Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Two women, the open road, and a metric ton of groceries

I promised a field trip report, and here it is! This morning Julie and I hit the road for Ellijay, the apple capital of Georgia. The famed apple festival was over, and that was the way we planned it--neither of us is keen on fighting crowds of tourists.

The weather was unseasonably cold and, in the mountains at least, misty. There was a lot of Thinsulate being worn today, especially among the proprietors of the open-air apple markets! But the weather did little to detract from the striking beauty of the area. The Georgia mountains are rustic in an almost New Englandy way, only more rough around the edges.

There are several apple markets along GA 52 east of Ellijay, and we visited almost all of them. Our favorite was Mack Aaron's Apple House. Not only were their prices the best--$14 per bushel instead of the usual $18--but they offered free samples so you could educate yourself and figure out what you really wanted. Also, the fried pies advertised on the sign were pure flaky bliss.

I bought a lot of apples. I mean a LOT of apples. First I bought an entire bushel of Granny Smiths for a friend. Then, for myself I purchased half a bushel of Yates (my hands-down favorite--a tiny rosy-cheeked apple with a tart-sweet tang and a crisp texture), a peck of Stayman Winesap, and a half-peck of Grannies. I also got a big freezer bag full of dried apples and a jar of sourwood honey.

Once we were "appled out," we continued along 52 toward Ellijay and happened upon a roadside farm market, where I purchased some of the last scuppernong grapes of the season, as well as five small pie pumpkins, a bag of okra, and some large North Carolina tomatoes ("The soil is better for them there," said the proprietress).

We ate lunch in a Mexican restaurant in Ellijay, then went through some kind of strange time warp in which several hours disappeared and we suddenly found ourselves exhausted, standing on the sidewalk and holding receipts from a bunch of antique malls.

Atlanta was not on the way home, but we decided to pretend it was because we wanted to go to the DeKalb Farmer's Market. Julie hadn't been there before. I overheard her talking on her cell phone to her husband as she stood in the spice department: "It's like Christmas here. It's a little overwhelming. Are you sure there's nothing else you want?"

My favorite purchases:

• Three pounds of shiny Italian chestnuts, for which I later discovered I was undercharged by two-thirds because the cashier rang them up as water chestnuts

• Five pineapple quinces that are currently exuding their sultry scent in our kitchen

• A one-pound top butt bison steak

• A cod head (yes, there's a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for that, and it looks delicious)

• Two Florida Ambersweet oranges, which are the best tasting oranges I've come across in quite some time.

We left at 9 AM and didn't get back until 9 PM. It's not most people's idea of grocery shopping, but it works for us.