Food & Drink

Apple bounty

We got so lucky.

Mother and son, standing on top of a mountain, cupped by blue sky and surrounded by trees loaded with apples, bending with apples, shaking with apples ready to fall at the slightest brush of a shoulder.

We hefted our baskets and started up the winding path through the orchard, in search of the first of the Jonagolds and the last of the Honeycrisps.

I made my first trip to Sky Top Orchard in September 1991, before the tall teenage boy beside me was born.

I've managed to get back every year or so since. And I've watched as the crowds have grown as thick as bees in a flowering orchard.

If you try to visit Sky Top on most fall Sunday afternoons, the cars pack into the lot at the top of Pinnacle Mountain Road until they spill down the sides.

In 2001, I met a friend there on the weekend after Sept. 11. So many people had come in search of apples and solace, we couldn't get any closer than a bench at the edge.

I finally stopped trying to visit on weekends, taking the occasional weekday trip to stock up on apples and cider.

This year, we got lucky. We happened to be in the mountains in the travel lull after Labor Day, the same weekend Hurricane Hanna was expected to rain all over the Carolinas.

The storm brushed past, and we were left with a lovely, and blissfully uncrowded, weekend. A Sunday stop at Sky Top was in order.

Last year, a spring freeze and summer drought stripped fruit trees in the Carolinas. This year, Nature is making up for it. The trees are so dotted with apples, they look like they were drawn by an enthusiastic kindergartener.

We stretched into the high branches and dipped under the low ones. We strolled between the rows, sharing one crisp apple between us.

Almost too quickly, our baskets were so full we had to walk back slowly, stopping every few steps to pick up apples that tumbled off.

We rewarded ourselves with cold cider slushies and hot cider doughnuts.

I pulled out of the parking lot reluctantly, wishing I could think of an excuse to linger for another hour on top of the mountain, under the blue sky, surrounded by apple-filled trees.