When a fire blazed through Cover’s Apple Ranch operating facility in 2000, it seemed like the family apple business that had become a Tuolumne attraction had seen its last day.
“We came really close to saying ‘it was fun, but we’re not rebuilding,” said Ben Cover, the family business spokesman. “If it hadn’t been for the outpouring from the community and the people coming by and asking us to rebuild, we probably wouldn’t have rebuilt.”
As it turns out, the fire was the best thing that could have happened for the business.
“The fire was probably the best single thing that happened,” Cover said. “We could not have done there what we have been able to do here.”
Two years after the fire Cover’s Apple Ranch re-opened, only now it was on the other side of Cherokee Road. Now, more than two decades later the site is a favorite stop for locals and visitors - all eager to bite down into the delectable apple pies or one of the other treats that the family has perfected.
“Everything is fresh,” Cover said. “We don’t bake, freeze and then warm up. They are baked the morning of and as needed throughout the day. They are like what you remember your grandmother baking.”
When thinking of the produce that comes out of California, apples would not be anywhere near the top of the list. But there was a time when Tuolumne County was known as a prime place for growing apples and the apples were highly valued. Many of the apple trees at Cover’s Apple Ranch were planted close to a hundred years ago. Every fall, it offers a selection of Arkansas Black, Common Red Delicious, Early Blaze, Golden Delicious, Winesap, Red and Yellow Bartlett, Winter Nellis. They also grow Bosc Pears.
Over the years the ranch passed from one owner to the next. Louis and Evelyn Sonka purchased the property in 1971 and they had the idea to bake apple pies and sell them at the site, along with fresh pressed cider. Their enterprise proved so popular that it continued to be called Sonka’s even after they had sold it.
In 1998, the property was once again up for sale and was being considered by a group of developers. Having grown up next door to the property, the Cover family - Joe and Carol Cover, along with their six sons, purchased Sonka’s Apple Ranch. Joe is the younger brother of former owner Rudy Cover and once again the property became known as Cover’s Apple Ranch.
The site, in addition to the production facility where apples are peeled and pressed, has a restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch, a bakery, a gift shop, a mini train that traverses the property, a barnyard petting area, a duck pond and serene grounds to relax for the day.
“It’s a calm spot to come and visit,” Cover said.
While visitors may enjoy the attractions, the real stars of the ranch are the apples and what is made of them. This includes pies, turnovers, dumplings, cider, butter, sauces and lots more delectable treats, including seasonal offerings using other fruits.
“Everything is made here and it’s all made from scratch,” Cover said.
Some of the most popular options are the Dutch Apple Pie and the Mile High Apple Pie.
“We stack up the apples in that one,” Cover said.
They sell apple pies year-round and fall is their busiest season. Those wanting to purchase specific pies, especially for Thanksgiving, are advised to place orders a week in advance before going to the ranch.
Cover’s Apple Ranch is located at 19211 Cherokee Road in Tuolumne. They are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and closed Sunday and Monday. For orders or more information call (209) 928-4689 or visit their website at coversappleranch.com.