Eating a slice of Barber Orchards apple cake elicits a vision of walking out onto a porch deck overlooking the Smoky Mountains as the sun burns off the fog on a crisp fall morning.
Notes of cinnamon and cloves combined with the hearty bite of the apple, still firm even after baking, was a special touch to this traditional recipe.
All that was missing was a cup of hot coffee and a porch swing, but the hot glaze drizzled over the top made up for it in the end.
Of all the various apples and apple products available at Barber Orchard Fruit Stands on Old Balsam Road in Waynesville, the apple cake is by far the best-selling item.
Barber Orchard has been a staple in Haywood County since 1903, when Richard Barber Sr., Dick Barber's father, ventured to Asheville by train and rented a horse and buggy, stumbling upon the Saunook community.
Today, the orchard boasts 85 acres, and includes 20 different varieties of apples.
What started as wholesale operation has grown through the years to encompass a full-service business. Barber Orchard Fruit Stand offer customers everything from fresh produce to value-added products, including apple cider made just across the road.
Even though the orchard has experienced growth and change over time, the six-oven kitchen has stuck with the bakery recipes that have been wildly popular through the years.
“Everything made in our bakery uses basic ingredients,“ said Jane Arrington, who owns the business along with her husband, Benny. “There are no secrets. It is just good.”
The cake itself consists mainly of flour, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, cloves, walnuts and heaping bowls of chopped apples.
The cake itself changes with the seasons, based on the available apple variety available at the time.
In August, the cake is made with ginger golds, then golden delicious. The end-of-season cakes are made with the rome variety.
Benny, a fourth generation apple farmer in the Saunook community, always knew that he would end up in the business. His father started Pinnacle Orchard while he was young — and orchard that was located about a mile and a half from Barber Orchard.
In 1993 when the Arringtons purchased Barber Orchard from Glen Stewart, it was just the little rock building with a small shack off to the side on the road.
“When we bought Barber Orchard, we didn’t change the name because of the meaning it has to this community,” said Benny.
This year marks their 26th season.
The apple cake
Inside of the shack was one commercial propane convection oven and one woman who hand-made all of the baked goods for the orchard.
Louise Corbin is the keeper of the notorious apple cake recipe, along with the turnovers, fritters and muffins.
In the little road side shack, Corbin would hand peel all of the apples for every recipe, as well as chop and cook them for every turnover.
“One Christmas we got really busy,” said Jane. “So my husband ran to the store and bought three old fashioned apple peelers and three other girls joined in.”
In 1998, Benny designed a new kitchen to be built for the orchard to keep up with the growing popularity.
Even with the expansion, Corbin continued to use her original measuring cup and prepare most apples by hand.
As popularity grew at the orchard, so did the demand for apple cakes.
During the five-month season in 2017, 5,000 cakes and 10,000 cake loaves were made and sold at Barber Orchard, with 800 of them shipped around the country to a loyal apple cake fan base.
“People love to take them home and freeze them for holiday meals,” said Jane. “There’s something about people enjoying our product so much. It is such a simple thing.”
One customer loved the cake so much, she purchased one for her friend, Barbara Bush, who at the time, was hard at work in Washington, D.C.
When Corbin was 80 years old, she left the kitchen to Jane’s mother, known to most as Mamaw Dot, who worked for 20 years, cranking out Corbin's recipes that attract locals to this day.
“We still use the same recipe Corbin used from day one,” said Benny. “She found it in a book and tweaked it over the years, adding a little more of this or some less of that.”
Today, Guadalupe Hernandez takes the lead in the kitchen, mixing heaping piles of apples into cakes, turnovers, pies and cookies, like she was taught by Jane's mother and has stuck to for the past 12 years.
Employees are taught that each turnover sold at the orchard is filled with a half cup of chopped apples. While the recipe remains the same, the texture will change based on whichever apple variety is available that day.
The loaves and cakes are a labor of love, made with a familiar flavor of being home for the holidays, even when devouring the cake at the work place.
Following Jane through Barber Orchard Fruit Stand, fresh baked apple cake in hand, was similar to following the “cool teacher” through the halls of a school.
Everyone stopped and said hello as she passed; catching up on weekly happenings and take in a breath of a familiar favorite.