Part Two of a series on the apple houses of the Blue Ridge Mountains
There are the survivors in the horrific economic conditions caused by the Great Recession. One of them is Mack Aaron’s Apple House, on Apple House Row (GA Hwy. 52) in eastern Gilmer County, GA. It is an average size retail operation, but contains a little larger than average warehouse. Like most of the medium and small apple houses in that area, members of the Aaron Family work long hours in the retail store.
Bill and Gina Aaron are the third generation owners of this apple house. Bill runs the farm and packing house, while also helping customers. Gina Aaron and Sybil Morrow cook the pastries and run the retail store. The commercial kitchen in their apple house is regulated and inspected by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. It must meet stringent sanitary requirements in order to bake and fry food products for public consumption.
This apple house began as fruit stand on the side of GA Route 52 in 1944. Bill Aaron’s grandfather bought some land with apple trees on it. Roadside sales seemed to be the best way to convert the apples into hard cash. During the Post-World War II sales at the seasonal stand grew. In 1978 the first phase of the current apple house was constructed. It contained facilities for both wholesale and retail marketing of the Aaron families produce. The retail store steadily diversified its inventory to increase the size of purchases made by customers.
Like most of the apple houses in the region, Mack Aaron’s Apple House would never win any national design awards, but it is a very interesting building from a functional viewpoint. Within it walls are many distinct and sometime conflicting business activities. It is a storage barn for fruit. It is both a wholesale and retail business. It must be inviting to tourists, but accessible for large tractor trailer trucks. It is a commercial kitchen and offices for a complex farming operation. All of these activities must be carried out efficiently by a relatively small number of people.
Few visitors to a Blue Ridge Mountain apple houses appreciate their problems with sound separation. Conveyer belts, fork lift trucks, and large tractor trailers must operate within relatively few feet of retail floor space and a commercial kitchen. The Aaron Family used the thick foam plastic insulation within several walk-in coolers to buffer the noise between the wholesale warehouse and the retail store.
Over the years since the apple house’s first construction, the facility has been modified to handle a wide variety of apples, plus peaches and nectarines. They are grown on the Aaron farm then stored in the warehouse or in large coolers. Agronomists have re-developed several varieties of mountain peaches and nectarines. These fruits are an increasingly important part of Mack Aaron’s retail and wholesale business.
The retail store has been expanded to sell not only produce, but also foods baked or processed by the Aaron family. The Aarons produce about 2,500 to 3,000 gallons of apple cider a year. The kitchen cooks pastries and confections with fruit-based recipes. These include fried pies, apple fritters, apple bread and preserves.
In addition to the high quality of their fruit, and the sincere friendliness of the Aaron Family, it is quite likely their famous fried pies that have assured their continued success. The Aaron ladies produce more than eleven varieties of fried fruit pies, now including a sugar free line of pies made with Splenda, an artificial sweetener.
As the fame of their fried fruit pies spread, the ladies have received several offers from wholesalers. However, they have declined. Customers often drive long distances just to buy their pies, because they know that the quality is consistently outstanding. Gina Aaron said that she would not want her reputation harmed by improper care of her pastries in other stores.
For those readers from culturally disadvantaged parts of the continent, the fried fruit pie is the high cuisine of Appalachian kitchens. The crème de la crème of Appalachian fried fruit pies are those made from sun-dried peaches, nectarines, apples or pears. The Aaron ladies produce several varieties of dried fruit fried pies in addition to an even wider variety made from fresh fruit. Don’t dare leave their store without sampling some!
Bill Aaron was asked why he thought his apple house complex had survived the Great Recession, when so many businesses in his region have folded. He smiled, and responded, “Well, we treat everybody that comes in here as friends, and . . . he smiled again . . . in these hard times people have stopped buying almost everything, but they will still buy food!”
Contact information for Mack Aaron’s Apple House: 8955 Hwy. 52 East, 9 miles east of Ellijay,GA 706-273-3600
In the final and third part of this series, the reader will visit a mega-apple house, that is packed with customers, while many nearby restaurants and retail shops have gone out of business.