The city where Arbor Day traces its history honors its heritage while providing all the elements for an old-fashioned family friendly celebration. Union Orchard reports, “AppleJack is an amazing time. People come out to enjoy the country and get farm goodies. We have music and orchard tours. We are still working on the restoration, so things look different to our customers who come out once a year. We have added a large event pavilion and several picnic areas throughout the property.”
My friend Gwen Johnson had the opportunity to visit Union Orchard. She said, “It (is) really beautiful out there and it really nice to close to nature, picking apples, going into the little market seeing all the different ways you could use apples. Some were strange and some were quite interesting. It was fun and very enjoyable experiencing God's creation.”
|Main AppleJack Festival attraction. ~Beverly Newsam|
In reply to my question about the varieties and the availability of the apples that they grow, Union Orchard said, “We have 19 varieties of desert apples. They are planted by maturity time. Zestar starts in mid-August and Arkansas Black matures around Halloween. Because of this, we always have something fresh and just off of the tree. Lots of common varieties like Gala, but some special ones like Honeycrisp and Candy Crisp too. We do have some heirlooms planted, but they are semi-dwarf and will start maturing in a few years. We are planting lots of apples to use in future hard cider. “
In addition to apples in their natural ready to sink your teeth into state, Union Orchard also has fresh pastries too including pies, donuts, turnovers, and apple cinnamon rolls--many of which are baked fresh on site. (Are you hungry yet?)
The orchard also grows grow strawberries, rhubarb, elderberries, pumpkins peaches, and cherries.
They are “working to make Union Orchard one of the finest fall entertainment venues around. It will take us a few more years, but we are committed and making it happen.”
My friend Beverly Newsam also filled me in on some of the festivities during AppleJack Festival. She visited Historic Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard and found it packed with people excited to purchase apples and goodies. The staff was very friendly and made people feel right at home according to her. She lists the produce and goodies that she stocked up on while there:” apples, apple pie, apple cinnamon syrup, and the famous (and delicious) apple doughnuts. We also bought cherry jubilee drink, peach salsa, boysenberry preserves, and blueberry jam. She said that the orchard staff worked hard to keep up with demand, which included a long line just for the doughnuts! She enjoyed the hayrack ride that took people to where they could pick their own apples. She added that there were vendors and children activities.
|Popular apple doughnuts ~Beverly Newsam|
There are other important and must see stops in Nebraska City, NE. When I was in 8th grade, my class took a field trip to Nebraska City, NE to see some of the important historical sites. Nebraska’s first recognized nationally recognized Underground Railroad historical site was on our tour. We viewed the reenactment displays in John Brown’s cave.
Arbor Lodge was another highlight of the trip. Visiting John Brown’s Cabin and Arbor Lodge were also two of the tours on my mom’s field trip when she was in the 6th grade.
The sections of the 52 room mansion open to the public made quite an impression on me at age 13. I wish that I had a copy of my essay about the mansion that was chosen to be displayed in the room where I had English and Spelling that year.
Arbor Day Farm has 260 acres and is available for tours. There may be historical sites posers around the country, but this is this undeniable historical land. J. Sterling Morton started planting an orchard soon after arriving in Nebraska City, NE in 1855. He is the founder of Arbor Day and the tradition continues strong on the land that was donated to the state. Arbor Day, the day when people are encouraged to plant a tree, is always the last Friday of April, but can vary by state as to when it is observed.
I am impressed with the grass roots effort of concerned community leaders who now manage Arbor Day Foundation. From what I gather from a conversation with Susan Freshman, guest experience manager, Arbor Day Farm may have closed if it were not for the concerned citizens. The state still owns the land that was a gift from J. Morton Sterling in 1923. The Arbor Day Foundation, which is made up of concerned citizens, manages Arbor Day Farm. The state is funding the 1.5 million dollar renovation project underway at Arbor Lodge Farms.
For even more interactive history, there is still more to learn and explore at the Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center in Nebraska City.
As I am an aficionado of apples, I have rather enjoyed thinking about them often as I prepared to write about the AppleJack Festival and Nebraska City. Growing up, we purchased apples from a couple in Valley, NE who have since retired. Apple crisp and applesauce were two of my mom’s specialties. Can you smell the simmering or baking apples now? In recent years, I continued to eat apples but was so disappointed with store bought apples. They weren’t usually bad. They usually weren’t good either. Blandness from my first bite into the waxy peel to the last as I neared the core is what I found. I did a poll on social media asking people what their favorite varieties of apples were. Gala and Honeycrisp ranked high. When they were in season, I sampled my first Honeycrisp from an Nebraska orchard. Finally, I tasted an apple with flavor that I had been sorely missing. If there isn’t a word to describe the sound, taste, and sensation of biting into a crisp apple, there should be!
Nebraska City, NE is a great place to visit during Harvest Season or any season. Come for Yule celebrations during the holidays. Come in spring to see the trees lined with blossoms. Come enjoy the history of this part of the country.