“It looked like snow in the orchard, there were so many blooms on the trees,” said Barry Pritchett of the family-owned Red Apple Barn and orchard on Highway 282 three miles west of Ellijay. “The apples set well with no cold, so we had to thin them three different times. Even with all the thinning, many of the trees pulled over or many limbs broke due to the weight. The apples are huge. That’s a good problem to have.”
The Pritchetts have a historical perspective since their orchard started 47 years ago with the planting of the first trees by Marvin Pritchett, Barry’s father, who celebrated his 80th birthday this year with a bumper crop — including his own variety, the Pritchett Golden.
“It’s the best crop I’ve ever had,” he said this week while working at sorting apples in the bustling apple house where visitors sipped cold cider and munched apple cider doughnuts before boarding a tractor-drawn trailer to pick their own apples in the orchard nearby. U-pick has become a very popular feature of the orchard which set another record one day last week with more than 800 visitors picking their own apples.
But the Pritchett orchard has become the place that some visitors seek out something other than apple and pick-your-own pumpkins and wildflowers. In recent years, it has been the setting for wedding proposals, a trend that has produced another spin-off this year.
“We decided to convert the barn where our children used to train their 4-H cattle into a wedding and event venue,” Barry Pritchett said. “The first wedding was Sept. 28 and more are booked. It’s very rustic with sawdust on the floor and framed with rough lumber. We call it the Orchard Barn. It sets right in front of the orchard.”
There are at least 12 varieties of apples available at the 11 orchards around Ellijay this season. They include Red and Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Gala, Fuji, Mutsu, Suncrisp, Cameo, Stayman Winesap, Jonagold and, of course, Granny Smith for cooking pies. But never mind cooking. There are plenty of apple, peach and strawberry cream cheese fried pies and apple fritters, apple bread, apple cider doughnuts and ciders including apple, peach, muscadine, blackberry and black cherry as well as local honey, sorghum syrup, jams and jellies.
The festival is at the Ellijay Lions Club Fairgrounds just south of the square from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, featuring more than 300 booths offering a wide variety of arts and crafts. Downtown there will be Apple Arts on the Square with about 75 vendors. The annual antique car show will be at the civic center Oct. 12 and the Apple Festival Parade is Oct. 19.