More than just apples, Cleveland’s Apple Valley Orchards also offers home-baked pies, fritters and donuts

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Pascual Ruiz picks apples at Apple Valley Orchards.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Pascual Ruiz picks apples at Apple Valley Orchards.

The day starts early for Chuck McSpadden as the sun rises over the rolling hills at Apple Valley Orchards in Cleveland, Tennessee. Birds start chirping, and it's almost as if the leaves on the apple trees are rustling with excitement, their limbs waiting to be relieved from the heaviness of the season's harvest. And this year's crop looks tremendous.

"Timely rains have put good size on the apples this year," he says.

McSpadden has had some lean years, though, when Mother Nature pulled a fast one with a late freeze that caused some sleepless nights, worrying if his crop would make it.

"The only pitfall of owning an orchard is that you are at the mercy of the weather," he says. "We've lost our entire crop two times in the last 50 years due to freezing weather while the trees were blooming. And other years, we've had partial damage from freezes in the spring."

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Chuck McSpadden looks over some ripening apples at Apple Valley Orchards in Cleveland, Tennessee.

But just as no two years are the same, no two days are alike, either. It all depends on the time of year. During the growing season, McSpadden might be planting and pruning; another day, fertilizing and mowing are on the schedule. And there's always pest control, so he needs to inspect the insect traps regularly to monitor the insect population. Through the years, he's trained the trees by tying them down, a technique that encourages production.

Late summer through early November is harvest time, so the focus is on apple picking. But it's also on making the cider that's sold in the Apple House and Bakery and made in the orchard's cider mill. Apple Valley Orchards is one of the last apple orchards producing fresh apple cider in the state.

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Chuck McSpadden, left, talks with Pascual Ruiz as he picks apples at the orchard.

The Apple Business

Chuck's dad, Charles Sr., planted two apple trees in the yard as a hobby back in 1964. Four years later, he planted 400 more, left his job at Sears Roebuck and went into the apple business full-time. In 2001, his son took over and now oversees an orchard with more than 15,000 trees and 28 different varieties, with four more varieties scheduled to start producing next season.

October is the busiest month at Apple Valley, when some of the most popular apples of autumn are picked — Golden Delicious, Charlie Gold, Rome Beauty and Jonagold. Later in October, Winesap, Fuji, Cameo, Granny Smith, Arkansas Black and Goldrush are ripe and ready.

"Then in early November, we'll pick Pink Lady, and this year, we will have just a few of a new variety for us called Sundowner that originated in Australia that ripens mid-November," McSpadden says. "We have 32 acres of apples at this time, and we plan to plant 15 more acres in the next few years."

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Diane Shannon holds a tray of apple fritters and apple pies at Apple Valley Orchards.

Made-From-Scratch Treats

The smells coming from the bakery at the Apple House are amazing, with the fried apple pies having been selected by Southern Living as "The Best Pies in the South." There are also apple fritters and apple cider donuts, as well as handy gadgets to have on hand, such as apple peelers and apple slicers.

But it's during the holidays that the famous apple stack cakes are sold — with one week's notice. It's a recipe that's been handed down for generations of McSpaddens.

"It's a recipe that my great-grandmother used, and I think it's one of my favorite things we make in our bakery," McSpadden says.

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