I have many fond memories of going to Hillcrest Farms at this time of year to get apples. Hillcrest Farms was part of a big agricultural estate a few miles south of Chester, in West Virginia’s northernmost county.
When most people think about West Virginia apples, they think of the large farms in the Eastern Panhandle, but the earliest development of the apple industry occurred in the Northern Panhandle and it flourished until the Civil War.
Hancock County was known as one of the most important centers of fruit culture in the state and the apples that were grown there were known for their superiority and always commanded maximum market prices. An apple tree called “Willow Twig” was renowned for the production of exceptional fruit both in flavor and keeping qualities.
Orchards in the northern part of the state produced many varieties of apples. During Walt Helmick’s term as West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner, an effort was underway to find and document heirloom apple varieties, including any remaining examples of the original “Willow Twig” variety.
A Hillcrest Farms advertisement from 1969 indicated that a bushel of apples cost $1.90. At that price, my family bought apples for eating and cooking. My dad always got a big jug of fresh cider, too. We kept the apples and cider cool in our coal cellar in the basement, which served as a root cellar.
I like to make apple pies and applesauce, but one of my favorite ways to fix apples is to fry them. They add just the right amount of sweetness to a breakfast consisting of eggs and bacon or sausage. They even pair nicely with a bowl of oatmeal for an indulgent breakfast treat. Fried apples make a delicious side dish served with pork loin, pork chops or ham.
Fried apples are easy to prepare on the stovetop. It is important to select a firm, tart apple when making fried apples. Some prefer Granny Smith, but I like Jonathan, Braeburn, Honeycrisp or Cortland.
Fried apples are a warm and comforting way to start the day, especially as the days get colder.
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups peeled Jonathan apples, sliced into 1-inch wedges
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ teaspoon apple pie spice (or cinnamon)
In a large, heavy skillet (many prefer a cast iron skillet), melt butter over medium heat. Add apples, lemon juice, brown sugar and spice. Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes.
Carefully turn apples frequently with a spatula so they cook on all sides.
The apples should be tender, but still be able to hold their shape.