Apple Central: Julian, California

The mountain town of Julian is synonymous with apples and apple pies

Fall is here and that means it’s time for apple picking in Julian, CaliforniaSeptember and October are prime apple picking months so it’s an ideal time to be outdoors and plan a fun family outing.

And nothing is better than gathering up your own apples and taking them home to your RV for eating, cooking, and baking. So, let’s head to the mountains of Julian for these wholesome fall treats and maybe try some of the famous Julian apple pies.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of Julian apples

The town of Julian is the place to go for apples. Located just an hour northeast of San Diego in the foothills of the Cuyamaca Mountains at an elevation of 4,225 feet, Julian is a refreshing throwback to simpler times.

Once a bustling gold mining town, Julian’s mines eventually dried up but a new treasure had already been taking hold—apples. All thanks to a widower named James T. Madison who relocated here from New Orleans and quickly discovered the fertile soil of Julian was perfect for fruit orchards.

Madison traveled to San Bernardino with a four-horse wagon and returned with it filled with apple trees. And the rest is history. 

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the 1890s, Julian was proclaimed the “greatest apple belt in the world” and its fruit and pies were winning one national award after another. Julian’s legacy lives on today with its apple farms and famous apple pies.

The center of town is just three blocks of restaurants, specialty shops, and a few excellent options for apple pie.

It’s also a popular destination, for those in the know—people who want to get out for the day, to hike, explore the scenic backroads, or see historic sites.

To explore Julian, set out on foot for a historic self-guided walking tour. There are about 30 places to check out including 20 that have plaques explaining the history of the building or place. The Pioneer Museum is worth stopping in as well; its collections run from American Indian artifacts to antique furniture and tools to one of the best displays of antique lace in the state.

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in and around Julian. One great destination is the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve. The park encompasses nearly 3,000 acres of forest; it’s primarily mixed conifer forest but also includes manzanita, elderberry, scrub oak, chamise, and California wild lilac.

One great trail reaches the summit where you will have sweeping views of the orchards and vineyards below and even far-reaching views of the coast. It’s about a 5-mile round-trip hike with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet. From Julian take Farmer Road 2.2 miles, turn right for 50 yards and left onto Farmer Road. Drive about one quarter mile and park on the right near the preserve sign.

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Apple Picking

Julian is at its most charming―and busiest―during the fall when leaves change color and local apples ripen. Stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, pick up some of your favorites, or pick your own.

Apple picking season arrives in early September and lasts until Mid-October.

Here’s a listing of places to pick apples in Julian. However, it’s a good idea to check the website or give these businesses a call for updated information before you go.

Where and when to pick Julian apples

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peacefield Orchard

Address: 3803 Wynola Rd, Julian

Dates: Saturdays and Sundays each weekend in September

Peacefield Orchard U-Pick and Farmstand is open Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am to 2 pm (or until the day’s ripe apples run out). So, it’s a good idea to arrive early as it gets hot! Please wear close-toed shoes.

Orchard tours and u-pick by appointment are also available. Please make reservations for groups larger than two cars. Pick Granny Smith, Red and Golden Delicious, Jonathan, and Jonagold on 2½ acres, widely spaced lanes made for plenty of space.

Cost: $20 per bag (½ peck) with no entry fee.

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Mining Company

Address: 4444 CA-78, Julian

Dates: Begins October 15, 2023

Julian Mining Company is all about connecting living history with a working farm. Yes, there are apples but this orchard offers a whole lot more.

Apple picking begins October 15 with a variety of fun activities like fall goodies, pumpkins, gold mining and gold panning, fossil digging, a mini train ride, and of course, apple picking. The farm is open Saturdays 10-4 and Sundays 12-4.

Cost: $18 per bag (can be shared) and $3 per person entry fee

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volcan Valley Apple Farm

Address: 1284 Julian Orchards Dr, Julian

Dates: Opening the whole orchard September 8, 9, and 10 and every Friday, Saturday, Sunday until the apples are gone

A seasonal u-pick orchard with 8,000 trellis-grown apple trees and seven apple varieties, Volcan Valley Apple Farm is all about family fun.

Hours of operation are Friday-Monday, 9 am to 4:30 pm (last sale). Gates close at 5. 

Cost: $15 per bag which holds about 6-7 pounds and includes one admission. Active military with an ID pay $10. Extra admission is $5 per person. Children 5 and under are free. 

