Thousands of visitors are expected for this second weekend of events ranging from Apple Arts on the Square in historic downtown Ellijay to the annual parade set to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday amid the fourth annual Scarecrow Invasion.
Of course, the apple holds center stage in all the festivities. Seven apple orchards and apple houses around Ellijay offer many varieties of apples and other products, while the fairgrounds near downtown feature hundreds of vendors with handcrafts of all sorts along with apples and more apples.
“The most popular selling varieties this year are Goldens, Gala, Mutsu, Fuji, Pink Lady, Stayman and Winesap,” reports Barry Pritchett of the family-run Red Apple Barn and orchard on Highway 282 three miles west of Ellijay. His father, Marvin Pritchett, planted the first apple trees in the orchard in 1966 and it has been thriving ever since. Marvin has developed his own variety, the Pritchett Golden.
What are the most popular items for eating? “The apple, peach and strawberry cream cheese fried pies, followed closely by the apple fritters,” the younger Pritchett says. “Apple cider donuts and all the breads are also a favorite. There’s cider for everyone – apple, peach, muscadine, scuppernong, blackberry and black cherry.” If that doesn’t make your mouth water, what will?
But the Apple Festival is about more than apples. “We planted a three-acre pumpkin patch this year, and it has been a hit,” Barry Pritchett relates. “People have really enjoyed picking their own pumpkins and flowers as well as apples. We had a record crowd of apple U-pickers this year from as far away as Colorado, Massachusetts and New York.”
Because of the early spring, the Pritchetts feared they would have no apples when the temperature hit 27 degrees one night and the entire crop appeared to have been killed. Oddly, most of the seeds inside the apples were killed but the apples grew, some with only one seed, and the result was a very good crop.
For the second year, the Pritchett orchard has been the setting for a most romantic occasion, this one witnessed by Hannah Colwell of Ellijay and Leah Stinson of Nashville, Tennessee. They saw a couple holding hands.
“They had just been walking around holding hands when the man asked me where some Pritchett Golden were,” Hannah related. “I walked them over there and he let the lady go in front of him and said to me under his breath, ‘I’m fixing to propose. Will you take our picture?’ He slipped his phone to me. He walked to the tree where she was and picked an apple or two, then got her to turn around, hugged her, got down on one knee and she started crying. She started nodding and saying yes, and then they had a long hug.”
Quipped Barry Pritchett, “In our orchard, it’s U-pick apples, pumpkins and brides.”