Sunday, July 13, 2014

EVERYTHING IS PEACHY AGAIN

These excursions to buy peaches fresh from orchards seem to have become an obsession with me! Friends here at Sewanee gave us a tip about the best fruit in the area, and Saturday we set out for an orchard that we thought was in Tennessee but turned out to be in an adjoining state! We drove toward Winchester and veered onto Hwy. 16, which originated in the valley and led to Hwy. 79, where we began to climb, passing by granite cliffs and densely wooded areas that are characteristic of the Cumberlands. Although the highway was wide and in good condition, we had the entire road to ourselves. I began to feel we had driven onto the set of Deliverance and expected mountain men to come out of the woods to attack us at any moment. 

Several signs advertised the Walls of Jericho, and I wondered if we had driven into a time warp. I discovered later that the signs referred to Tennessee and Alabama trailheads that are part of the Skyline Wildlife Management area, which had once been the property of a Texas oil magnate who bought 60,000 acres of the land in Franklin County, Tennessee and Jackson County, Alabama during the 40's. The Nature Conservancy now owns 12,000 acres in Alabama and 8900 acres in Tennessee.

The road seemed endless, and I thought we were on a wild goose chase when we passed from Tennessee into Alabama. We turned around and after fifteen minutes and numerous attempts, I was able to get cell service and connect with the friend who had sent us peach hunting. She revealed that she had forgotten to tell us the orchard was in Alabama. Again, we turned around and retraced our route.

"We are in holy country," I told my friend Victoria who was driving. "We've passed at least three Holiness churches—the Free Holiness Church, The Holiness 79 Church, and some church with an acronym before the Holiness..."

"We can always get churched if we don't find any fruit," she said drily. I could tell that she was annoyed because even the GPS had ceased to register a speed limit for the area, which meant we were in uncharted territory.

When we had reached an elevation of 1700 feet, a sign appeared at the head of a small country road.

"Voila—Crow Mountain Orchards!" I exclaimed.

"Your favorite bird has come to the rescue," she said. "Only 7 1/2 miles more to travel... as the crow flies."

When we turned off on another lane, we began to see peach and green apple orchards and blackberry bushes growing by the roadside. We parked alongside six or seven cars and could see that the farm store didn't lack for customers—'though we wondered what highway they had traversed as no cars had passed us enroute. Inside, we found cartons of  peaches, blackberries, plums, and green apples and were given a taste of the fresh fruit. After sampling the delicious fruit, we bought peaches, blackberries, and plums and departed.

Bob Deutscher, the owner of Crow Mountain Orchards, was born and raised in Indiana and once had an active fruit operation there, but because he was forced to pick the fruit before it ripened in order to make a profit, he traveled south to find land suitable for an orchard so he could capture the early northern market. He purchased the 126-acre site on Crow Mountain in the early 70's and had plans to ship his fruit out in an effort to corner the northern wholesale market; however, the quality of his fruit actually brought people to his door. Today, most Crow Mountain produce is sold locally...even if goose girls like us have to get a bit lost before they locate the orchards. Apples from the Crow Mountain Orchards have been touted as the apples having the best color in the state and are among the tastiest, according to an Auburn horticulturist quoted on The Crow Mountain Orchards internet site.

The drive home seemed shorter, and when we brought the fruit to the Hammans, our friends who had sent us into the hinterlands, they invited us to sit a spell on their porch. We ate the plums for an appetizer and were lucky enough to be invited for supper and a rock music concert via Henry's streaming device. 


The trip reminded me of the years I spent in Iran when expatriates had to devote an entire morning to shopping for fruit and vegetables in the bazaar, but none of the Iranians' fresh produce equaled the quality of the fruit we brought back from Crow Mountain. The Hammans, who lived in Tehran several years, agreed with me, and Kathy described how ecstatic she felt when she entered a Kroger's market and found a gleaming display of delicious fresh fruit and vegetables the year they returned to the States. Her feelings resembled my own when I discovered a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce displayed on a shelf in the Ahwaz Super Store in Iran. "Hay la bas," I exclaimed when I saw the bottle of flaming sauce in a green bottle...then burst into tears!
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