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Back From The Ashes, Covers Celebrate

This week marks the one year anniversary of Cover´s Apple Ranch´s return to business in the aftermath of the September 11, 2000 fire that destroyed the old apple ranch bake shop and retail building. A Fall barbecue benefit this coming Saturday, Sept. 27, will allow the Cover Family a chance to celebrate with the community at their new facilities off Cherokee Road in Tuolumne.

“It´s very honorable to have made it a year back in business,” said Jesse Cover this week. “We´re real pleased with that and very thankful that the community has come out and supported us like they have.”

A portion of the proceeds from the barbecue Saturday will go to build a new recreational area for the Old Brethren Christian School. The area will include basketball and volleyball courts for the children at the church school.

Other activities for the day include a pumpkin patch, hay maze, gold panning, barn walk, and miniature train rides, featuring two scale steam locomotives running that day. The barbecue will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cover estimates well over half of their customer base is local. “That´s kind of a rough guess, but a lot of locals. A lot of repeat customers,” he said. “And that´s great to see. We enjoy all of our customers, but it´s nice to see the locals come out and support us over and over. It´s been a good year.”

Good indeed. Business has tripled since opening the new 5,000 square-foot bakery and apple processing facility, Comparing sales figures from before the fire, Cover said, “That´s been staggering when you look at it.”

The year-round bakery also includes a gift shop deli, dining area and probably the only “drive-up pie window” in all of the Mother Lode. Cover says the pie window gets an amazing amount of traffic, usually in the morning hours, as people head to work. “It´s really interesting the comments that we´ve got from that,” he chuckled. “I´ve never heard of another drive-up pie window anywhere in the world.”

Cover´s ranch is one of only four working apple farms still in operation in Tuolumne County. A majority of the trees still producing fruit on Cover´s property were planted in 1929 by the Ralph family.

Times aren´t good for any of the farmers who grow apples in the foothills, or the state for that matter, Cover said. “The state´s apple industry as a whole is struggling.”

This year´s local apple harvest has been disappointing due to low fruit yields, but from a quality standpoint, Cover is pleased. “It was a cold. snowy and wet spring during the bloom time. The set was not good at all, but the fruit that did set – we have some very good quality,” he said. Trees produced only half of the yields of apples normally on the tree in Tuolumne. “But, that´s farming.”

Cover grows nine different varieties of apples on 23 acres. “But what we got is some pretty good fruit.”

Cover says the news he has heard about the apple industry in California is that this year´s crop will be wonderful. “But the apple guys I know personally in the Central Valley say they don´t know who that is,” he said. “But, I think across the board, it was not a good apple year. They´ve all had their problems.”

Weather plays a huge part on how a crop will fair, Cover said. The hot spell during July didn´t do growers any favors either. “It´s been a kind-of roller coaster year, but none-the-less, we´re not discouraged.”

The majority of Covers´ apples never leave their property, although he does wholesale some cider-grade apples to manufactures. All of the fruit is used to make pies, tarts, dumpling and other bakery delights. But as soon as the rebuild process from the fire is complete at the ranch – probably by next fall, Cover estimates – they will again produce their own apple cider as well.

“Once that´s in place, my goal is to not ship any (apples). We´ll take care of what we got here,” he said.