Apple Hill and Sutter’s Mill

Over the course of the summer, Steve and I twice made the 2 hour drive past Sacramento to the Sierra foothills and Apple Hill. Apple Hill is much like Napa, only instead of wineries, they have apple orchards. The first time we went up there was actually berry picking season at Summerfield Berry Farm. Steve has gone there the past few summers to pick berries for jam. The ladies have been awestruck in the past with my tales of homemade pie. Now they will be incredulous at my boy’s homemade jam! At any rate, all of these berries had to be picked first, and put in a basket, not my mouth. I was mainly successful at this, only periodically indulging as a tester.

Anne eating blackberries

We picked several pounds of blackberries and raspberries and headed off. My first jam making experience was a bit of a mess. Steve was in his old apartment with an electric stove. We got halfway done with the first batch and had just added the pectin when a fuse blew. And it was not something Steve could re-set as he had before. It was also 6:30 on a Sunday night. The local hardware stores closed at 7. So I stayed with the jam, and Steve made a mad dash. The stove would still put out a bit of heat up to medium. But any higher, and it turned off all together. So I kept it warm and stirred. Steve went to 2 hardware stores just as they were closing, but neither had what he needed. Finally, he showed up an hour later from the drug store where had picked up a hotplate. It produced just enough heat to finish the batch. The jam turned out very tasty, indeed. But we didn’t do the other berries that night and they still sit in Steve’s freezer. Maybe sometime over the holiday break.

We went to Apple Hill later in the fall when all the apples were ripe. I was a little disappointed in the small number of pick your own orchards, but it was a lovely day, with apple pie and apple butter and apple juice and, yes, plain old apples. I’m not a big wine drinker. In fact, Steve likes to make fun of the face I make when I try to drink wine. I insist he exaggerates, but it IS pretty funny. The point is, I really refer Apple Hill to Napa and recommend it to visitors.

Just about 20 minutes from Apple Hill is Sutter’s Mill.

Steve at Sutter's Mill

It was at this very spot in 1848 that James Marshall looked down in the flue one morning and saw a golden sparkle. “It’s gold, boys!” he cried. And every placard around the town will tell you it was so. I like to make fun of the site a little, because, truly, every sign says the exact same thing. But it is a lot of fun. Steve and I stopped at Sutter’s Mill both times we went to Apple Hill. The first time, we went after berry picking, so it was almost 5 by the time we got there and the official gold panning spot was getting ready to close. Steve and I went over to the trough and watched other panning for a few minutes. Then a little girl set down her pan and Steve became a claim jumper! He immediately picked it up and within minutes had found a flake of gold. “It’s gold, boys!” We got a little vial of water to put it in, and, with the lid being locked over the trough, headed down to the American River for a little more panning.

Steve panning for gold

We didn’t find anymore gold in the river, but we stayed until the sun set and it was gorgeous.

On our next trip to Apple Hill, we went to Sutter’s Mill first. I tell you, gold panning is addictive. We knew we had to get to Apple Hill to enjoy the festivities, but it was always just one pan more. I fell victim to this more than Steve, but you can’t really blame me. I found gold! “It’s gold, boys!”

Anne panning for gold

The park brings in mud and rocks from a place that they know had gold flakes and garnets. Steve and I both wound up with 2 vials for our treasures. One for the gold, and one for the garnets. There was on tense moment at the trough, though. The man hired to help visitors learn how to pan took my first pan away early on to show me how to do it. I was very appreciative, because I didn’t know how to do it beforehand. So, I started on my second pan. And just as I was getting to the point where I had gotten off all the big rocks and might start seeing gold. The guy came back, took my pan, and finished it off for me, finding gold. By the third pan, I was ready to do it by myself. I was halfway done again when Steve came over, hoping to give me a hand. I snapped at him. I honestly don’t remember what I said, although he probably does. Something about being able to do it myself. Anyway, Steve looked utterly shocked and slunk away. I felt pretty bad, but Steve said he understood. After I explained to him that I just really wanted to do it myself and, as soon as it got to the good part, someone came and took it away from me. Understand though he may, he cringed away from me for a few hours. You know, perhaps that isn’t so bad after all!