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crosscutt Farm and Orchard

Address: 1209 Farmer Road, Julian

Dates: September 16–24, 2023

Gather your friends and family and be ready when the family-owned and operated Crosscut Farm and Orchard opens for apple picking this September.

Reservations are required. Walk-ins are not permitted. 10 people per group minimum, 50 people per group maximum.

Reservation times are 10 am-noon, 1 pm-3 pm, and 3 pm-5 pm but feel free to bring a picnic lunch and spend the day.

Cost: $20 per bag and $5 per person entry fee (kids 4 and under are free) which includes parking, a narrative on apple farming and local history, a cider demonstration, and a picnic site.

Apple dumplings © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop in for a slice of apple pie in Julian

You can’t be in Julian and not try a big slice of flaky, sweet, delectable apple pie, a true Julian treasure. Several pie companies in town offer either sit-down or window service but you just have to do it.

These are the best apple pies in the universe (and even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top). I guarantee you’ll be taking a pie or two home with you.

But which bakery has the best apple pie in Julian? It seems like every family in Southern California has their personal favorite and some are hard set on only eating apple pie from their bakery.

There are four pie shops in Julian and yes, for the sake of science, I tried them all:

  • Julian Pie Company (2225 Main Street)
  • Mom’s Pie House (2119 Main Street)
  • Apple Alley Bakery (2122 Main Street)
  • Julian Café and Bakery (2112 Main Street)
Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Pie Company

A locally owned family business specializing in apple pies and cider donuts, Julian Pie Company has been producing its stellar pies since 1989 and bakes traditional apple pies plus variations of apple with cherry, boysenberry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, or rhubarb. You can also order pecan pies and pumpkin pies or a pie with an all fruit filling that doesn’t include apple.

Along with the most widely distributed apple pie throughout Southern California, they carry apple cider donuts, apple nut bread, and apple memories, bits of extra pie crust cut out into hearts that are perfect to snack on during the ride home.

The Julian Pie Company is housed in a small building that looks like a house off of the main street in Julian. There are outdoor picnic tables to enjoy your slice of pie on or a row of tables indoors. If eating at the store, try a scoop of Julian Pie Company’s cinnamon ice cream to go with your pie. You can also try ordering your apple pie with melted cheddar cheese on top.

Julian Pie Company whose pies you can find in stores all round SoCal is popular for a reason. A short crumbly piecrust, juicy, oozy filling, soft, rich apple and a crisp delicate pastry bottom! Perfect.

Mom’s Pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mom’s Pie House

Located on Main Street, Mom’s Pie House is indeed owned by a mom who has lived in Julian for over 30 years and has been baking using Julian apples since 1984. A tasty, mouth-watering homemade pie, Mom’s flakey crusts and not-too-sweet fillings are delicious.

The shop is known for its excellent crusts, of which it makes two—the Flakey, a pastry-style crust, and the Crumb which is sprinkled on the top of the pie instead of being rolled on.

Mom’s Pie House has many variations of apple pie, including the Apple Caramel Crumb Pie and Apple Sugar Free Pie. You can also get apple boysenberry or apple cherry pies with either the Flakey or Crumb crust. Mom’s also serves up pecan, pumpkin, rhubarb, cherry, and peach pies.

You’ll also find other equally delightful confectionary goodness but not to be missed are their apple dumplings loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and baked in cream cheese to absolute perfection.

The entrance to the shop is a long corridor that takes you past the open kitchen and into a cozy dining area where you can enjoy your slice of pie.

Apple Alley Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple Alley Bakery

Apple Alley Bakery turns out a delicious apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and slice of pie for dessert.

Owned and operated by a husband and wife team, this little bakery serves up apple pies made fresh each morning. The interior has a cabin feel with ample seating. There are also tables outdoors for those who want to enjoy their pie in the crisp Julian air.

Apple Alley Bakery has some fun twists on their apples pies including a Mango Apple Pie and a Caramel Apple Pecan Pie.

Apple Alley Bakery also serves sandwiches, potpies, soups, and salads for lunch.

Julian Cafe & Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Cafe and Bakery

Julian Café and Bakery is a small restaurant housed in a cozy log room. You can eat at the restaurant for some good comfort food like meatloaf or country fried chicken followed by a slice of pie or just step up to the pie ordering window for a pie to go.

