We in Georgia are enthralled by apples, past and present. In 1914 Mr. Tom Wynyard Bellhouse, Sr., a transplanted Englishman, purchased acreage amid the southern foothills of Appalachia, high up on Apple Pie Ridge, marker of the Eastern Continental Divide. The land and weather were perfect for fruit orchards and he wanted to grow apples.
The railroad that carried Mr. Tom's apples out into the world ran along the ridge. The tracks marked his property line in Alto, Georgia, near Cornelia. They are less than a mile from where I live, on a portion of the old Bellhouse estate.
In its heyday tiny Cornelia, in the southern part of Habersham County, was the epicenter of apple growing in the state of Georgia and throughout the South. The Sunday edition of the Atlanta Constitution, dated August 4, 1918, carried a page-and-a-half story about the forward-thinking little community and much of the mystique was due to apples. Mr. Tom was on the opening cusp of the Golden Age of Apples.
The boll weevil, feared destroyer of the cotton industry, began in Texas in 1892 and by 1922 had ruined crops and the people who worked them throughout the country. Apples took up the agricultural banner dropped by cotton. The railroad faithfully carried fruit by carload to distant markets and brought commerce and prosperity to the area.
By 1926 the Southern Railroad had awarded Cornelia what was to become its longtime claim to fame, "The Big Red Apple." The seven foot tall metal sculpture still rests atop an obalisk near the depot, now a town museum. An image of the monument has place of honor on the City of Cornelia seal.
The great apple orchards of Habersham County have faded into the past. The Georgia apple growing crown has travelled westward to Gilmer County. Poultry is now the agricultural leader in North Georgia. But plucky little Cornelia keeps its Big Red Apple polished bright. Each year, on a Saturday in October, the town hosts multitudes of visitors at "The Big Red Apple Festival."
We still grow plenty of apples in the area although there are no fruit-producing trees where I live. A trip to my local farm market gave me plenty of choices, though. I concentrated on locally grown and came home with bags and bags of Courtlands, Granny Smiths, Jonathans, Jonagold, Fujis and Mutsus. If Yorks had been in I would have gotten them, too. I think Mr. Bellhouse would approve.
Putting Apples By
I find that living on Apple Pie Ridge gives me a beloved mandate to produce apple pies. That makes me happy. I also have lots of other treats planned for my fruit. but I may just set a few apples to dry for old times sake.
During Mr. Tom's day drying was a favorite method of perservation. Cooks "put by" apple sauce, pie filling, apple butter and preserves, but drying required no boiling vats, not vast amounts of sugar and made for easy storage.
Women gathered on autumn days to share the work, sitting under the trees on wooden chairs with bowls in their laps. They "visited" while they got busy with their paring knives and whittled down great piles of apples. Less desirable fruit went for apple butter, peels and cores went to the hogpen.
Many households kept an apple barrel in a cool spot for off-season use. But the fruit was suseptible to age, temperature and infestation. The old saying, "One bad apple spoils the bunch" is literally true. Dried apples had a great advantage. If stored properly they lasted for years without loss of quality. A bit of hot water reconstituted them for use in cobblers, fried pies and other apple recipes.
Folks who dry apples nowadays use dehydrators or ovens. One old fashioned method of drying equired the apples be spread out on framed screens. The fruit was left outdoors for several days, covered with cheesecloth to protect it from flying insects and maurading little boys. The slices had to be turned frequently and if bad weather threatened the frames had to be carried in.
There was an easier way, if the family had room indoors and didn't mind three or four days of inconvenience. Amounts are flexible and work for one apple or dozens. With proper adult supervision this is a great kid task. Even little ones can string apple rings and check for drying. Once they're ready dried apples are a perfect snack. Theycan also be reconstituted for all manner of apple recipes, including cakes, pies, cobblers and my favorite, fried apple pies.
Dried Apple Rings
- Apples--use good quality unblemished apples for the best results
- Salted water to cover the apples
- Stout cotton cord, enough to span the spot you pick for drying and to tie off both ends
Core unpeeled apples and cut into rings 1/4" thick. You will have several apple "o's." Soak briefly in salt water to prevent oxidation.
Run the cord through the center of the apple rings, through the hole left by coring. It's kind of like stringing cranberries or popcorn but you have a ready-made hole.
Use plenty of cord so you can space the apple rings out. Leave an inch or two between slices and hang the cord they're on like a clothesline. It might be easier to hang one end of the cord before you start to thread on the apples, then tie off. Pick a place with good air circulation. You can use a fan in the space to help if you like.
Allow to dry for three or four days or until completely dry. Store in airtight containers.
To reconstitute: Add 1 cup of water to 8 ounces of dried apples in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, cover and turn off heat. Allow to set for thirty minutes. Drain and allow to cool before proceeding with your recipe.
For Mr. Bellhouse
Years ago Mr. Tom build a walking path for his wife. He wanted his Helen to have a lovely resting spot along the way so he put up a stone bench for her pleasure.
His grandson, Tom III who is father to Tom IV, led me to it last year. It's hard to get to, overtaken by poison ivy and is no longer functional. But the place gave me a feel for old Mr. Tom.
I had a glimpse back, almost a hundred years, to see man who loved apples and wanted his wife to have a good place to rest. He must have been thoughtful in the care of his family, his land and his orchards. He must have been a fine man.
Maybe I'll put an apple in my pocket to eat once I get there. Mr. Tom, I wish for your spirit all the joys you would wish for yourself.
This post and "The Great Fried Apple Pie Rebellion" were written as companion pieces. I hope you enjoy them together.LAGNIAPPE
Here's a little get-down Georgia mountain bluegrass, Cornelia style. Y'all enjoy!
Apple Tree courtesy of FreePhotos.com
City of Cornelia Seal courtesy of Wikipedia
Video courtesy of YouTube
All other text and images copyright 2010 by Theresa Rice