[photos by Andrea Hubbell and Sarah Cramer Shields, words by Megan Headley]
Apples are our October Flavor of the Month! What’s your favorite recipe using apples? Like us on Facebook, send us your recipes, and tell your friends to vote for their favorite recipe! At the end of the month, the submitter of the favorite recipe will win an edible surprise!
No fruit carries as much symbolism as the apple. From being the object of temptation in the Garden of Eden to the producer of can’t-live-without technology in the Age of Information, the apple, despite its Kazakhstani origin, represents America. New York is The Big Apple, children take field trips to apple orchards for hayrides and memory-making, and an apple pie cooling on the windowsill defines comfort and domesticity.
The fruit got its start in Virginia in Jamestown in 1622 when seedlings from European apples were planted. For every five hundred acres of land granted to new settlers, the law required them to use a quarter of an acre of it to plant a garden and an orchard as a source of food. Nearly 400 years later, Virginia is the sixth largest apple-growing state in the nation.
One of their happiest homes is Vintage Virginia Apples, where 2000 to 3000 apple trees of more than 250 varieties (many of which are heritage varieties from colonial times) grace ten acres of lazy southern Albemarle hills. The 20-year-old orchard, owned by siblings Chuck and Charlotte Shelton, aims to keep the fruit’s long and storied history alive by selling apples, trees, and cider.
We visit the orchard during a month that Charlotte calls frenetic. Despite the fact that apples are a year-round endeavor, their glory days are in autumn. Charlotte and her niece, Anne, are elbow deep in paperwork in the office that overlooks the cider-making facility where Chuck is busy bottling. We ask Charlotte her favorite apple and she offers the same refrain that orchard and nursery consultant Tom Burford offers: “The last one I ate.”
She shares this recipe for scalloped potatoes with apples that we can’t wait to try and reminds us that since apples continue to ripen once picked, their flavor and texture will evolve and “mellow” over time.
Dogs Pippin and Ash (short for Ashmead’s Kernel, another heritage variety) accompany us to the tasting room where Charlotte and Anne take us through the history and tasting of ten different apples with names like Kandil Sinap and King David.
From golfball-sized to grapefruit-sized, dressed in skins from rusty brown to speckled green, they are all so different that it felt like we were comparing apples to oranges instead of apples to apples.
Eating slices of each with local cheeses, Edwards ham, and ABC baguette revealed their beauty, making us loathe to ever buy the insipidly sweet grocery store versions again. One of our favorites, the Calville Blanc d’Hiver, was the ugly duckling of the bunch.
Chuck finished bottling just in time for the cider tasting. When we asked him how many apples he eats a day, he said, “I drink most of them now.” That’s one inviting way to keep the doctor away.
Vintage Virginia Apples/Albemarle Ciderworks is open Wednesday through Sunday year-round from 9am to 5pm. Saturday, November 3rd is their 12th Annual Apple Harvest Festival with a full day of fun, local food, cider, craft vendors, and colonial-era demos. Carter’s Mountain Orchard celebrates the apple harvest every weekend in October from 8am to 7pm. Go for pick-your-own apples, apple cider doughnut, and peerless views.