Blue Skies and Apple Butter

By Katie Stewart – 2014

As we merged onto Highway 64 to head to Taylorsville, one of the first things I noticed was how perfect the weather was. The best kind of day for a drive: Carolina blue skies without any clouds to block the warm sun. It was late October, but the dash read 74 degrees as we drove toward the orange and yellow-spotted mountains, the smell of campfire seeping through the car’s vents.

Our first stop was Deal Orchard’s, off of North Carolina Highway 16, where my first priority was to find some apple butter from the market. Gina bought a jar of apple butter in Bat Cave, but it had added sugar in it, something neither of us are a fan of. I made sure to grab a jar of freshly made apple butter with a “no sugar added” label on the lid when we arrived at the orchard. During our drive to Taylorsville along the straight, empty road, I bored Gina with a story about a realtor in my hometown who occasionally brings goodies to every house in the neighborhood. Every fall, I look forward to my favorite treat from him: apple butter. But this year he came by with pumpkin butter instead. To most, an equally good treat, but to me, a slight disappointment  Oddly enough, when I told my mom that I bought apple butter she happily told me that our friendly realtor had come by the same day that we were in Taylorsville with a fresh jar of apple butter. He must have been feeling extra generous this fall, because he doesn’t usually come by twice in one month.

As we got closer to our destination, we reveled in the beautiful fall-colored mountains that had seemingly grown larger as we drove, and I was in still disbelief of the perfect weather we had. We lost track of how many times I said how great of a day it was, because I simply could no  get over the gorgeous clear skies, the higher than average temperature, and the behemoth mountains looming over us, just out of reach.

We pulled into the parking lot of a modest white rectangular building, and when I got out of the car, I likely mentioned the perfect weather again. Sorry Gina. When we walked in, the market was crowded with customers looking for fresh apples of all varieties: Gala, Golden Delicious, Fuji. You name it, they probably had it. Each type of apple was labeled with its taste – sweet, tart, mild tart, extra sweet – and marked with its best use. Many of the apples are great for both eating and cooking, but some are better for just one or the other. For example, Red Delicious apples are “excellent for eating” and the dark, almost plum-colored Arkansas Black apples are best for cooking. The market also sold jams, preserves, butters, mixes for bread and muffins, cookbooks, and the largest sweet potatoes I have ever seen.

After standing in line for a few minutes with the long awaited jar of apple butter, we asked the woman behind the counter what she could tell us about the orchard. Deal Orchards was started by her grandfather, Brack Deal, and has been passed down through the family for three generations.With the help of a mule, Brack and his wife, Belle, cleared 15 acres of land in the Brushy Mountains to make way for their apple trees. Since then, the orchard has been expanded and replanted, but one of Brack Deal’s original trees still stands on the sloped land of Deal Orchards.

I have a personal appreciation for family-owned businesses, and I especially like learning how they were started. So many family businesses have stories of modest beginnings that reflect hard work, determination, and persistence. I like this story in particular because it reveals the possibility of continuing and improving family businesses through many generations. Today, Brack’s son Lindsay, and his son Alan run the orchard. They grow, harvest, and package the fruit grown on Brack’s land, while Lindsay’s wife and daughters manage the market nestled between mountains and the sprawling orchard.

As we left Deal Orchards, apple butter in hand, we looked across the street and saw rows and rows of apple trees lining the mountainside. I again spoke of how unbelievable the weather was. It was a beautiful day for enjoying this rural part of North Carolina that often goes unnoticed. Driving off with apple butter in the backseat, we smelled another trace of campfire and I watched as the mountains behind us slowly became smaller in the rearview mirror.