So, the burning question is: which is better – apples dipped in honey or apples dipped in caramel? The answer – they are both great – and taste even better when the apples are fresh picked off the tree.
This year, taking a break from our usual tradition of apple picking at Stribling Orchards, we went to its neighbor and friendly rival, Hartland Orchard in Markham, Virginia.
While we were slightly disappointed with the customer service, the outing itself was well-worth the hour drive from Washington, DC.
What’s Hartland Like?
The setting is picturesque — a white farm house with black shutters, a beautiful pick-your-own pumpkin patch, and row after row of apple trees set against the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the end of the slightly harrowing one-lane road leading to the farm house, we were greeted by staff members explaining the rules of the orchard and giving directions to the sections open for picking.
We were disappointed but accepting of their policy to give only one apple-picker basket per car since we had minivan full of 6 people and the predictable arguments over who got to use it did ensue.
One difference between Hartland and Stribling is that Hartland seems more amenable to having the cars drive off the beaten paths so that pickers can find their own little area to explore. The downside to this, however, became clear when the review team (2 adults, 4 children ages 4 to 13) got stuck in the mud.
Shaking off the stress and mud, the apple pickers set about their task, filling their medium size bags ($5.00 per bag) at a leisurely pace. Patrons are allowed to bring picnics and there are several cleared areas for groups to gather.
In general, Hartland seems less commercial and more of a true farm experience than its neighbor. The apples were plentiful and for the most part flavorful.
Picking our own apples at Hartland Orchard
That said, the Our Kids review team found the tree markers and maps confusing and the team was slightly turned around because we had made our own path. The small pick-your-own pumpkin patch yielded many good sized pumpkins for a reasonable price (50 cents per pound); we ended up buying one twice the size of an adult head for $11.00.
Parents, bring plenty of bug spray. The bugs were more the non-biting but very annoying type. Bathrooms and port-a-pottys were nowhere in sight.
Customer service at checkout was less than impressive. The procedure is to browse the relatively small selection of jams, jellies, honey with comb, cider and already-picked fruit displayed near the farmhouse. To purchase, however, customers are encouraged to get back in their car and then pay the staff member at the exit.
This led to some waiting in car line and frustration as the staff member had to recalculate in their head as customers changed their minds and added things like just one more caramel apple or gallon of cider. The children were not overly-impressed with the caramel apples ($4.00/each). This was definitely not the most efficient process.
The website itself, hartlandorchard.com, does not have much in the way of pricing information but is adequate to tell you basic information such as the history of the orchard, the crops in season and directions to and from.
Hartland also allows pick-your-own Christmas Trees and berries during the appropriate seasons.
While we were happy to have checked out Hartland again for the first time in several years, we think that next year we will return to Stribling Orchard, which while it has a more commercial and less family-farm feel, also has a great bakery and small general store.
Know this before visiting Orchard
Neither orchard’s website is conducive to pricing comparisons but our recollection from past years is that Stribling’s apples were more expensive but had more flavor. That said, apple picking beats buying fruit at the grocery store hands down.
More information is available on its website. The orchard encourages people to call before coming: 540.364.2316.
Hartland’s Orchard is located at 3064 Hartland Ln, Markham, VA 22643