One of the few redeeming things about the waning days of summer is the onset of apple season. My favorite apple, the ginger gold (available at the Marblehead farmers’ market), was discovered because of a hurricane. Hurricane Camille was one of big Gulf Coast hurricanes. It hit the Mississippi coast in 1969 as a Category 5 storm. By the time it wandered up to Virginia, it was only a tropical depression. No one thought much about it, but when it crossed over the Blue Ridge Mountains and stalled over Nelson County, Virginia, it dropped 27 inches of rain in 12 hours. Birds drowned in the trees and whole mountainsides washed away. Pretty meandering creeks in people’s backyards became thundering, murderous floods, tearing houses from their foundations.
The storm came in the middle of the night and no one was prepared. My mother says it was like water being poured out of a bucket. For hours. A lot of people died and many who survived lost their houses and/or livelihoods. Nelson County is a beautiful county, just south of Charlottesville, in the mountains. There is a lot of agriculture, including orchards. People who live in central Virginia talk about Camille still.
Clyde Harvey was a third-generation apple grower. He lost most of his mountain orchards in one of the landslides. After Camille, Clyde and his wife Ginger dug up the young apple trees around the edge of the devastation and found an apple variety they had never seen before. It was golden and firm, both tart and sweet. It was on the edge of their winesap orchard and seemed to be a cross between winesap, Albemarle pippin (a colonial apple variety), and a third variety no one has been able to identify. Clyde named the new apple after his wife, and ginger gold became a popular early apple.
For years, the Harveys did not tell the story behind the discovery of the apple because of the pain and suffering their neighbors experienced during Camille. “We felt badly that something good came out of it. My family convinced me that it would be helpful to those who had lost loved ones to know that something of beauty did come out of the loss,” said Ginger Harvey (from The Daily Progress).