By Laura Fieselman
There is a front porch, rocking chairs, and a wood-burning cookstove. But look closely and you will see there are also blowtorches, an electric food processor, and plastic mixing bowls. It is the Pioneer Cabin at the Green River Preserve, a summer camp for the bright, curious, and creative in Cedar Mountain, North Carolina. Campers carve wooden spoons and shape soap-stone pendants here. They craft gourd bowls and scramble eggs in cast iron skillets over a fire.
But my favorite thing that happens at the Pioneer Cabin is apples. Lots and lots of apples. Stewed apples, apple pie, and apple sauce. The camp, shrouded by 3,400 acres of wildlife preserve from an easement implemented by camp director and conservationist Sandy Schenck twenty-five years ago, boasts an apple orchard with gnarled old trees. Much of the fruit is heirloom mountain varieties that go unnamed. We celebrate when the fruit comes into season, toting fresh apples in our packs as we head down the “Bear Trail” and enjoying our treats perched atop the balds that overlook the Green River valley.
Back at the Pioneer Cabin we learn to slice, dice, and peel. We practice seasoning. We eat honey and biscuits with our apples. But best of all, we drink. The little cabin is home to a hand-crank apple press and I love the days when we drag it onto the porch and set off for the orchard with aluminium pails. The campers delight in shaking the tree branches to prompt ripe apples to deliver themselves via gravity. We tuck them into our containers and bicker over who gets to carry the loot. We return to the cabin and arrange ourselves into a dance of washing, quartering, and grinding. We talk Appalachian traditions while we press. One camper monitors our collection jar while another turns the crank and others brace the press. We are so eager. Absolute concentration overtakes the faces of the campers as they watch the jar fill with fresh cider. We must clean the press before we drink; we feed the spent pulp to our chickens and wash the heavy wooden pieces of the press. The anticipation is unbearable. At long last we measure out our cider and toast.
I suspect pioneers did not make cider in just the way that we do. Nonetheless we enjoy exploring working with our hands and the seasonality of food. It is a celebration of good company and summer adventures. Per the camp motto, we are seeking the joy of being alive.