The claim to fame of the pies of Julian Café and Bakery is the Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie with layers of creamy pumpkin pie atop soft apples and topped with a crumb crust. The Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie is available seasonally and is a great addition to Thanksgiving. Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pie Fun Facts

The first mention of a fruit pie in print is from Robert Green’s Arcadia (1590): thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes

Oliver Cromwell banned the eating of pie in 1644, declaring it a pagan form of pleasure; for 16 years, pie eating and making went underground until the Restoration leaders lifted the ban on pie in 1660

Pumpkin pie was first introduced to the holiday table at the pilgrim’s second Thanksgiving in 1623

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pie by the Numbers

  • Nearly one out of five (19 percent) of Americans prefer apple pie, followed by pumpkin (13 percent), pecan (12 percent), banana cream (10 percent), and cherry (9 percent)
  • 36 million Americans identify apple pie as their favorite
  • 90 percent of Americans agree that a slice of pie represents one of the simple pleasures of life
  • 47 percent of Americans for whom the word comforting comes to mind when they think of pie
  • Americans buy around 186 million apple pies every year; and that’s just from stores, not restaurants
  • 6 million American men ages 35-54 have eaten the last slice of pie and denied it

Worth Pondering…

Pie, in a word, is my passion. Since as far back as I can remember, I have simply loved pie. I can’t really explain why. If one loves poetry, or growing orchids, or walking along the beach at sunset, the why isn’t all that important. To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place.

―Ken Haedrich, Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie

Celebrating a Beloved Dessert: National Pecan Pie Day, July 12

Grab a slice on July 12th and celebrate National Pecan Pie Day

I’m simply nutty over today’s honoree, National Pecan Pie Day on July 12. It’s pretty easy to get behind a day dedicated to one of my favorite desserts. Indeed, 90 percent of Americans surveyed believe eating a slice of pie is one of life’s simple pleasures indulging in 186 million commercially sold pies every year.

People who prefer pecan pie over the many other types of pies describe themselves as thoughtful and analytical. We’re not sure if this still holds true for those who add ice cream or whipped cream but, nonetheless, it’s time to celebrate the delicious dessert today.

Pies and other desserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of National Pecan Pie Day

It is uncertain how National Pecan Pie Day started but we certainly feel indebted to an unknown person because we couldn’t agree more with the idea of celebrating such a beloved dessert.

Pecan pie has a long, Southern history whose origins are highly debatable. Some believe pecan pie started in New Orleans by French immigrants turned Southern in the 1700s after being introduced to the pecan by Native Americans. Others believe pecan pie got its start in Alabama but this claim is unsupported by written recipes or printed literature. Of course, it’s not hard to believe many Southerners would love to lay claim to being the inventor of pecan pie.

Following the Civil War, commercial developers brought in a few varieties of pecans to grow in Georgia which is now the main commercial grower of pecans in the U.S. Grafted pecan trees also became prevalent in Louisiana in the mid- to late-1800s.

Pecans for your pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name of the nut itself is derived from the French word pacane which is taken from the Algonquian word for a nut that requires a stone to crack. That may help explain why some believe the French invented the pecan pie after settling in New Orleans though there’s seemingly little evidence to support that.

Once people had pecans they started using them for baking. The earliest printed pecan recipes began popping up in Texas cookbooks in the 1870s and 1880s; the first recipe that most closely resembles what we know today as pecan pie was published in 1898 in a church charity cookbook in St. Louis but it was sent in by a Texas woman.

One of the earliest recipes for a pecan pie appeared in the Lady’s Home Journal in 1897. The recipe for the Texas Pecan Pie was later reprinted in several newspapers across the country. It included six ingredients—sugar, sweet milk, pecan kernels, eggs, and flour. The recipe is basically directions for a custard base unlike the pecan pies we know today. 

By the beginning of the 20th century, recipes for pecan pie had started appearing outside of Texas but the pie wouldn’t surge in popularity until the mid-1920s. That’s when the manufacturer of Karo syrup began printing a recipe for pecan pie on cans of the product as James McWilliams noted in The Pecan: A History of America’s Native Nut. Wide distribution of Karo syrup introduced many people to pecan pie who found it was quite simple to make. That is why, to this day, most of the recipes for pecan pie still use Karo syrup.

While most hold the perception that pecan pie remains a Southern dish, in reality, its popularity has swept across the U.S. with regions taking on their own ingredient preferences.

An assortment of pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are the typical ingredients in a pecan pie?

Technically classified as a sugar pie, the classic pecan pie recipe promulgated by the makers of Karo syrup uses a cup of the product in the mixture along with eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla extract, and of course, pecans. Alternatives for Karo syrup include brown sugar and molasses and some recipes add bourbon, whiskey, and chocolate into the mix. There are also pecan pie-cheesecake hybrids, pecan hand pies, and, strangely enough, pseudo-healthy versions involving chia seeds. Pecan pie is nearly always baked in a traditional pie crust verses a crumble crust or a cookie crust.

