In my family the best part about the fall season isn’t the overwhelming arrival of everything pumpkin spice. It’s about the start of a new school year, the family gatherings to come, the changing leaves and, most important, the fall harvest.
Each year, warm sunshine mixed with the brisk cool tones of September and October announce it’s time to harvest potatoes, corn, pumpkin, fall berries … and Washington’s most famous crop, apples.
Apple picking is the perfect way to introduce kids to the fun, beauty and bounty of harvest season. Apples are an easy snack, eaten plain, or baked into a pie, dipped into peanut butter or given to a beloved teacher as a gift of thanks.
They have also been a part of Washington State history for nearly 200 years, intertwining stories of pioneering and industrial development. Couple a little history lesson with a family road trip to a local farm and you’ve got a terrific fall day or weekend adventure.
A lot of history wrapped up in that tiny seed
Pick up an apple at any grocery store and it’s likely from a local farm. And why wouldn’t it be? Washington State grows more than 65 percent of apples consumed in the U.S. and a large portion of apples consumed around the world.
growing history began in the 1800s when once-wild apple seeds migrated from Kazakhstan moving along the Silk Road trade routes to Europe. They eventually made their way onto a Hudson’s Bay Company ship leaving from London, and headed to Fort Vancouver in the Western territories of fledgling America.
The first seeds were planted in the employee village at Fort Vancouver, producing tart green apples. Admiring the apple tree’s hearty nature, farmers began planting, grafting and growing the fruit. Eventually, orchardists headed east to Wenatchee and the Yakima Valley when the railroad and industrial expansion arrived, making it easier to deliver apples across the country. At its peak production, Wenatchee claimed to be “The apple capital of the world.” Today, China grows half the apples for the world.
Visit the “Old Apple Tree”
There are a lot of fun and interesting details to discover as you tour through the state’s apple orchards and history. For instance, Washington’s first apple tree, named the Old Apple Tree, is nothing but a stump today.
The tree weathered many storms over its 200 years and eventually died in 2020. Arborists and park rangers cultivated the Old Apple Tree’s living shoots and replanted them in an apple orchard near the Fort Vancouver historic site (nps.gov/fova).
Visitors can pay homage to the stump at Old Apple Tree Park and visit the historic apple orchard by taking the Land Bridge Trail from the Fort Vancouver historic site (1501 E. Evergreen Blvd. Vancouver 98661). According to park rangers, the trees at the orchard don’t produce fruit every year, but when they do, visitors can get a taste of history. Don’t pick from the trees though. Instead, feel free to collect any fruit that falls to the ground.