Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Mountain vacation

North Georgia's mountains are hardly even mountains in the grand scheme of things. They are not the sort of mountains you hire a sherpa to navigate; rather, they are gentle, woodsy uprisings whose main effect is to create bendy, fun-to-drive roads and to make the air a little bit clearer so that you feel really good all of the sudden. They are peppered with horse-riding stables and river-tubing liveries and state parks. And, unfortunately, tourists--but that is to be expected, I guess.

The tourists are the reason J and I chose a nice quiet Monday to heed the call of the Georgia mountains. It is apple season, after all, and as we discovered last year, that in itself is reason enough to go to the town of Ellijay.

Last year we had a sudden bout of "English" weather on the day of our trip--which was actually rather refreshing, since it was warm and muggy back home. But this time we really lucked out: It was 75, breezy, and mostly sunny, with clouds so striking and unusual that I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road.

Before lunchtime we were in good ol' Mack Aaron's Apple House, picking up half-bushel and peck bags of Mutsus and Stayman Winesaps and greedily purchasing multiple fried pies for later. Every apple we sampled was delicious, and I don't mean Red Delicious. I managed to get a sugar rush just from apples.

The only disappointment was the cider, which was insipid. I guess I shouldn't expect great things, since the varieties that make good eating are not the same ones that make good cider.

We visited most of the other apple houses along that stretch of Highway 52, and I managed to find some Cameos and Empires for my apple collection. Then it was time for lunch.

The Mexican place we'd enjoyed last year was closed for renovations, so we were forced to experiment with a little sandwich shop across the road. It was just, y'know, sandwiches, but we appreciated a note on the menu that said they tried to use local or organic produce whenever possible. And when we had finished our entrees, the friendly proprietor came around with the Most Gorgeous Banana Cake Of All Time, piled with great shiny heaps of sour cream frosting. We couldn't possibly have any, of course, since we had all those fried pies in the car. But I very nearly bought a slice to go, and now I kind of wish I had.

Antiquing was next on the itinerary. We didn't buy much, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

And finally we headed home...except that we didn't. I got an idea in my head that I wanted to see downtown Dahlonega, so I took a turn off the main road. Quickly we realized we didn't want to go to Dahlonega after all, because it was 18 miles. But just as we were looking for a place to turn around, we saw a sign for Burt's Farm. "Pumpkins," it said.

That was an understatement. Our first eyeful was of wheelbarrows, hundreds of them, with a sign that said you weren't allowed to navigate one unless you were 15 or older. And then the pumpkins began, and continued as far as the eye could see. A good acre of them were the giant, prizewinning kind that aren't any good to eat. But plenty more were of the kind I prefer--the kind that are both beautiful and edible.

I came away with a Long Island Cheese, a Kuri, two Sweetie Pies, and a lovely blue-grey-green pumpkin whose name they told me, but which I promptly forgot and now can't find anywhere on the internet. It's similar to some of the Australian blue pumpkins, so I will treat it accordingly.

What was strange is how bright the place was. Technicolor. We walked around almost stunned by the combination of the clear air and the riotous hues. "The s.o. has to see this," I said. J echoed the sentiment regarding her husband.

So we are thinking: Another trip to the mountains in October? After all, we'll need Halloween pumpkins, and the Yates and Arkansas Black apples will be ripe...