Mclouth — Although this year's supply of locally grown apples is slim pickings, apple fans still want those flavor-filled pomes.
Nothing signals autumn like the crunch of a ripe apple.
Faced with a light crop this year, apple lovers in this part of the country have had to work a little harder to lock up their share.
Laurie Walters, who operates Wildhorse Orchard with her husband, Perry, is able to meet demand from customers at her roadside market, as well as at the farmers' markets in Lawrence and Topeka. But the Walterses won't be doing any wholesaling this year or letting customers venture out into the orchard, two miles southeast of McLouth on Kansas Highway 16, to pick their own apples.
``Last year was extremely dry. We had no significant moisture from July to February,'' Walters said, noting that by this time each year, the following year's fruit buds already are set.
This spring's weather didn't help, she added. ``We had a terrible pollination season. It was cold and cloudy and wet.''
The result is an apple crop a fraction of the size of last year's. Even so, the Walterses will have picked a dozen varieties of apples from the nearly 1,000 trees in their orchard.
Willa Norwood, a member of the Tecumseh United Methodist Church, drove to McLouth last week to stock up after tasting a Wildhorse Orchard Jonathan that someone had purchased at the farmers' market.
``I just never dreamed of having such good apples as these,'' she said, as Walters' employees loaded eight bushels of Jonathans into the trunk of her car.
Norwood is among volunteers baking apple dumplings this fall for an annual church fund-raiser. Dumpling fans can place orders by calling Betty Fergola at 379-5313.
Wildhorse apples also are the main ingredient in apple pies being sold this month by the First Congregational Church in Tonganoxie. The church is taking orders at 845-2293 and 845-2405.
Presiding over such an array of apples has given Walters an appreciation for the spectrum of apple flavors. Jonagold, an all-around good cooking and eating apple, is her favorite.
Walters believes that uses for apples are limited only by imagination. She was co-chair of Kansas Fruit Growers effort that produced a cookbook called ``A Kansas Fruit Compote,'' which puts apples in soups, stews and pot roast, in addition to the traditional lineup of baked goods.
``My kids say we've eaten apples every way you can,'' Walters said.
When the Walterses began planting fruit trees in the mid-1980s, they didn't envision an operation as large as theirs has grown. They now have eight or nine acres planted in apple trees, a collection of automated equipment for sorting fruit and milling cider, and several part-time employees.
Although Walters' husband, who is a dentist, puts in plenty of hours in the orchard, the day-to-day operations have largely fallen to her.
``The volume of it has really caught us by surprise,'' she said, recalling how they began growing apples on such a huge scale.
``We have three kids and we decided they should have a summer job,'' Walters said. ``Now they're all at KU and apple harvest is in the fall, so this has turned into a full-time job for at least one of us.''