By Lynn R. Mitchell
If you left Fairlawn Farm this weekend and weren’t in the fall mood, there’s not much more that could be done because it doesn’t get much better than all the activities offered by Highland County’s Sheriff Tim Duff and his wife Terry. They were celebrating autumn in a big way with friends and visitors at their farm just south of Monterey near Mill Gap and, just as he does during March’s Maple Festival, Tim was teaching the old ways from the past by using vintage equipment with a little help from his friends.
Opening their farm to family, friends, neighbors, and visitors is a tradition for the Duffs, and this time of year the already beautiful location is exceptionally spectacular with the changing color of leaves on the surrounding mountains. Leaves that had fallen from trees in the rain and high winds of the past week displayed a colorful palate on lawns and along road sides.
These two old sugar maples on the front lawn of Fairlawn Farm can be seen in March, often surrounded by snow, when they are tapped with metal buckets collecting the sweet sugar water for use in maple syrup, a main commodity for Highland. (See Duff’s Sugar House at Fairlawn Farm … 2014 Highland Maple Festival.)
Tim Duff (left) skims the cooked-down apples while a friend stirs in the copper kettle. At sunrise almost eight bushels of apples started cooking over the wood fire and by 1:00 on Saturday afternoon, it was down to apple sauce consistency. By 2:00 the spices would be added to the apples and they would continue cooking for another hour or two until at apple butter consistency. In the bottom of the kettle was a silver dollar which helps prevent the apples from sticking but not just any silver dollar — it was an 1887 silver dollar, the same year that the house at Fairlawn Farm was built. There are many recipes and methods for cooking apple butter, a number of them passed down through the generations. Here is one.
Young hands helped with stirring while we were there … perhaps the next generation to pass along yesterday’s traditions. I remember watching my grandparents making apple butter at their home in Chesterfield County, a tradition they carried with them from their home in Grayson County before leaving to find work in Richmond. They had the copper kettle that was hung over a wood fire and the long-handled paddle for stirring. Between that and their Brunswick stew cooked outdoors in a huge kettle, it was some of the best stuff I’ve ever eaten.
Tools of the trade: These are items I recognized from my grandparents. The small basket on the end of a stick is an apple picker, a long-handled accessory for reaching the juicy fruit high up in the tree. The flat wooden paddle is for stirring whatever is cooked in a pot. (Mom, I know you’ll be reading this. Am I right about that?)
Ever seen trout smoked this way? Wood is placed in the woodstove to the right, and the wooden barrel is the steam with a thermometer on front. Inside were smoked trout, smoked venison, and smoked cheese.
As fast as one gentleman could halve an apple with a knife and drop it into the barrel, the other turned the cider press wheel and it crushed the apples causing juice to exit from the bottom and into the bucket. In the past, it took a lot of work to make some of the cool, refreshing beverage from Virginia’s seasonal fruit.
We visited Highland County three times in less than two weeks, following fall from the western edge of the county to its eastern boundary with Augusta County. The thrill of catching the sugar maples at peak was something I’ll never forget, a scene straight out of New England. (See Highland County: The quiet beauty of driving over Jack Mountain, October color and back roads in Virginia’s Highland County, Evelyn’s Pantry is hometown deli on Monterey’s main street, Finding autumn in Highland County, Va., and Full color in western Highland County.
Many thanks to the Duffs for their hospitality. Tim’s friendly, jovial demeanor is always welcoming as he greets visitors and friends alike, and his passion for keeping the forgotten arts and skills of the past alive is appreciated. We’ll be back in the spring when the sugar water begins to flow.
Other posts and photos about Duff’s Sugar House and beyond:
– 2014 Maple Festival … Laurel Fork Sapsuckers at the roof of Highland County
– 2014 Highland Maple Festival begins this weekend
– 2014 Highland Maple Festival … lunch at Evelyn’s Pantry in Monterey
– 2013 Maple Festival at Duff’s Sugar House – first weekend
– 2013 Maple Festival at Duff’s – second weekend
– 2012 Highland Maple Festival
– 2011 Maple Festival at Duff’s Sugar House
– 2011 Maple Festival – Walk of Honor to thank U.S. veterans
– 2011 – 53rd annual Maple Festival
– 2008 Highland Maple Festival … almost heaven
Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
Fairlawn Farm, Highland County, Va.
October 11, 2014