We recently had family come for a visit from Las Vegas: The Tyrant’s sister, Lisa, and her adorable daughter Alli (aka Alli Bear).
We decided to pack their weekend trip full of fun and food: ice skating, gardening, cob oven cooking, and a trip up the road to Windy Hill Orchard to pick fresh apples. Windy Hill just so happens to also produce our favorite summer adult beverage: hard apple ciders.
For a bit of background, The Tyrant and I have been huge fans of Windy Hill’s hard ciders ever since we first tried them at Community Tap a couple of years ago. After a hot summer hike or day in the garden, there is nothing better than a cold cider (except perhaps a cold cider mixed 50/50 with an IPA, which is how hard cider is often consumed in Europe via a concoction called a “Snakebite“).
Since we get our groceries from the Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery, we asked Jack, one of the owners, if she’d start carrying Windy Hill cider too, so that we could get our food and beverage needs taken care of at the same store. She happily obliged.
Two weeks later, The Tyrant was dropping by “The Rabbit” to pick up some raw milk when she saw people with large boxes labeled “Windy Hill” heading towards the door. By all accounts, she squealed like a pig and ran over to thank them for all the happiness they’d provided for us over the past two years.
As it turned out, the two people carrying the Windy Hill boxes were the orchard’s founders, husband and wife team Fritz (aka “Johnny,” as in “Johnny Appleseed”) and Catherine Gusmer, who had started the orchard about thirty years ago. After her swoon-worthy experience meeting the Gusmers, The Tyrant returned home with a car full of hard cider. And no milk.
The Trip to Windy Hill Orchard
We arrived at Windy Hill at around 10am Sunday morning. As we stepped out of our car, we were greeted by a huge rooster, who had been foraging on fallen apples and insects under a nearby tree.
The orchard and facilities are set up to handle a large crowd, which is precisely what was on hand. The lines to purchase all manner of apple goodies ran from under the tin-roofed barn out into the parking area. The delicious smell of fresh apple donuts wafted through the air and a banjo player jammed away as “Johnny” gave a pitch-perfect recounting of the life and times of Johnny Appleseed in a nearby gathering area. It was the perfect introduction to Windy Hill Orchard.
We bought some empty picking bags and headed towards the you-pick part of the orchard, where red Stayman Winesap apples starkly contrasted against the blue fall sky, like ornaments on a Christmas tree.
Why Stayman Winesaps?
As Windy Hill states on their website:
“The Stayman Winesap is an old southern variety of apple that has a multitude of uses. The Stayman Winesap is a sweet aromatic apple that has a slight hint of tartness. They are equally good for cooking and eating and retain their flavor when baked or used to make apple sauce. Because of their unique flavor and attributes, the Stayman Winesap is an excellent choice for Apple Cider and we use it to make our own cider as much as possible.”
Picking apples was a blast for all the adults and Alli Bear alike. As we picked, chickens darted about under the trees around us, feasting on old apples and the insects they attracted.
The free-ranging chickens are an intentional part of the pest management system that the orchard has adopted, which also helps “close the loop.” Rotting apples & non-beneficial insects = chicken food = chicken eggs = chicken manure = apple tree fertilizer… not to mention the extra revenue the orchard makes from selling free-range chicken eggs.
After picking our apples, we headed back to the main facilities to enjoy some food and beverages. We ordered apple donuts, an apple slushy for Alli, and a sampler tray of hard ciders (for the adults, of course).
Pictures from Wendy Hill Orchard & Cidery
Before we departed, we had the pleasure of meeting Matthew, the founders’ son, who is responsible for some of Windy Hills recent innovations ranging from digital media marketing, hydroponic strawberries, new cider recipes, low/no-chemical integrated pest management systems, and growing Cascade hops for their ciders right at the orchard. Because they grow such a high percentage of their ingredients at the orchard, Windy Hill is able to sell their hard ciders directly to the public, despite the rather strange South Carolina alcohol laws that prohibit other state breweries who source their ingredients from third parties from doing so.
It was so encouraging to see a local, multi-generational farming operation like Windy Hill prospering while creating healthy, delicious products (ok, so the apple donuts aren’t too healthy, but they sure are good to indulge in once a year).
We certainly plan to do our part helping Windy Hill’s business grow by enjoying their cider and other apple products every chance we get. And every time we drink a Windy Hill cider, we’ll fondly remember our visit to the orchard and meeting the Gusmer family. If you don’t live in Upstate, South Carolina, there’s a good chance you can still get Windy Hill’s ciders from nearby grocery stores.
Special Note: The real-life story of Johnny Appleseed is a fascinating tale. We highly suggest you take a read of this wikipedia entry to better understand who Johnny was, what he believed, how he lived and why so many Americans drank hard cider in the early years of the republic. President John Adams even drank a tankard of hard cider each morning for its “health benefits,” which may be one of the reasons he lived to be 90 years old!
So, consuming fermented apple juice may actually be “as American as hard apple cider.”
Aaron & Susan