Apple Blossom Time in Cashiers Valley
The Western North Carolina Mountains have always had a favorable climate for growing fine apples, and one of the first things planted after the pioneers cleared their land was an apple orchard. In little over ten years after the Zachary family had arrived in Cashiers Valley, we find a written record of apple trees in the store account books of Alexander Zachary. Besides recording the names of the customers at his store and listing merchandise they were buying, he periodically made mention of the activity in his apple groves.
March 31, 1845
Grafted Buffs Upper Row 130
Never Fails Low Row 25
Limber Twigs Low Row 12
Yellow Skins - Winter 26
Yellow Skins - Summer 15
Photos is of T.R. Zachary and his second wife, Mary Rogers Zachary, at their Cashiers farm. One of his occupations was selling apple trees to local farmers.
In 1847, through 1851, Alexander continued listing varieties of apples he was either planting or grafting until there were a grand total of twenty-one varieties mentioned. Considering the phonetic spelling of the time, these are some additional names of apples: Howards; English Crabs; Granny; Green Pippins; Morgans; World’s Wonder; Junaluska Valley; Streeked; Red Horse; Roiel Paremains; Buckinghams; Northern Red Winter, Knox and Harvey.
Apples were important to mountain survival for two reasons: first, they were important as food for the family that could be prepared in a variety of ways and preserved for the winter eating; and second, they were important as a cash-producing crop. As Dr. James M. Zachary wrote in his 1880 letter:
We have but little money here. The reason is that we do not use it for currency (but) my taxes was (sic) about $85 and it was all I could do to get up without leaving and go off and work for it.
Hauling a wagon full of apples to the autumn markets in South Carolina could provide real currency for a man to pay his taxes and buy items he couldn’t grow or produce, such as coffee, sugar, flour and store-bought shortening like Crisco.
Many apple farmers used a unique method of making harvesting easier. The limbs of a young apple tree were weighted down with rocks to keep them from growing straight. That way, you didn’t need a very tall ladder to reach the apples.
Flora Jane Zachary Watkins, who grew up at the Zachary-Tolbert House, wrote in her memoirs regarding the 1860’s time period:
My father had a nice orchard of apple trees and I have been in the top of every one of them, and gathered some of the most delicious apples anybody ever tasted; Granny Rogers, Morgans, and others. Some of the trees are still there or are gone with time.
Indeed, there are still a few old apple trees growing behind the Zachary-Tolbert House.
Historic Tales of Cashiers, North Carolina, by Jane Nardy
A Stack Cake Party
Keeping alive the history of previous generations’ wisdom, creativity and inventiveness for the next generations is important to CHS…
There are many self-sustaining traditions found back in the hills of the Southern Appalachians. When you think of an Apple Stack Cake and the recipe, it defiantly highlights the hard work and history of our region pulling together into a heart-warming slice of a delicious goodness of time gone by.
Apple Stack Cake is a southern Appalachian novelty, individually cooked layers of almost cookie like cake stacked with cooked apples in between. Some recipes call for sorghum molasses and spices, some dried apples that have been chopped and reconstituted in a saucy syrup, others use applesauce or apple butter between the layers or sorghum syrup.
There are many variations of an Apple Stack Cake some found in church cookbooks or on a flour stained recipe card in the kitchen drawer of your great aunt or some other relative. This recipe for Apple Stack Cake is from Jessica DeMarco of Copper Pot and Wooden Spoons in Waynesville, NC.
A little history about the tradition of a stacked cake- so the story goes a stack cake in all of its variations replaced a wedding cake, which can be very expensive for a wedding couple living in Appalachia. Soooo, friends and family would each bring a layer for the cake, and the bride’s family would spread between each layer apple preserves, dried apples, apple butter and sometimes sorghum syrup grown on their farm. When assembled, a stack cake looks like a stack of pancakes. The greater the number of layers, the more popular the couple is said to be.
What Fun!!! How about A Stack Cake Party that does not involve a wedding, like a family reunion? It would serve as a way for people to exchange recipes and gossip. Everyone brings a layer and after the meal take turns staking the layers with one of the many suggestions spread between the layers. And as everyone takes a bite, they may realize that eating may be enjoyable but just as important the cake is a symbol of a way of preserving a tradition- keeping alive the history of previous generations’ wisdom, creativity and inventiveness for the next generation.
Because History Matters
Just as the Zachary family grew apples so did most of the early North Carolinians. At first the apples were grown for the family use only. They ate some of the apples and fed some to their animals. Most of the apples were pressed for juice to make cider and vinegar. The cider was important because it kept for a long time without refrigeration and it was safe to drink when there was no clean water. The families used the vinegar to preserve their food needed for the winter months. And just like the Zachary family most of the farmers in the Cashiers area began to grow enough apples to have some to sell. Most of the farms had between 50-250 trees.
Apples are not native to the area. The trees grown in the Cashiers and the rest of the state were originally brought over by the colonists from Europe. The cool temperatures and fertile soil provided perfect growing conditions in western North Carolina. And even though the number of orchards has decreased there are still a few orchards in the Cashiers area. One orchard is at the Zachary-Tolbert property and is taken care of by the Cashiers Historical Society. Some think it includes shoots from trees planted by Mordicai Zachary. Another very special orchard belonging to Amy Chase and her late husband Dick Rust is located on the old Grimshawe property. Their orchard includes a wide variety of trees.
The Rust Chase Orchard- On Whiteside Cove
In an effort to keep the history of apples in our area alive, CHS and the community celebrate Heritage Apple Day.This event is one the most important events provided by CHS and usually the first of the season taking place in early March.Individuals can bring scion, young shoots or twigs from an apple tree and learn to graft the scion to a rootstock.And helping with the grafting you find Ken Fisher, Trevor Howard and Will Wardowski, each sort like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed.
From left to right: Will Wardowski, Ken Fisher, Trevor Howard
The Beecher Family and Apple Pie
“I don’t have time to cook” is a common enough complaint among busy people; we would like to have more time for food, but life’s other demands interfere. And yet for the Beechers-that astonishingly overachieving family – accomplishments in the ministry, in politics, in education and in the arts seems to have gone hand-in-hand with an abiding interest in eating well and everything that entails. Sister Catharine, founder of colleges and advocate of reform in education of women, also wrote one of her century’s leading home-ec manuals, A Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841). Sister Harriet, the famous author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published extensively on cookery as well. And brother Henry, the most celebrated preacher of his day, occasionally discussed household concerns and food in “Thoughts as they Occur, by one who keeps his Eyes and Ears open,” in his weekly column in the New York Ledger. A number of these pieces were collected in a book titled, appropriately enough, Eyes and Ears (1862).
Not only did all three siblings publish best sellers and not only did they write about food, but they also wrote about pies.
The following are passages from each of the siblings on the American passion for this particular form of dessert Pies! Apple Pies and other varieties…