Fruit harvest promises fine dining

As early morning coolness greets us and our summer begins to slip away, we see welcome sights dotting our countryside with the appearance of farmers market fresh fruit varieties that promise the best of eating enjoyment.

Mornings become filled with kitchen-made jams on toast, snacktimes include juicy Golden Delicious apples and evening desserts consist of peach cobblers, blackberry pies or apple dumplings. How are we so furtunate to have access to such luscious foods only everywhere around us?

West Virginia is “number one in the nation” for having family-owned farms with that statistic being 95 percent. Families are active in planting, picking and packaging much of what they produce. For well over a century the state has been prominent in horticulture cultivation ranking tenth for total apple harvests and thirteenth, respectively, for peaches according to USDA 2011 national figures.

When the Eastern Panhandle had its highest yields in the mid-20th century, more than 12 million bushels of apples and 900,000 bushels of peaches were distributed to the nation’s markets.

Most do not realize that the first state apple orchards were located in the Northern Panhandle near Wellsburg and were planted by John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) in l800. Apple shipments were sent down the Ohio River to Mississippi and New Orleans and our apple industry commenced according to West Virginia Department of Agriculture sources.

The first commercial orchard in the Eastern Panhandle was only l6 acres and grew at Gerrardstown (Berkeley County) in l851. For many in our state, it is an Autumn destination where trucks are loaded with fresh-picked fruit and hauled back over the Alleghenies to hometowns for processing. Internet sources are excellent for finding the nearest fruit outlet where you may pick-your-own or buy larger quantities at best prices.

Likewise, Internet connections can tell you when celebrations will occur that allow the entire family to attend and enjoy fruit fancies. A favorite of mine will be held today at Nutter Fort off I-79’s Stonewood Exit near Clarksburg where blackberry pie with large vanilla ice cream scoops will fill bowls at the West Virginia Blackberry Festival always held the first weekend of August.

If sailing by Lost Creek after having this dessert, consider stopping at exit 110 and enjoying two of Randolph County’s native musicians at the Orange Blossom Trail. Champion fiddler Johnny Cochran and guitarist Mark Hamrick perform with theTrailblazers at 7 p.m. with tickets available at 304-745-5500.

If peaches are your preference, two venues would offer sweet treats with this popular fruit. Weirton and Romney have both built August festivals around peach production and cobblers galore will be available.

Most of the apple-related festivities are in September and October and have varied locations including Martinsburg, Bunker Hill and Burlington. Most offer in addition to pies, cobblers and dumplings, music, arts and crafts. Old-fashioned outdoor kettle-cooked applebutter is available by the pint or quart at the Stonewall Jackson Jubilee over Labor Day Weekend at Jackson’s Mill.

As much as anything taught by our fruit industry is that self-reliance and hard work can ensure success. When those first appleseeds were brought South and the blossoms only multiplied, an important rural West Virginia economy grew all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. Teaching how to plant feeds people for a lifetime. Giving away food only lasts for a day.

Whether visiting a roadside market, attending the West Virginia State Fair or patronizing the Randolph County Fair, remember the importance of supporting farm programs. Farming is a native tradition known to all of us who call ourselves Mountaineers. We enjoy every morsel and should never forget who feeds us.