Getting Dirty: Rock Hill Orchard
BYT at large | Oct 14, 2010 | 12:10PM |

As Fall approaches, we know you are looking forward to finding excuses to get outside and check out the foliage and wallow in nostalgia, if you can make it out of bed by Sunday afternoon. So in that spirit here is a new column by Emily A. (also known as the BYT Podcast’s Dating Advice Provider) about hiking, traipsing, picnicking, and generally being wistful and outdoorsy. Enjoy!

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Tucked in the rolling hills of Northern Montgomery County is Rock Hill Orchard, a farm owned and operated by Dick and Nancy Biggs since 1969. This small farm houses a little market, a pumpkin patch, a flower garden and row upon row of apples. Roughly 50 minutes outside of the city, Rock Hill Orchard is the perfect place to immerse one’s self in all that is autumn in the mid-Atlantic.

We chose this particular orchard over any other because of its great online reviews, most of which, for whatever reason found this orchard particularly reminiscent of their childhood. As the daughter of a farmer, the idea of picking my own apples (and paying to pick them!) is kind of foreign to me so I doubted that this adventure would bring back any memories, but I liked the idea of it doing so for someone else.

Upon arrival (if you haven’t brought your own) Rock Hill will provide you with a map of the orchard and a bag in which to store the apples you’ve picked. To suit all tastes, you can choose among a number of varieties including Empire, Jonathon, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and many more that I can’t think of because I stopped paying attention after I heard Empire since those are my favorite. Apples are $1.39 per pound and after 20 lbs, are just $1.09 per pound. The apple trees appear to be pruned to grow low to the ground, making them more like apple bushes than apple trees. So hypothetically, if you’re imagining climbing a tall red ladder or stretching and jumping to reach the perfect apple, having earned each and every apple that you’ll eventually put in your apple crisp, your needs likely won’t be met in that respect (strictly hypothetically, if you had created those expectations…). If you’re imagining warm sun at your back, a gentle breeze, the smell of harvest season and a quiet stroll along rows of a well-kept orchard as you bite into a crisp apple, well, your needs will be met ten-fold.

With our bags full enough to make applesauce, an apple pie and an apple crisp, we caught the hay ride to the pumpkin patch in hopes of finding those adorable pumpkins that serve no purpose beyond pure decoration. On a Sunday afternoon at 4pm there weren’t a lot of “perfect” pumpkins to be had, some were still green and the others had been fairly well picked over. After searching for nearly five minutes (the longest five minutes of my life) I found the pumpkin I knew I’d been looking for all along; bright orange, without scars or imperfections, symmetrical, weighing in at just less than one pound with as my friend H. put it, “SUCH a great stem.”

The market is small and carries a number of shockingly overpriced canned, baked, bottled and preserved goods. With a pint of honey going for nearly $15 and pickled asparagus around $7, I opted for a small jar of cranberry preserves (perfect for the fast-approaching Thanksgiving holiday) priced at $3.73. They also sell apple cider and bottled, locally-brewed sodas from neighboring Frederick, Maryland (vanilla cream soda, root beer, ginger ale and my personal favorite, black cherry soda) for only $1.59.

For two summers in a row, the first when I was 12 and the next when I was 13, black cherry soda was ever-present in my household (I suspect it was on sale at Food-for-Less). At every picnic, every pool party, every camping trip, we never tired of black cherry soda. My aunt and I took day trips to Baines Pond in Yolo County, CA, and along with apples, sandwiches and grapes, black cherry soda made its way into our small ice chest.  The day I stepped on a bee I remember shooing another from the opening in my soda can. The day my aunt pulled me out of the pond kicking and screaming because they’d found out the water was infested by leeches I found solace in a black cherry soda on the drive home.

The next summer I sipped black cherry coke from a straw, pool-side, in my aunt’s backyard vying for Matt Shankland’s attention while wearing my first two piece swimsuit, a tropical-print number that my mom purchased for me at JC Penney. Matt’s reaction was to splash me with water and sing Garbage’s Stupid Girl at the top of his lungs in my direction (this type of interaction with men has only become more complicated and more frequent as I’ve grown older).

As I leaned against the trunk of my neighbor Joe’s car, a bag of apples at my feet, sipping a chilled home-brewed black cherry soda, the unexpected happened. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the memories of my own childhood, the leeches, the bee stings, a tropical print two-piece and most of all, Matt Shankland. And I’ve been humming Stupid Girl ever since.

To escape the trials of city (and adult) life, Rock Hill Orchard is just the ticket.
Tips from a pro*

  • Wear sunscreen
  • If you plan on traipsing around the pumpkin patch wear close-toed shoes and pants
  • Bring your own bag (why use plastic just because you’re outside city limits?)
  • Bring cash (they only take cards at the bottom of the hill in the market)
  • Brace yourself for a satisfying afternoon

* I use the term “pro” rather loosely