In season: apples

There are many reasons to start farming. Sometimes a farmer takes it on to prove a point. That seems to be the case for Sean Lennon of Fitzgerald Fruit Farms in Woodbury, about 65 miles southwest of Atlanta on Ga. 85. “Someone told me I couldn’t start a farm on my own. So I proved them wrong,” he said.

Fitzgerald Fruit Farms takes its name from Lennon’s family. “I’m a first generation American. My mom’s maiden name was Fitzgerald and in Ireland, where she came from, my father farmed cattle and sheep. So we named our farm after his.”

Lennon and his wife Ashleigh farm about 700 acres of peaches and 30 acres of apples. They grow strawberries and blackberries as well. Since 2004, they’ve accumulated multiple parcels of land with about 90 percent in Meriwether County.

The farm sells apples to the Kroger distribution center in Atlanta, so their apples are available from Macon north to parts of Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina. They also have booths at many metro Atlanta farmers markets including the Saturday morning Roswell Farmers and Artisans Market and markets in Brookhaven, Woodstock, Stone Mountain, Rockmart, Grayson and Monroe.

“Not only are we farming our land, but two years ago we put in the most modern packing facility in the state of Georgia with the latest technology for grading fruit. All of our fruit is graded by computer, while about 90 percent of the grading in this country is still done by hand,” said Lennon.

The Lennons grow four varieties of apples: Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji and Pink Lady. “Back in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, a lot of apples were grown in this area. That changed when Washington State apple growers learned how to store apples year-round. Now with the push for local food, we’re finding more interest in local apples. Granny Smith, Gala and Pink Lady apples were actually bred in Australia in a humid area with a lot of heat, just like our climate in Georgia. Those are apples that grow well for us.”

Apple season at Fitzgerald Fruit Farms starts at the end of July, and by October, all the apples are harvested. Stored properly, they’ll keep until they’re all sold out.

“I love apples, especially right off the tree. There’s nothing better. My favorite is a Gala in July or August and then a Pink Lady after it’s been in storage for a while. It’s an apple that gets better the longer it stays in storage.”

Kale and Grilled Apples

Chef David Connolly of TAP in Midtown Atlanta created this recipe to take advantage of fresh seasonal apples. He suggests Pink Lady as a delicious variety for grilling, but says you should feel free to use your favorite.

2 apples

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

1 shallot, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

1 bunch kale, stemmed and cut into julienne slices (about 6 ounces), should make about 4 cups firmly packed

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans

Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Cut apples into quarters and remove core. Brush lightly with olive oil and arrange in skillet. Cook until golden on first side, then turn and cook until golden on second side. Remove from heat. When cool, cut each quarter in half. Set aside.

Make vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar and remaining olive oil. Add shallot and season to taste. Set aside.

When ready to serve, put kale in a large bowl. Add grilled apples, blue cheese and pecans. Toss with vinaigrette and serve immediately. Serves: 8

Per serving: 198 calories (percent of calories from fat, 76), 2 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 18 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 3 milligrams cholesterol, 90 milligrams sodium.

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