SKYLINE DRIVE ORCHARD
Skyline Drive Orchard, has been a customer favorite since day one of the Antietam Farmers Market when Christine sold out of everything she brought, except for two pies. As a full time vendor, their customers have worn a path into the ground where their tent is set up every week. Christine said, “I really love the market. We had beautiful weather, met wonderful people including you gals who did such a great job, and I picked up some new customers who live right in the area and never knew about us. Thank you for letting me be a part of the market.” Skyline has always had a reputation for their quality seasonal fruits such as peaches, pears, nectarines, plums, blueberries, and apples all grown at their orchard. They also sell locally grown seasonal vegetables and flowers that Christine hand picks herself for her customers as well as locally grown raspberries, strawberries, apricots, cherries, and blackberries which are also used in their pies along with beautiful annual and perennial flowers.
Stan and Christine Blankenbiller are certainly not new to growing or selling fruits and vegetables. Christine, a Berks County native and Exeter graduate, grew up in St. Lawrence with a yard that contained five different kinds of fruit trees. “I was introduced to picking and eating fresh summer fruit early in life. Not long after we were married, my husband Stan and I started helping his father William Blankenbiller with his orchard and ‘truck patch’ garden which was his hobby and passion. We both enjoyed picking and filling up our freezer and refrigerator with fresh produce for the summer and winter months. In the late 80’s my husband began doing all the spraying and pruning of the fruit trees for his father. The large garden was planted with only fruit trees and blueberries so we named the orchard and started selling at a stand on Pricetown Road,” Christine remembers.
In addition to the stand on Pricetown Road, they also opened Produce Wagon on Rt. 562 in St. Lawrence, where they would sometimes sell as much as 100 dozen ears of corn a day with peaches, pears, plums and other summer produce. It was then that Christine first brought pies to sell which, to this day, remain a customer favorite. But after a few years of continually setting up and tearing down market stands, they decided in 2000 to open a store on the property at the orchard. Christine stated,“My business which we started, really thinking it would be extra income to put the children through college, has slowly grown over the more than 25 years.” Two children and six grandchildren later, Skyline is going stronger than ever.
Christine remembers, “The first Thanksgiving holiday I took orders for 50 pies, and oh my goodness, Stan was peeling apples while I was baking up until the minute people were picking up the pies. Now I have help but we are still very busy for Thanksgiving, baking about 200 to 250 pies. This past year was the first year I was open at Christmas, and I think we baked 100 pies, staying open until noon on Christmas Eve for customers to pick their pies up.”
When I asked Christine how many trees they have in their orchard now she replied, “We never counted our fruit trees but it’s a lot; thousands. We grow about 20 acres of fruit. My husband Stan has help with picking the main crop of apples in the fall, but pretty much does all the other picking and pruning himself. He enjoys working outside with the trees and has the same passion his father did. I love my customers, and I find joy in keeping the store well supplied with fresh produce and fruit along with all the baked goodies.”
Yes, let’s talk about those baked goodies, especially those pies which are baked daily. “We probably make something like 100 pies weekly and that does not include the small ones. Our two most popular pies are cherry and apple except at Thanksgiving time when it would be apple and pumpkin, of course. Some of the recipes are from family but some are just trial and error,” said Christine.
If you’ve never visited Skyline Drive Orchards, you simply must. Take time this weekend to drive up the beautiful and windy road which is Skyline and stop in their store which is always seasonally decorated, beautifully. The store is quaint, cozy, and stocked with more than just fruit. A little deli was added a few years back and they now have fresh soup, salads and puddings. I can attest that their rice pudding is worth every calorie!
Believe it or not folks, the holidays are right around the corner and it’s never too early to start planning. If you want a delicious pie, made from scratch at a very reasonable price, Skyline is the place to call. “We appreciate orders anytime, but especially at the holidays. For Thanksgiving, we like to get all the orders together the Monday before Thanksgiving. I always encourage my customers to order ahead, even if it’s not a holiday. We will bake your order fresh and hold it in the back for pick up. We are even doing that for some of the great foods in the deli,” said Christine. “We are always trying to please because the customer is always right and here at the orchard they are very special to all of us. Part of my reward for serving them is making them happy.”
I asked Christine how she does it all and she said, “If it wouldn’t be for the great girls I have had working for me over the years, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Oh, and also my husband who helps a lot. I have had others over the years baking with me but none as good as my friend Deb, who is a retired baker and wonderful cook. She starts real early and has the pies in the oven by the time I get in around 7:00 a.m. This is her third season and she has perfected many of my recipes and added so many new ones, especially in the deli. And Christa, who practically runs everything herself, has retired from her flower business of 15 years to come work for me. She is very dependable and wonderful with customers, so I can’t say enough about her. The three of us work so well together and have fun also. I also have, Noelle, a young high school graduate working for us, and also my sister-in-law, Joyce, who lives nearby and can help on a last minute notice. I am so grateful for all my employees.”
I asked Christine about the challenges of not just baking pies but running an orchard, store, and being a weekly market vendor, and she replied, “the challenge is how much to bake and how much to cook. Finding the right balance to everything in this business is a plus. I try, and most days it works out. Christine added, “The challenge for me is just to keep going. It was a challenge for me to do everything plus add the Antietam Farmers Market this year.” Christine is still debating about joining us for Antietam’s winter market in November and December. So if you’re reading this, hoping and wanting to have Skyline for all your holiday needs, then stop by her stand at the Antietam Market, or at Skyline Drive Orchard, and help us convince her to join our winter market.
Skyline Drive Orchard is located at 118 Skyline Drive, Reading and will remain open until December 24th to serve all their customers with their holiday needs offering evergreen wreaths, fruit baskets, apples, cider, homemade pies, cakes, cookies, deli items, and more. You can find more information on their Facebook page, or reach them at 610-929-0888.
Mark your calendar…Skyline Drive Orchards will be having a Holiday Open House on December 4th, 5th and 6th! Bring your list and check it twice because Skyline will be featuring beautiful handmade crafts, wonderful gifts and decorations for the holidays.