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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Old Apple Tree

When I was a little girl we had a wonderful apple tree in the front of our small house. We didn't have much more.. it wasn't until I was in high school that I realized how poor we really were.  My first memories of my childhood home are scattered. Somethings are so clear they are like I could reach out and physically embrace them. The apple tree is one of those memories. I spent many an hour climbing and eating the delicious small red fruit. I recall the inside was snowy white and they were both sweet and tart.
I had a special limb that when I reached its perch, I was pretty well a little chameleon. I would spend hours hidden, observing my dad, sister and sometimes my cousin Pat. When Pat visited I was pretty much black balled due to the fact I was an annoying little cuss that loved to run to my dad and tell on my sister and cousin for their many indiscretion's, mainly sneaking off to smoke. Even though I knew the inevitable "milking of my rat" would occur as soon as Pearl returned to the field to work the tobacco, I told on them anyway. Now , if you are unfamiliar with rat milking, it is when a ticked off  usually older sibling bends your little finger down and presses it painfully into your palm until you scream in pain. Then if I continued to spy and  sing like a bird the next torture was to smother me to the point of blacking out. I learned pretty quick to just go limp and roll my eyes and they would panic and promise me a trip down the long dusty road to the little store for penny candy if I promised not to tell Mom when she got home. Sometimes Pat would bribe me with what she called "Apple Fluff"- a frothy delicious concoction she made with sugar, apples from the special tree, vanilla and egg whites beat to heavenly consistency that was meringue like in texture. We would eat it by the spoonfuls and sometimes on white bread toasted in the oven for a few minutes.  We had found heaven on earth for at least a few sweet minutes.
When I was grown I lived at the old home place a few years with my daughter when she was about five. The house had been remodeled and a bathroom added (yep I have made the long walk to an outhouse many a time). The apple tree was still there but years of neglect had taken its toll. My daughter was able to eat some of the bounty but I dared not to let her climb too far into its fragile limbs. Due to circumstances beyond my control we were forced to move from the old home place and it fell into decay. Someday I might write more about that story but not today.
When I moved into the property I currently live in, I was thrilled to find an old apple tree in the front yard. It is an old fashioned Milam.  I was told the past owners brought it with them from their old home place when they were forced to sell to the government for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So many people were displaced and scattered to the wind when they were forced to relocate.  It was a devastating time for the people who occupied the area that is now the National Park. Most were paid a small pittance and moved with a heavy heart to the areas surrounding the now established Park boundaries.The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the only Park in America that was established through the forced removal of the original property owners. This left many people bitter. As the years passed the wisdom of the Parks creation has proved to be the saving grace for the treasured Smokies range. I shudder to think what our area would look like now if the Park had not been established.  But back to topic, apples. My Grandfather Rayfield had an apple orchard in the area of the Park that is called Greenbrier. Most of my moms family came from that particular area. I have many relatives in the small cemeteries scattered through the long forgotten communities.
Anyway, the tree that is currently in front of my house was almost dead when I moved in twenty two years ago. It  had a few small apples and I really thought it was a goner. The following winter I placed my bird feeders in the tree and around the base on shepherds hooks. The next spring the tree was full of blossoms and an amazing harvest of apples soon appeared. Nothing like a little help from bird poop to snap a tree back to life! So I have left the feeding stations at that location and God bless her she is still thriving to spite a huge hollow area in her trunk and being riddled with wood pecker holes. For some reason, maybe all the heavy rain, the tree is so full of apples that limbs are breaking and falling to the ground.
Old Fashioned Milam Apple Tree in my front yard


So for the past three weekends I have been canning apple butter. This is a new venture for me but I have discovered some wonderful crock pot recipes on Pinterest. Due to my very low energy and inability to stand too long due to the POTS, this is the only way to can for me. I borrowed an apple peeler/corer from my friend Lisa and I can sit in my recliner and peel away. I have it down to a science now- peel and fill two crock pots around 8pm. I have been experimenting with different recipes. I have some made with Splenda and a small amount of brown sugar. I add cinnamon powder, a pinch of salt, cinnamon red hot candies, butter, apple pie spice and then let it simmer overnight. So when my energy is at its highest, which is early morning til around noon for me, I get the jars ready and then add some vanilla to my mix and use a hand blender to smooth. I can do all this on my trusty stool at my kitchen counter. My house smells wonderful for days! I usually am completely through by around 9a.m. and sitting back with my coffee while I hear that satisfying sound of pop.pop.pop as the jars seal.  I feel compelled to make as much apple butter  as possible and I hope to dry some of the fruit  in a dehydrator. I have a strong sense that this may be the trees last hurrah... she is barely standing the trunk area is so compromised. Every time we have a strong mountain wind I hold my breath and pray she doesn't fall.  This will make me very sad. Yet one more loss of old memories and the old ways. It is amazing that a tree that was once in the area of the National Park is still producing fruit. It was moved to this location around 1946. There is something about an old apple tree that always makes me kinda blue... maybe it is the knowing that the impending winter is just around the corner. Nature giving us one more treat of fresh fruit before Jack Frost nips at our nose.  Fall is such a bipolar season. On one hand you have the most spectacular beauty of the trees changing through their  palette of colors, blue skies and crisp cool days.Then suddenly one morning you wake to the barren landscape as the last bits of color wave goodbye.  But something about those calico days make many of us mountain folks melancholy. It is those days of colorful beauty that  I miss my loved ones and family that have passed the most. I have often wondered why I and others feel that way. Maybe our senses are more in-tuned to the realm of the unseen during this beginning of  Mother Natures long slumber.  It is almost like on those precious golden Autumn days their spirits are nearer to us than any other time of the year. Perhaps it is because this is the closest to heaven we can get here on earth.