Thursday, September 10, 2015

Around Town // Catoctin Mountain Orchard

What single activity better heralds the arrival of fall than apple picking? I don't know about you, but I can't think of anything more autumnal than that.

Whenever fall begins to appear, one of my favorite places to visit in the Frederick area is the Catoctin Mountain Orchard. Located about 15 minutes north of Frederick city, the orchard is nestled at the base of the dusky, blue-green Catoctin Mountains, the easternmost section of the Blue Ridge. Driving up 15 North--the stretch of country highway that connects two Civil War towns, Frederick and Gettysburg-- has always been one of my favorite stretches of road. You wind imperceptibly upwards, through sweeping farmland, vineyards, and orchards. In autumn, the mountains transform into crimson and gold cavalcades of color, setting the entire landscape ablaze. Against that fiery backdrop, the white silos and farmhouses stand out starkly, suddenly pristine against all the autumn hues.

It's within this pastoral scene that the Catoctin Mountain Orchard resides. Rounding a bend in the empty highway, you suddenly spot it: a small metal building, not much bigger than a farmer's market stand, surrounded by orchards. An overly-bright highway sign depicting cartoon apples baskets and block letters points to your destination. The sign may be bigger than the market, impossible to miss.

Open from early summer through late fall, the Market is my favorite source for fresh fruits, preserves, and baked goods. Once you step through its stiff-hinged metal door, your senses are accosted with flavor and scent: baking bread, tart apple juice, cinnamon-and-sugar, plump peaches. Row after row of mason jars line the walls, precisely ordered on makeshift wooden shelves. Their labels hint to sugary-sweet creations within: blackberry jam, peach preserves, apricot jam, sweet habanero pickles, pumpkin butter. Nearby, blue farmer's baskets overflow with apples, plums, nectarines,  berries, and peaches. Large white baskets offer samples for you to taste. An old-fashioned "taste before you buy" mentality presides here.

The closest basket cradles small golden apples, each about the size of my fist. Round, sweet little fruits that my grandmother would call "bakin apples." The basket's label identifies their proper name: Blondees. Mark and I share one. My teeth sink in to its crisp skin, and juice spurts. I start, surprised at how juicy and sweet it is. No convincing is required to include a bushel in our cart. That's the hazard of visiting this place: you leave with baskets and jars of yumminess that you truly don't need but truly do want.

Whether you pick your own apples, wander through the flower field, or just shop the market, Catoctin Mountain Orchard is worth the drive. It's the perfect way to spend a late summer/early fall afternoon.

Catoctin Mountain Orchard
15036 N Franklinville Rd
Thurmont, MD 

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