When you think of Ellijay, you probably think of apples and why wouldn’t you? It is known for hosting the annual (and famous) Georgia Apple Festival in October and is a gateway city to some of the most scenic mountains North Georgia has to offer. Ellijay is located in Gilmer County, roughly 30-miles south of both the Tennessee and North Carolina borders. Ellijay comes from the Cherokee word elatse yi meaning green earth which promised bountiful resources to those who originally settled there. Today, it is a quaint little mountain valley town, nestled just below the Cohutta and Blue Ridge Mountains.
Agriculture in Gilmer County was originally focused on cotton production but in the 1920’s the boll weevil became rampant and destroyed a majority of Georgia’s cotton crops. However, the county’s economy was supported by the remaining apple orchards. In 1971, the first Georgia Apple Festival was initiated to celebrate the North Georgia apple since it saved the county from the decline of the dying cotton crops.
Driving North on GA-515, one of the first mountains in the distance is Talona sitting at 2,080 ft with a prominence of 530 ft. At the base of Talona Mountain sits Panorama Apple Market. It is often overlooked because when you up from the South you only see the backside of the market. I might be biased because I grew up visiting my Nanny and Poppy who lived on the top of Talona Mountain, but Panorama is my favorite apple market. It might be because it feels like a hidden gem or because not much about it has changed since my first visit in the late 90’s. It just feels like home every time you walk in.
The Panorama Apple Market has a rich and deep history in Ellijay, dating all the way back to 1920’s when the Stembridge family began growing apples in Ella Gap. This once-booming rural community was located across highway GA-515 from Panorama’s present-day market. The Stembridge’s used the convenient location of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad to ship and transport the apples. In 1965, Panorama Orchards was created from a business partnership between Joel Stembridge and his son, Gene. The Panorama Farm Market was incorporated in 1978 but still continues to operate as a family farm. Apple production was eventually moved from Ella Gap to an orchard site several miles east on Talona Mountain where the apple trees once ran almost the entire length of the mountain ridge until 1980. The present Market was constructed in 1983 and contains an apple packing line, cold storage for 10,000 bushels, bakery kitchens, and a retail sales area.
Many of the antiques in Panorama Market date back to the 1920s-1950s when the apple production was centered in the Ella Gap area. The collection includes an early apple brushing machine, ring-packing tubs, and wooden apple boxes and box labels used during the 40s and 50s. There is also a collection of colorful apple box labels that includes the “Talona” brand labels which were used in Ella Gap during this era.
Every time I go into Panorama I make a beeline to the fried pies straight in the back. I can’t tell you which one is the best because almost 20 years later I still haven’t made up my mind. Being indecisive has its perks though because then I end up getting one of every flavor that’s available. Peach and Apple pies are southern staples but there is something magical about the fresh Blueberry and Blackberry fried pies.
The apples were out of season when I visited at the end of February but they still had plenty that they continue to put out in the off-season until the fruit runs out. There is a harvest calendar on Panorama’s website where you can see when certain apples are in season. In May, the peaches start ripening and will kick off the next fruit season! One of my favorite things my Nanny used to make was frozen peaches. She would buy bushels of peaches, slice them, cover them in sugar and freeze them. We ate them frozen, thawed, with our cereal or oatmeal and straight out of her Tupperware. Growing up, we never left a visit to my Nanny and Poppy’s without a stop at Panorama and a bushel of Granny Smith apples, my personal favorite.
Panorama makes their own variety of butters, apple sauces, jams, jellies, salsas, etc. All of the goods are made from scratch in the market kitchens using only their fruit. Viewing windows are located in the back of the market and look into the kitchens and apple processing area where you can watch their products being freshly made.
They also make their own varieties of honey and pickled vegetables. Pickled pickles, pickled peaches, pickled relish . . . needless to sayPanorama has a plenty of pickled options.
There is also a room filled with candy and vintage toys and taffy . . . sorry parents!
Recently an ice cream area with an old-school soda fountain was added. If the ice cream isn’t enough of a sugar rush, they also sell homemade fudge. Don’t go to Panorama hungry because you will end up buying the entire store, trust me.
Next time you are wandering North Georgia and passing through Ellijay be sure to stop in at Panorama Farm Market, eat a fried pie, and experience and taste the history that Panorama has to offer.