Apples are, by most standards, the star of the fruit family. Featured in the mythologies and folklore of numerous cultures, apples have been credited as a means to immortality, an emblem of fruitfulness, a love charm, and a cure for every ill.
One thing is for certain, there is no greater harbinger of fall's crisp, cool days and autumn colors than apple picking season. In middle Tennessee, that season is upon us. The apple harvest is abundant this year, and one farm that provides a full experience of the apple harvest is Morning Glory Orchard, owned and operated by Curt and Tina Wideman.
Located on Nolensville Road in Arrington, Morning Glory Orchard is a welcoming and friendly place. The Widemans have operated their orchard ever since they bought it at auc- tion seven years ago. They have about 1,000 trees and grow ten varieties, including Arkansas Blacks, Dixie Reds, Jonathons, and Lodis, but mostly Red and Golden Delicious.
"We're tiny as orchards go, but it's essentially just my wife and me," Curt explains."Owning this orchard has been a part of a long spiritual journey that started many, many years ago and it's still going on. It's hard work but we knew that when we bought it." At that, Tina says,"No we didn't. I didn't know how hard this was going to be. I've never worked harder in my life, but it's very rewarding working out in the orchard. To me it's very awe-inspiring because you just see God's handiwork. Curt and I think of this as,"Yes we own the land but we are God's stewards of this orchard.'"
The Widemans give educational tours on their farm and offer pick-your-own apples when the harvest is plentiful."Children get to see the different apples we grow and learn about the animals and insects in the orchard and about the bees we keep for pollination," says Tina. "We play games and make apple cider on a real apple cider press." In their on-farm store, they sell apple butter, apple jelly, fresh apple cider, along with their own honey, and some other products, and, of course, apples.
According to Lee Calhoun, author of Old Southern Apples and the nation's leading expert on apple varieties grown in the South, of the 1,400 varieties known to have originat- ed in the South, many in the 1800s, only about 200 still exist. Most of these trees were planted in the early 1900s and have long been a sta- ple of the Southern diet. Calhoun says that Americans had a fondness for seedling orchards, or those grown from seeds rather than propagation by grafting, and this resulted in many hundreds of new varieties more suit- ed to the native environment. Time was when most farmhouses in the rural South had apple trees in their yards, with apples providing fresh fruit from June to November. Most Tennessee farms still have these old apple trees. Curt believes that the Dixie Red is an heir- loom variety and Tina adds,"The Golden Delicious is an heirloom apple. It goes way back."
Middle Tennessee's mild climate does limit the number of varieties that can be grown here. Cindy and Hank Delvin own Delvin Farms, a certified organic farm that now includes an organic apple orchard. Cindy says,"We wanted varieties that would start coming in early fall and continue through to late fall, and also varieties that could be stored well and could be made into a value added product." The Delvins" orchard is only four years old and its production has been slowed by drought and the learning curve they've had in operat- ing an organic orchard'the only one in Tennessee."We've learned a lot in the process," Cindy says. They've seen marked improvement in their trees since the instal- lation of a deer fence. And after experiencing a severe problem with voles that destroyed several hundred trees, Hank Delvin placed two cut and stripped cedar trees in the orchard. Hawks and owls began roosting almost immediately and took care of the vole problem. The Delvins have about 2,000 apple trees, and are looking forward to their first harvest either next year or in 2011.
Morning Glory Orchard, while not certified organic, does limit their use of spraying for pest control. Curt says,"We've done things like bringing in Purple Martin houses and bat houses. We're trying to avoid the insecticide sprays because we raise bees and don't want to destroy our bee colonies. We're also conscious of the fact that schoolchildren are picking our fruit. Our apples might not be as pretty as what you see in the store, but we believe they're healthier."
Apples have been called the king of the fruits, and given their versatility, nutritional value, and longevity when stored properly, the term is well deserved. According to Curt,"You want to keep apples as cool as you can without freezing them. Cooler temperatures, around 40 degrees, slow the ripening process down and keep the apple harder and fresher longer."
For the Widemans, owning their orchard has been very rewarding."We've had our ups and our downs," Tina says,"but it's been good to us and our customers have been good to us. We had people that came in here the first year or two and said,"We're so glad you bought this place because nobody else wanted to keep it an orchard." People get their apples here and we've made some really good friends."
Learn more about Morning Glory Orchard and Delvin Farms in the farm guide, and visit www.morninggloryorchard.com. See more apple recipes in the recipes section.