There's no better celebration of any season than the decorated tree adorned with the rich symbolism of nature—my ritual to inform and inspire you in the journey called life.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

apple time

APPLES are a quintessential part of autumn. They signal the cool, crisp weather to come with their own brand of cool crispness. Having just eaten a late lunch with some friends on a clear-skied autumn day on a restaurant patio, none of us indulged with a finish of dessert. But as we were standing in the restaurant's parking lot saying our goodbyes, I noticed the blackboard touting a new seasonal offering for dessert—an apple-pecan cheesecake. I went back in as we were leaving and ordered a piece to go. It sounded like the perfect thing for a bright fall day such as this. I'm glad I did, because the cheesecake itself was dotted with cubed apples and topped with chopped pecans. It was coupled with a sweet caramel sauce, which rendered it as perfect taste of autumn.

GEORGIA is well known for its summer peaches (and peanuts, boiled or otherwise), but more and more, its becoming known for its autumn apples. As they are grown in the north Georgia mountains, I made a special trip to Ellijay, in north Georgia to buy a variety of the first of the season's apples for this post, and filled in with a couple of "Yankee" varieties imported to the local supermarket for good measure. While not exactly a "tree," this centerpiece of apples stacked on a tiered wooden stand is a beautiful way to decorate for the season. The variety of natural-color-coordinated apples lend themselves well to such a dramatic display of their inherent beauty. This harkens back to the wooden German tree stands (or pyramids) that held evergreens, fruit, nuts, and other baubles around the holidays (thought to be the predecessor to the Christmas tree). The forerunner of the pyramid was a construction known as a "Lichtergestelle" (literally: light stand) which were very popular in the 18th century.

ELLIJAY, Georgia has a yearly apple festival which spans over two weekends in October. The Ellijay Lion's Club, the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce, the cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay, and Gilmer County join forces to usher in the autumn season with a bumper crop of apples. The 42nd Georgia Apple Festival will be held the weekends of October 12-13th and October 19th and 20th. There will be over 300 vendors with handmade, hand-crafted items, as well as many on-site demonstrations of how selected types of crafts are made.

ALTHOUGH most apple farmers in North Georgia don't adhere to organic methods to grow their apples, my friend Margie Thorpe has ferreted out one farmer named "David" who she gets organically-grown heirloom variety apples from in Ellijay. You can contact her through her "Vegetable Husband" website to procure a few of David's organic apples in her baskets of fresh produce. Near Ellijay at Mountain Valley Farm, you can stock up on fresh milk products, including roll butter and homemade ice cream. They also sell farm fresh eggs that have never been refrigerated or had the natural just-laid bloom washed from them (which helps prevent bacteria from permeating the eggshell) and a variety of delicious grass-fed meats (frozen to carry home). If you don't want to veer off the beaten path, in nearby Blue Ridge, Mercier Orchards is probably the most visited "apple house" in the area boasting a variety of their own branded products for sale (aside from many varieties of apples). Their famous fried pies are a must! If you are not an adventurous sort, an easy stop is Penland's Apple House just off the main road heading into Ellijay from Atlanta (Highway 515).

AUTUMN wraps up the abundance of crops grown in the summertime, but autumn is the time for enjoying the crop that defines the apple season. Here's to a big piece of apple pie with ice cream, or just a pie in your hand that's been fried and lightly glazed. Or as I enjoyed today, a piece of apple-pecan cheesecake with a drizzle of caramel sauce. But just a for a simple treat, there's nothing else like a fresh crisp apple, sliced and eaten out-of-hand. It's a time to celebrate the bounty of the season, no matter how you slice it!

photography and styling by Darryl Moland

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