Apples Amaze Me

Yes, kids.  It’s that day.  Barber Orchards!

I was born in Central Florida.  You can make fun of the capital C if you like, but now that I live in Western North Carolina – topping the list for capitalized directions – I’m more comfortable with the Central.  Specifically, I was born in Gainesville and grew up in Orlando.  The street of my early years was a cul-de-sac built in an old citrus grove, so we had fruit trees in abundance: orange, tangerine, grapefruit, even a lemon tree on the lot behind us.  I grew up with these, and it made perfect sense to me, as a child, coloring fat round trees with small orange circles in them.  But apples on a tree?  That seemed mystical and distant, even exotic.  I had only seem them in pictures, and of course my coloring books.  Trees with red circles were ‘apple trees’ but that really didn’t mean anything to me.  Apples came from the grocery store.  It was right up there with mountains.  Mountains were inverted V’s and if you added a little white scallop, they were snow-capped mountains.  When my drawings became more sophisticated, I would make a separate row of V’s behind the first row, creating distance and perspective.  I recall being awfully proud of that accomplishment.  But there was never any question.  Mountains were straight sided and ended with a point on top and one was absolutely separate from the next.  Remember, folks.  Florida.

In Orlando, where the only fruit on trees is citrus, the nearest thing that qualifies as a hill is the abutment under an overpass on I-4.  It had not occurred to me to feel even remotely deprived.  No, I’d never seen snow.  I was always astonished to hear folks tell me they’d never seen the ocean.  Those were the deprived people, not me.

At 18, I joined the Women’s Army Corps (another story!) and shipped off to Denver, Colorado.  Holy moly wow great gadzooks the Rocky Mountains!  Sure, there were a few high peaks with snow on them year-round, but you’d be hard pressed to find the inverted V’s of my childhood!  The plains rose gently to the foothills, which rose sharply into the instantly recognizable skyline of Denver, with its skyscrapers against a backdrop of the front range. Jaw dropping, to a flatlander like me.  And while I’m certain there were apple trees in abundance, I didn’t know how to recognize one without the little red orbs, so frankly, I’ve no idea when I first encountered one.  I can tell you, though, that I was in my mid-twenties when I first plucked an apple from a tree.  And it was a moment.  For all the wonder experienced, we could have been standing on a planet in another galaxy.  I was awed.

Just as mountains have never lost their mystery for me, apples are little miracles.  Encountering them attached to a branch (or even with a leaf still attached, at a market) unfailingly elicits the same delight as that late summer afternoon in the Colorado mountains when I pulled that apple down, myself.  I lived in Colorado for eleven years, and still startle at the word ‘orchard’.  Apparently, to this Florida girl, fruit trees are in groves.

So, yes.  I live in a magical, mysterious, fascinating world nowadays, with a home in the North Carolina mountains, where apples are an industry.  My crayon colored world of V’s and red circles on trees has come to life.  And nothing exemplifies that more than a trip to Barber Orchards.

Two announcements from Barber Orchards trigger a pilgrimage.  The first is opening day, typically the first of August.  The line queued at the baked goods counter is long, and filled with good-natured folks, whiling the time away visiting and scoping out the purchases of those in front of them.  Employees stream by with tray after tray of apple donuts, turnovers, muffins (good heavens, those apple muffins!) cakes and fruit pies, refilling the sales counters which empty as quickly as they’re filled.  One does not hesitate.  Get in line.  It doesn’t matter if you know what you want, you’ll have figured it out by the time you get to the counter, based on the chatter from the queue and those steaming trays of hot baked goods passing under your nose, if you don’t faint from pleasure first.  I highly recommend the muffins.  Unless you’re in front of me.  Then choose something else.  Just in case, you know.  I’ve gotten to the front of the line before, only to be met with, ‘So sorry! You know you can call and place your order and we’ll have it ready for you.’  Do I know this?  I do.  Do I ever -ever- follow through?  I do not.  Don’t ask me why.  I think the whole bakery roulette thing appeals to me.

This day, however, was the siren call of the second announcement: the honeycrisp apples are in.  Now, people, honeycrisp are straight from God.  I don’t care what religion you are or are not.  Honeycrisp apples are nondenominational.  Even atheists like honeycrisps (although I’m not certain you can eat one of those apples and fail to believe).  When Bernie told me Barber Orchards had announced the honeycrisps, we planned our lunch date around picking up our apples.  Yes, we wanted to go have lunch together, yes we had other errands to run, but these apples were the Plan.

We were in and out in moments.  I told Bernie I was going to take some pictures -the whole place is insanely photogenic, with fruit and veggies and jams and baked goods- and then asked a nice lady to take our photo.  I absolutely stink at selfies, and find them mildly objectionable.  I’d probably like them if I could just figure out how they work.  (Do I digress?  People!  Yes.  Yes, I do.  Every single time.) Ahem.  Pictures.  There were two other ladies shopping there who thought it was so funny that we were going to get our picture taken that they promptly produced a camera and handed it to the same nice lady.  “Take our picture! Take our picture!” and so of course, I took their picture, too.  They thought it was great fun.  So did we.  Everyone at the fruit stand seemed to be having as good a time as we were.  It was a delightful place to be, that afternoon.

Here, you’ll find photographic evidence of our bounty.  The two laughing women.  The sign for the bakery counter, and it’s surprisingly short line, shows the route we did not take – I think the key to not overbuying baked goods is to go out for lunch first! And when we got back to the car, Bernie pointed out the apple trees, heavy laden with fruit, looking for all the world like my coloring book.

It was a very good day.