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Filling the branches… Apple season brings to life the most versatile fruit

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
As the arrival of the fall season is right around the corner, so is the arrival of one of the most versatile fruits there is as the many different varieties of apples are filling apple tree branches throughout the nooks and crannies of the hills of East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Carolina.
Many look forward to the arrival of fresh apples especially around the holiday seasons and to stock up for the winter.
As a small boy, I remember well the days when the apple crops would arrive that families would get together and spend hours upon hours peeling apples to be made into fresh apple sauce and the always welcomed delicacy of apple butter.
My mother and grandmother would take the peeled apples for the apple sauce to a local cannery where they would utilize the big pots to cook the apple sauce to just the right consistency and then put that sauce into metal cans much like the ones found on local store shelves today.
The cannery would then place the lid onto the cans and that apple sauce would be used to feed our family throughout the upcoming year until the next crop of apples arrived.
I also remember well my great-grandfather and his love for making apple butter after once again spending long hours peeling what seemed like 200 bushels of apples (which is greatly exaggerated).
My mother and grandmother once again added the right amount of sugar and cinnamon along with some red hots to bring the right texture and flavor to this wonderful spread that has covered many of cathead biscuits during my lifetime along with cornbread I might add.
I still see my great-grandfather bringing a little spoon out from time to time and telling those who were stirring the apple butter in large copper kettles over an open flame as he would take a sample, “that would make a man slap his brains out it’s so good.”
While those days are passed, for the most part, it is always a great time for local churches and organizations to stir off a kettle during the fall and use it as a fundraiser and a time of fellowship for those that participate.
Apples have so many different uses and sometimes the varieties of apples get discombobulating as more so than not it’s like picking a favorite shirt out of hundreds of choices.
A visit to Hump Mountain Apple House just a skip across the state line from Roan Mountain and in Elk Park is something that I have made a habit of in the last few years as many varieties of apples are available to purchase there.
On my recent trip, I was hoping to score a few Stayman Winesap to cook for another round of cathead biscuits as my family loves fresh cooked apples and hot biscuits and butter oozing over the side.
The Winesaps had not arrived as of yet and according to the lady manning the register, some apples were running about a week to two behind due to a late freeze.
Also not arrived yet were the Wolf River apples that have become a fan favorite for making apple butter with. Those should be arriving around the first weekend in October and according to the stand operator, folks will be coming from far and near to get these apples.
As I stated earlier, there are so many different uses for this fruit that I started to think of some of the uses that my family has had over the years of my life.
Aside from what was mentioned previously, I remember my great-grandmother making molasses stack cakes, putting apple butter between about nine thin layers of cake and one of my favorite cakes my mother made was a fresh apple cake.
These fresh apple cakes took some time to make but one could always count on one around Christmas filled with raisins and fresh black walnuts covered in a homemade caramel icing that was the bomb.
We also would use the apples around Halloween to make fresh caramel apples and candied apples which still is a favorite today anytime I visit the Smokies and one of the many candy stores.
There were apples in packed lunches that we took to school as mom would always remind us that an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Mother would use apples in fresh salads and a fruit salad that she made every Thanksgiving with a fresh new crop of apples, oranges, grapes, and bananas just to mention a few of the fruits added to the mixture.
My grandmother could make one of the finest apple dumplings around not to mention fresh apple pies.
Alas, we cannot forget the fried apple pies made from fresh dough and filled with cooked apples that had been seasoned with cinnamon and placed in a cast-iron skillet of hot grease until fried to a golden brown and topped with vanilla ice cream.
I even made myself hungry describing that.
And to this day, I love to just take an apple and slice it into several small pieces and dip it into hot caramel. I have seen this used as a fundraiser at many a football game in my day.
There are just so many uses and I realize that I have probably not mentioned the ones that you love.
However, it’s the right time of the year to make a run to the local apple sheds and produce stands that we are blessed with here in Carter County and pick out your favorite variety.
Also, don’t forget a jug of fresh-squeezed apple cider for that holiday get-together.
It’s turning fall and it’s apple season…what could be any better.