Apples in a basket

Photo by J. Griffis Smith

Driving northeast on US 62/82 over the flat plains of West Texas near Idalou, a light fall breeze carries scents of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, apple, and vanilla—the seductive aromas of German apple cake toasting in the oven. Painted in reddish-brown letters, a sandy-colored Western sign reads “Apple Country High Plains Orchards.” More than 6,000 silvery trees with emerald leaves line the road, and sport voluptuous red bulbs every September and October. And during the Apple Butter Festival (September 12-13), thousands of children pour into the orchard to gather buckets of sweet apples and tart apples, including Delicious, Ozark Gold, Johnson, Granny Smith, Fuji, and Pink Lady varieties.

Sponsored by the Metropolitan Lubbock Rotary Club, the two-day celebration features live music, a petting zoo and other children’s activities, hayrides into the orchard for apple picking, and barbecue lunches that raise money for Meals on Wheels and the Lubbock Food Bank. You can also enjoy warm apple pancakes and sausage, served all day. “It’s a celebration of apple harvest,” says Susan Brints, who owns Apple Country Orchards with her husband, Cal. “We’re the only orchard of this type on the High Plains, and the festival draws families of all ages, which is special.” Raised in agrarian families, the Brints bought the land in 1981, dreaming of a place where both their families could work together. Cal’s father, a retired farmer, and Susan’s father, a retired horticulture professor, had experience with orchards and crops. “So we thought this [an apple orchard] might be a good combination. Apples grow well in the High Plains, and that’s what led us here,” Susan says.

Boasting 48 varieties of apples—22 of which can be picked-the orchard thrives in the West Texas sandy soil with drip irrigation. The sunny climate cultivates apples with a higher sugar content—apples with so much juice that it dribbles down pickers’ arms. “We always tell people that they can only pick with one hand because they have to eat with the other,” says Susan.

Unlike commercial orchards, where the apples are picked before they are tree-ripened, “our apple is fully ripe,” Susan explains. “It’s full of sweetness that gives you a flavor you can’t match anywhere else.”

Open everyday for breakfast and lunch, the Apple Country cafeserves family-recipe dishes including chicken ‘n’ dumplings, enchiladas, red beans, and cornbread. At the bakery, apple turnovers, crisps, muffins, cakes, breads, and cookies lure sweet-toothed visitors from afar.

The most popular attraction, however, remains the Apple Butter Festival, where smiling kids and their parents roam the orchard together to hand-select the perfect apples.

“People come to the festival because they want to be with their families and have a wonderful time,” says Susan. “That’s what makes this orchard what it is-a family orchard that offers a rural Texas experience.”

Apple Country Orchards is just east of Idalou on US 62/82. Call 806/781-1752 or 806/781-1753; www.applecountryorchards.com.

From the September 2009 issue
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