Sunday, July 8, 2018

West Virginia’s original apple is a gift from Johnny Appleseed

Grimes-4

My latest column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail

The large yellow-green Golden Delicious apple is a favorite for apple butter, apple sauce or even salads. Founded in Clay County in 1912, this apple was the state’s second major contribution to the apple industry.

That’s right, second. Although the more popular Golden Delicious is designated as the state fruit, there’s another apple that blazed the sweet fruit path: The Grimes Golden.

The Grimes Golden apple, which is a large, round, greenish-yellow apple, was founded in early 1800s growing on the farm of Thomas Grimes in Wellsburg, West Virginia. Local legend states that the Grimes Golden apple tree grew from a seed planted by John Chapman — known as Johnny Appleseed.

The Grimes Golden is thought to be the parent of the Golden Delicious, which has largely replaced the Grimes Golden in terms of popularity despite its crisp, tender texture and sweet flavor that makes it perfect for applesauce, cider and desserts.

Being a Wellsburg native, the Grimes Golden has become a point of pride for me. Growing up, I looked forward to the Wellsburg Applefest, which celebrates the city’s connection to the apple. There, I would get my face painted, devour a caramel-covered apple and browse the vendor booths for trinkets.

The Grimes Golden Park, which commemorates the location of the first Grimes Golden apple tree, sits just a few miles from my childhood home.

And, perhaps my first memory of local food came from my neighbor’s very own Grimes Golden apple trees — or at least, that’s what we believed them to be at the time.

The border between my yard and the neighbor’s was always covered in little green-yellow apples, speckled with dark spots or wormholes. One late summer day when I was around 10, my dad decided to show off his culinary prowess with those ever-persistent apples and tasked me with gathering up as many as I could in a basket.

I remember picking through the ones that had fallen victim to deer or other pests and squealing when I found a perfectly round apple free from blemish. Once I felt like I had collected enough, I ran inside the house to showcase my bounty. That’s when the magic began.

My dad pulled flour, sugar, cinnamon, butter and brown sugar from the cabinets — just whatever he had on hand. He fashioned together a crust, never measuring a thing, and whipped up an apple filling after peeling what seemed like a million small apples. Two hours later, we had a hot, homemade apple pie that was created right before my eyes.

I remember being amazed that we could make a delicious meal from the fruit next door. I was so impressed that my dad could create a pie just with what we had available — no recipe, no fancy ingredients. Just some time, some patience and some skill. It really opened my eyes to place-based food and instilled at a young age the importance of local food.

There’s something special about eating food not only rooted in history and location but also crafted by a loved one. I often think of this moment when I’m able to — on the rare occasion — pull off a great meal. And, I think of it as I continue to seek out Appalachian foods that help define who we are and where we come from.