Since the recipe for pecan pie is so simple, there are really no stark regional divides when it comes to method or ingredients. Sweetness, however, is a different story: Folks from south of the Mason-Dixon Line generally prefer their pies on the sweeter side relaying an old Southern baker’s credo that a pie should be sweet enough so that the fillings in your teeth hurt.

How do you really pronounce pecan?

Pronunciation surveys have yielded as many as four variants on the pronunciation of pecan: pee-KAHN, pick-KAHN, PEE-can, and PEE-kahn. The story is told of a customer’s experience at a restaurant in Georgia where a waitress informed him: “Over here, we don’t call it pee-can pie. To us, a pecan is something that long distance truckers use when they don’t want to make many stops. We call it pick-kahn”.

Pies and more pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pecan Pie Day timeline

  • 6000 BC: Archeological findings discover that pecans were used in Texas by Native Americans for over 8,000 years
  • 1886: The first recipe is printed in Harper’s Bazaar although people agree pecan pie was a Southern favorite long before this
  • 1930s: The Corn Products Refining Company creates Karo, a corn syrup and in 1930 the wife of one of their sales executives discovers it can be used as a sweeter substitute to maple syrup
  • 1940s: Pecan pie becomes a regular recipe in cookbooks
Pecans for your pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ways to celebrate National Pecan Pie Day

Bake a pecan pie: Making a delicious pecan pie is a great way to celebrate the day. Use your favorite recipe or try something new—you won’t regret it.

Enjoy a slice of pecan pie: Take a trip to your favorite bakery and enjoy a slice of this classic dessert. Make sure to savor every bite!

Share a pecan pie with friends: Gather up some friends and share a slice of pecan pie together. It’s always more fun when you can share the experience with others.

Send one to a friend: Pecan pies can be made and even frozen if you would like to give one as a gift but there are many bakeries online that sell fresh pecan pies available for delivery. It’s such an easy way to send a sweet treat to a friend who may not otherwise make or buy one for themselves. Definitely worth a try!

Pies and other desserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try a new twist on pecan pie: Get creative and try adding some unique flavors or ingredients to your traditional pecan pie recipe. It’s a great way to experiment and have some fun.

Try a new variation: It’s hard to beat the classic pecan pie recipe but if you’re looking for a change there are plenty of variations out there. One of the most common is chocolate pecan pie which simply adds chocolate to the main recipe. And when has adding chocolate ever ruined anything? Beyond that, you’ll find pecan pie cheesecake, pumpkin pecan pie, bourbon pecan pie, and cranberry-orange white-chocolate pecan pie (that’s a mouthful!).

Create a themed party: Invite your friends over for an evening of pecan pies, games, and fun! Decorate with festive colors and use plenty of pecans in your snacks and desserts.

Texas pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun facts about pecans

The word pecan comes from an Algonquin word that means a nut that requires a stone to crack because of the hard shell

When Spanish explorers discovered them in the 16th Century, they named them nuez de larruga which means wrinkle nut

Native Americans ate pecans but also made pecan milk for infants and the elderly

Native Americans also made a fermented intoxicating pecan beverage called powcohicora

There are over 1,000 different varieties of pecan nuts

It takes 12 years for a pecan tree to reach maturity and begin producing nuts

Pecan trees lives for 300 years

Pecan trees can grow to over 150 feet tall and have trunks that measure over 3 feet in diameter

Astronauts took pecans to the moon two times in the Apollo space mission

Okmulgee, Oklahoma holds the world’s records for the largest pecan pie, pecan cookie, and pecan brownie

Pecan trees © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pecan capital of the world is Albany, Georgia which boasts more than 600,000 pecan trees.

The pecan is heart healthy and contains antioxidants, 19 vitamins and minerals, and healthy fat; one of the mineral components is zinc which is important in producing testosterone in both males and females.

It takes about 78 pecans for one pecan pie

Texas chose the pecan tree as its state tree in 1919 and the pecan pie as its state pie in 2013

​There are over 1,000 varieties of pecans

Worth Pondering…

I make a mean pecan pie and I have a great recipe for pralines—also using pecans. Pralines take a lot of patience, and patience is a must in the duck blind as well as in the kitchen. Good things come to those who wait.

—Phil Robertson