It was a crisp morning, cast over with a dewy, grey blanket and lazy to rise. A tiny sparkle of orange and yellow peeked from the trees, hinting that autumn had just arrived. We awoke with a mind for adventure, inspired by ever shrinking days, and set out to gallivant about the orchards, apple picking for the year’s first pie.
Along the deep blue river we sped east, hanging on the edge of Oregon, and into the canyon of the Columbia River Gorge. The massive river poured from a blue hole in the grey sky at the far end. At each winding turn we shed the unnecessarily constricting robe of adulthood, layer by layer until, through the blue hole, we were born children again open and ready for anything to come.
Oregon’s Hood River Valley
At the foot of the wilderness, dipping its toes into water, sits the tiny port town of Hood River. The hook of highway 30 caught us, pulled us south and led us up the string of highway 35. We climbed out of the gorge and onto middle valley.
The valley lays a flat relief to the rolling forests around it and the high peak of Mt. Hood in the distance. A cornucopia opened up of fruit trees, grape vines, lavender fields, cattle, alpaca, and chestnuts, sprinkled with remnants of industry. We pumped along the central vein tempted by tasting rooms and fruit stands. For a moment, we disappeared into forest and climbed once more.
Rounding the hill, the forest opened and the arrow-head peak revealed itself again, standing guard over the precious bounty of the upper valley. Hand-painted signs led us through the center of a small town, across railroad tracks, and down the center of the valley to Kiyokawa Family Orchards.
Mt Hood standing guard over the upper Hood River Valley below
Apple Picking at Kiyokawa Family Orchards
Dozens of rows of fruit trees lined up, overflowing with more than 30 varieties ripe for apple picking. We entered through the open fruit stand to take account of the varieties, packed in bins side-to-side, and stacked in baskets up the walls.
The crowds were left in the middle valley, but the orchard still bustled with energy. Children pulled red Radio Flyer wagons behind them. An attendant showed first-time pickers how to free an apple from the tree, pressing down the stem to the head of the apple and gently turning upward. Eager patrons twisted up and down each row filling their bags and boxes.
After scoping the grounds, we grabbed a wagon of our own and headed shopping. My Oregon-made knife was fit for the purpose, slicing out wedges in a quest for the most delicious apples we could find. We filled our wagon with Honeycrisps, Jonagolds, Fujis, and stumbled upon a new favorite, the Swiss Gourmet. Also known as the Arlet, the Swiss Gourmet is a cross between Golden Delicious and Idared first introduced in Switzerland in 1958. Crisp and sweet, these are the quintessential apple.
With more than 7,500 varieties, or “cultivars,” of apples in existence, we’ve still a ways to go, but our adventure at Kiyokawa has given us a pretty good start.
We returned home from our journey for a relaxing evening with friends. Good food, good wine, topped off with coffee, tea, and the best apple pie I’ve ever had.
Apple Picking Resources
Below are some resources for your apple picking adventure:
- Kiyokawa Family Orchards
- Hood River Valley “Fruit Loop” Map
- Fruits in Season List
- Farmer’s Almanac explanation of four seasons
- The best easy apple pie recipe
- The best easy pie crust recipe
- Le Creuset pie dish
- My Oregon-made knife