One of my most vivid memories is climbing up the hillside to his orchards with my grandpa, Mose Adams, whom everybody in the family called “Pap”.
I can close my eyes and visualize every tree and tell you the variety of each and every single one.
Without going into detail about the layout, the upper orchard consisted of one each of Winesap, Rome Beauty, Fuji (that we called Jumbo), Starks Red and Golden Delicious, Black Ben Davis, two Grimes Golden, three Horse Apples, two June Apples (one red striped and one yellow) and one tree that came up from seed but yielded bushels of late summer fruit.
The lower orchard, much closer to our house, had blighted and mostly died, but still had half a dozen trees that bore fruit until I was out of high school. I especially remember the two big Grimes Golden trees and a striped June Apple that stood just behind the family cemetery.
Pap crossed over to the other side in November of 1954 when I was just a few weeks shy of my sixth birthday. Pap was 86, but I remember going to the upper orchard with him early in October. Mom had given each of us a burlap feed sack and admonished both of us to not try and pack more than we could handle.
But the Black Bens, a small, round, deep purple fruit that Pap cherished above all others, were just commencing to get ripe and we wound up putting more apples in my sack than I could easily carry. Halfway down the mountain, Pap tied the tops of our sacks together and slung them across his shoulder so that he had a peck of apples on his back and another on his chest.
Our intentions were to untie them in the hallway of the barn so that I could struggle in with my load and impress Mom. Unfortunately, she was gathering eggs and caught us in the act of making the switch. This was just one of hundreds of times that Pap talked me out of getting a whipping.
By the time I’d finished high school, the orchards were essentially too uncared for and too overgrown to be productive. The trees were old and already susceptible to disease and insects when Pap was still alive. Dad and some of my uncles and older cousins tended them for perhaps a dozen years, but they eventually became unworthy of the effort.
But while they were still living, they provided all the apples that several families could use. In their prime, during the ‘20s and ‘30s, they had also provided an important cash crop to Pap’s subsistence farm.
My mom and most of my aunts made apple butter, apple jelly, applesauce and canned apples. Mom often spoke of making apple cider but the cider press was gone before I was born. Of all things apple, however, my favorite was, and still is, dried apples. Even into my college years, Mom was finding enough Grimes Goldens every year to dry a couple or three bushels because I well recall taking some to share with my dormitory Yankee roommates and explaining how we made them.
When I was growing up, there was no better snack than a handful of dried apples and if you’ve never had a dried apple fried pie, you simply have not experienced one of the finer things that life on earth has to offer.
From mid-summer until early fall, if you were sitting around, with nothing else to do, Mom would put you to peeling apples to dry. We put thinly sliced apples on feed-sack bedspreads atop every roof on the on the place as well as on the hoods, tops, and trunk doors of parked cars and the bed of Dad’s pickup. Take them in at night and spread them out again the next morning as soon as the dew was off.
Mom also kept large baking pans full of drying apples that she would pop into the oven when the cooking fire died down. They would dry into crisp but very tough flakes in two or three sunny days and then be stored in cloth feed sacks to munch on all winter.
So now I’m thinking that one day this week I’m going to head on over to a local orchard where I hear they have No. 1 Golden Delicious for $20 a bushel and both Yukon Gold and Red Pontiac potatoes for $15 a bushel. I’m going to make my trip before this column hits the papers and by the time you read this I’m going to be drying apples on my garage roof.
If you’re interested in making the trip, it’s Brummett’s Orchard at Crab Orchard, Ky., in Lincoln County. You might want to call first and make sure they haven’t sold out. The number is 606-355-7526.