adams County landmark. The restaurant was a favorite of neighbors’ Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, who hired the Altland House to cater their granddaughter’s wedding at their Gettysburg farm. Today, the Altland House still serves Ike’s favorite dish: chicken and waffles.
The Gettysburg Hotel is located in the heart of downtown Gettysburg, Lincoln Square. Although the building dates back to 1797, the rooms are modern and luxurious. The elegant boutique hotel was recently refreshed, and has fireplaces in many rooms. Here, you’ll be steps from shops and restaurants, as well as important historic sites. The casual dining restaurant at the Gettysburg Hotel, One Lincoln Food & Spirits, serves a wide selection of local spirits.