The Cider Mill and Country Store is the apple of Medina's eye.
If an apple a day keeps the doctor away then there isn't an MD within 50 miles of the Cider Mill and Country Store in Medina. Nearly everything sold there is made with apples or is apple-related. The store even sells apple trees to start your own orchard. (It takes at least two of the trees to cross-pollinate and produce fruit.)
The store, along with its parent company Love Creek Orchards, has almost single-handedly turned Medina into the thriving "Apple Capital of Texas." As the Johnny Appleseed of Texas, the company has spread the sweet news of homegrown apples to all that have discovered the settlement in the Medina River valley.
The little store on Main Street offers a big shopping experience. The front rooms of the converted red brick house are filled from floor to ceiling with gifts, most with an apple theme or handmade locally. There are dolls and toys, Christmas tree ornaments, bread boxes, and a whole catalog of kitchen and home items.
The heart of the store, like in any home, is the products from the kitchen. One whole wall is covered with jars of condiments and concoctions made from Texas-grown apples: apple jams and jellies, apple salsas, and apple dips, with try-before-you-buy samples spread out on a table.
For those who prefer baked goods, the store offers a full menu of apple-related items. There is an apple nut bread to go with the homemade apple butter. The more adventuresome will want to try the apple-jalapeño-cheese-pecan bread with the apple-jalapeño jelly.
The only thing as good as Mom and the USA is four pounds of apple pie, fresh from the store's ovens and made from the recipe that won first place at last year's Texas International Apple Festival. Top a slice of apple or pecan pie with a big scoop of homemade apple ice cream. You'll want to wash it down with fresh-squeezed apple cider. The patio cafe behind the store offers a menu of sandwiches for visitors looking for a more substantial meal.
The Love Creek Orchard's nursery also raises Bigtooth Maple trees, better known as Lost Maples. Relics from the Ice Age that produce a blaze of autumn foliage, these rare native Texas trees can be found growing naturally at Lost Maples State Park, the Wichita Mountains, Fort Hood, and the Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas. Having survived in protected canyons with perennial streams, the trees are adaptable to any part of the state.
And of course, the Cider Mill sells apples. Fresh from the orchard are varieties like Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji, Cameos, and Galas -- 11 varieties in all. The fruit are sweeter than grocery store products because they ripen longer on the tree. These might the best apples you have ever tasted. With a harvest season running from June to October, the apples are fresher than any import.
In a state better known for raising Longhorns and Herefords, growing apples almost seems out of place. Baxter and Carol Adams planted the first experimental orchard of 1,000 trees on their Love Creek Ranch about 10 miles west of Medina in 1981. With a limited amount of tillable soil surrounded by rocky hills on the 2,000-acre former goat ranch, the Adams had to find a crop that would offer a profitable harvest in a small amount of space.
Baxter, a former oil company geologist, experimented with dwarf apple trees that produce full-size fruit, but reach a height of only five or six feet. The trees produce about 50 pounds per tree.
When the oil business went bust in the late 1980s, Baxter's weekend retreat became a second career. He and Carol have been tireless promoters of the apple business in Texas. There are now more than 350,000 trees planted around the state. The more than 25 other growers around Medina can produce just a small portion needed to satisfy Texans' appetite for the fruit.
The orchard, nursery, and store have spawned a long list of other enterprises that encourage the public's acceptance of the burgeoning industry. The International Apple Festival held each year on the last Saturday of July opens the orchards to tours along with a long list of family activities at the fairgrounds on the river bank across TX 16 from the Cider Mill.
Besides the Country Store in Medina, Carol Adams has opened a second retail outlet called Adams Apples in Old Republic Square Shopping Center in Kerrville on the Junction Highway. Nearly everything in the stores can be purchased through their mail-order business.
The Adams own a second orchard 30 miles southeast of San Antonio near Devine. It and the Medina orchard offer pick-your-own fresh peaches, blackberries, tomatoes, and apples beginning in mid-April. It is best to call 800/449-0882 for a report on what is available before making the drive.
For a unique weekend join the Adams for a Chuck Wagon Orchard Dinner held every Saturday in May. Beginning at 3pm guests are given the opportunity to pick fresh fruit, fish in the catfish pond, go for a hayride, take chuck wagon cooking lessons, and then enjoy a chicken fried steak supper. Reservations are required, and a limited number of slots are available.
Behind the little store on the highway in Medina about 12 miles west of Bandera is a bushel of fun opportunities. The store is open Monday through Saturday, 9am-5pm, and Sunday, 1-5pm. For information about any of the apple enterprises, call 800/449-0882 or visit their Web site at www.lovecreekorchards.com.
Coming up this weekend ...
Bluebonnet Festival at Burnet's historic square features a pet parade, classic car show, an outdoor market, Confederate Air Show, and more, April 13-15. 512/756-4297 or www.burnetchamber.org.
Scarborough Faire in Waxahachie offers 35 acres of food, fun, and fantasy every Saturday and Sunday plus Memorial Day, April 14-June 3. 214/938-1888.
Bigfoot Wallace's Birthday in Bigfoot opens the museum that honors the frontier Texas Ranger plus cake and punch, April 14. 830/665-5054.
Coming up ...
Spring Garden Festival and Plant Sale at the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens presents one of the best show and sales of exotic and native plants in the state, April 21. 361/852-2100.
International Festival in Houston showcases a broad spectrum of performing and visual arts, this year honoring Ireland, more than 20 blocks and nine stages, April 20-29. 713/654-8808 or www.ifest.org.