Georgia Apple Picking, Plus 7 Recipes For the Bounty
Fall is my favorite season. Some see it as the melancholy end of summer when bright green foliage turns to rich shades of amber and rust. But to me, fall feels full of promise and the allure of cozy sweaters and fireplaces, the holidays and a break from grueling Southern summers.
There is nothing that gets me in the fall spirit like a trip to the apple orchard. It's something I remember from childhood when the simple gesture of plucking a Red Delicious from a tree and filling a basket full of apples felt like absolute magic. Driving into the Georgia mountains hasn't lost its appeal, but now all of those apples and cider are pressed into a different service, made into apple pies and apple cocktails.
I was lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour of my favorite Georgia orchard in Blue Ridge. Mercier Orchards has been in orchard manager David Lillard's wife's family since 1943. Mercier is pretty much the Target of apples where you can both pick apples then head to their apple superstore for cider tastings and to stock up on cider, apple pies, apple jelly, apple bread, fried apple pies, apple butter, etc. (You get the idea.)
Mercier grows more than 50 apple varieties, and Lillard estimates he eats five to six apples a day. This is probably why he looks like he's in his 30s, even though he's sneaking up on 50. The extended family lives in a dreamy, all-American setting, their homes tucked in among the orchards, the patriarch at the highest elevation on the mountain top, and the next generation staggered down the mountainside.
Lillard drives the family's 300 acres constantly, monitoring the crops ("they really are like children"), then clearing out when the apple-pickers arrive. "When the weather turns cool, something switches on in our DNA that says, '
This guy loves apples, stopping to chomp into a rare 19th century Arkansas Black during our tour and spouting apple philosophy like "my job is to harvest sunlight." He loves the distinctive, imperfect mottled look and rock-hard texture of the Arkansas Black because they're the lovable Mindy Kaling of the orchard, with "personality" and "character" unlike all of those perfect, flawless Jonagolds and Fujis.
Anxious to bring a little of that apple goodness into your kitchen? Look no further than the many, many delicious applications for apple cider and any number of garden-y garnishes in these fabulous apple cocktails from HGTV and HGTVGardens, including the Good Apple cocktail just below.