Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Lifestyles

October 18, 2012

Experience fall family fun at Wooden’s Apple House

CROSSVILLE — When Oren Wooden was around 10 years old, he helped his father, Henry, and brother, Clements, set a small orchard of apple trees near their home atop Walden’s Ridge in Bledsoe County. It was the 1940s, and the family was making their living cutting timber, running sawmills and "truck farming.” The trees were just a side note.

That changed over the years as more trees were added. Eventually, the apple orchard turned into a profitable tourist attraction, with Oren at the helm. Now 81, the apple farmer enjoys the fruits of his labor as well as other folks who travel near and far to his apple house off Hwy. 127.

A trip to the apple orchard is a fall favorite and, for some, a family tradition. Each year, hundreds of people trek to the isolated Wooden’s Apple House at 6351 New Harmony Road for its variety of freshly picked apples. Acres of apple trees line the roadway leading to the apple house, where a porch decorated with smiling scarecrows and colorful fall flowers set the scene for fall family fun.

Inside is a gift shop, where bags and boxes of apples are sold beside handmade crafts and canned goods. There are two levels to the gift shop, with the produce on the main entrance. The top level mainly features decorative baskets, cookbooks, canning equipment, home decor items and wood furniture.

Portraits of Oren and his family working in the apple orchard decorate the walls on the lower level, giving glimpses of the orchard's past. Although not reflected in the photos, or the various tools showcased beside them, it's interesting to know that the orchard's beginnings resulted from Florida oranges.

More than 100 years ago, Oren's family owned several orange groves in Safety Harbor, FL, which is a small town near the Tampa Bay. When they lost the groves during the Great Depression, the family returned to Bledsoe County, where Oren's father was born. Once the orchard began to take off in the 1960s, a packing center was built. This followed with the popular apple house and pie shop in 1995.

Oren and his wife, Nonivee, worked together with their daughters, Sandy Burnett and Carole Smith, and their husbands, Mark Burnett and Labron Smith, to expand the orchard to more than 100 acres. Although apples are a seasonal produce, the family has to work hard all year long to keep the trees in good shape.

Today, the family grows 22 varieties of apples, which they begin picking around Aug. 1. Apples can be picked fresh off the tree right up until frost time, then, if carefully stored, useful up to a few months after picking. The Ginger Gold apples kick off the picking season, followed by customers' favorites like Gala, Red Delicious, Fuji and Rome Beauty. They will be available again next season.

Golden Delicious apples are bestsellers at the Wooden's Apple House. However, a large green variety named Mutzu is gaining popularity. The family describes it as being sweet with a little bit of tartness. It's well liked because it is good for both eating and cooking. One of their newest — and highly sought after —offerings are the Honeycrisp apples. Although they were ready for picking in late August, there are some still available. Because they sell out quickly, the family decided to sell them in peck and half peck bags to give everyone a chance to try them.

These apples, as well as Winesap, Arkansas Black and Granny Smith, are the only ones currently available at the Wooden's Apple House. Coming soon to finish out the season will be the Pink Lady variety.

They may be known for their apples, but Oren's family also offer other produce, including cabbage, pumpkins and peaches. Cabbage has become one of their specialities. According to the family, they use plastic beds and drip irrigation to ensure high quality and maximize size. They typically weigh in around 15 pounds, but some have reached into the 20s.

In addition, the Woodens grow an array of pumpkins and gourds for both decorating and cooking. Visitors can find the perfect pumpkin in their pumpkin patch, which is available around the beginning of October. Families with young children enjoy taking family pictures amongst the pumpkins.

Peaches are a new endeavor for the Wooden family, with only two acres producing fruit. Although it can get pretty chilly on the mountain, the family has had great success with them and recently planted four more acres. They have plans to continue increasing the acreage over the next several years. Normal harvest time for the peaches, which are a yellow free-stone variety called Contender, is around July 15.

Other fruits and vegetables available include bell peppers, squash, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes, acorn squash, butternut squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Although travelers stop by Wooden's Apple House for their apples, many more line up for one of their tasty treats in their pie shop. On busy days — normally on the weekend — people can be seen standing in line for 30 minutes or more to get their hands on fried apple pies, apple fritters and apple dumplings.

New to the menu this year are the Sweet Charlie — a hot cookie topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, caramel, whip cream and a cherry — and homemade peach cobbler. Pumpkin pies and pumpkin rolls will be available Nov. 1. Visitors can enjoy their treats inside the pie shop or on one of the picnic tables set up on the porch and under the huge shade tree of the pumpkin patch.

Wooden's Apple House opens in August and closes right before Thanksgiving. They are currently open Monday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (EST), and Sunday, from 1 to 6 p.m. Expect the hours to change in November, when the hours of operation will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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