By Susan M. Thigpen © 1983-2012
Issue: November, 1983
It’s harvest time in the mountains. Orchards are full of mouth-watering apples, huge fields are full of cabbage, sugarcane is being cut and prepared for molasses making. Other fields, full of corn are being cut and ground into silage to feed dairy cattle through the winter. Thousands of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes are ripe and Chinese chestnut trees have burrs that are popping open to drop their shiny brown nuts to the ground. All of these things are cultivated, add to them the wild chinquapins and fox grapes and it makes for a busy time of year.
All along our roadsides, there are big, commercial produce stands and small family operated ones alike, inviting you to share in our harvest. You can also visit the orchards and buy apples by the bushels. They just don’t come any fresher than that.
With such big crops, there will be folks “working up” the harvests for winter’s keep. At Mayberry Trading Post, they are making apple butter and you can buy a jar or two, still warm. You might even be invited to help stir. The molasses you see for sale will most probably have been made within a few miles of the place where it is sold. Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Cockram of Meadows of Dan, Virginia, are both in their 70’s and making molasses as I write this. Yesterday we went over and watched, tried not to get in their way and ended up helping a little, as they cooked down their first batch of the season.
It takes many hours of preparation and stirring to make apple butter or molasses, plus special equipment. Apple butter has to be boiled down in a copper pot to reduce the chances of it sticking or scorching. Molasses are made outdoors on a long barbeque pit sort of thing, with a wood fire underneath it.
As for the cabbage crops in this area, mountain grown cabbage is the best, sweetest cabbage grown anywhere in the world. You can buy it here, where it is grown, for a fraction of the supermarket prices. A fifty pound bag is now only around $5.00. If you’re thinking what would I do with 50 pounds of cabbage, I’ll give you some good ideas. First, there is good country kraut, freezer slaw, stuffed pickled peppers, and chow-chow. All these things could be put up to last you all winter. You might want 100 pounds instead of 50!
Pumpkins are good keepers, lasting many months just as they are. It’s best to keep them in a cool place (as for most produce). I’m sure you already know the joy of homemade pumpkin pies, but have you ever tried pumpkin bread or pumpkin butter? Pumpkin butter is made like apple butter. Farmers years ago used to grow pumpkins in their corn fields both for eating and for storing away in their barns and cut up in winter months to supplement the hay they fed their cows. Pumpkins gave the cows their extra nutrients needed to make them healthy through the winter months.
We hope you will come spend a weekend in the “Heart of the Blue Ridge” at harvest time. You’re bound to enjoy it and save a lot of money if you take advantage of buying the produce direct from our local harvests. Not everyone can own an apple orchard or a copper pot to cook apple butter in, but you can come up here, buy it to take home and have a most enjoyable time too!