So how do you like those apples?

November 15, 2011
A food writer risks his life so Cape Gazette readers can see the solar panels. BY GREER STANGL PHOTO

There’s a great book out there called, “How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table.” While examining the history of modern agriculture, author Russ Parsons passionately describes the difference in taste between produce picked and eaten at its peak, and the same produce shipped across the country to a local grocery store.

One of the refreshing aspects of the book is that Parsons doesn’t fall for the popular trend of automatically condemning the commercially packed product. In fact, there are many fruits and vegetables that we East Coasters couldn’t enjoy year ‘round if big business didn’t make it their business to grow, harvest, store and ship them. Thanks to a lot of science and ingenuity, they arrive bug-free and unscathed - save perhaps for that inevitable taste difference.

Before I visited T.S. Smith & Sons farm in Bridgeville, I’ll admit that I found it difficult to imagine just how much better a peach or an apple could be. Marketing Director Greer Stangl made it a priority to tell me that T.S. Smith is a lot more than apples (though it’s hard to get past those impossibly fresh apple-cinnamon doughnuts they fry-up in the morning).

The farm also grows peaches, asparagus, sweet corn, cantaloupes, pumpkins, watermelons, zucchini, white and yellow nectarines, broccoli, kale, lima beans … the list goes on and on. They’re the oldest working apple orchard in Sussex, and one of the two remaining peach producers in the county.

About halfway through our tour of the vintage apple grading machinery (installed in the ‘30s and still humming along today), we were joined by Charlie Smith.

He and his brothers Tom and Matt own and operate the massive Century Farm (owned by a single family for over 100 years). Their clients include Tomato Sunshine and Nage in Rehoboth, Abbott’s Grill in Milford, the Brick Restaurant in Georgetown, and Jimmy’s Grille in Bridgeville. They host programs for Sprouting Chefs (farm-to-table for kids), and participate in events such as The Farmer and the Chef on the Riverfront in Wilmington.

The farm has a huge refrigerated building for preserving fresh fruit. Imagine a refrigerator the size of a grocery store! The upshot is that this enormous icebox is powered entirely by the sun. The same light that nourishes row after row of keep the massive compressors running day and night.

Though our local farmers markets are closed for the season, fresh produce is still available just a short drive away in Bridgeville. Greer smiles reassuringly, “There will be people in withdrawal, and we want to help them.”

About a hundred feet from the store, broccoli still grows, and crunchy apples are just minutes from the trees (and that glorious doughnut fryer).

OK. So back to the whole “Picking a Peach” thing. When I mentioned to Charlie that I didn’t quite get author Russ Parsons’ zeal for the taste of fresh fruit, he piled me into his pickup and we bounced out into the seemingly endless fields, skidding to a halt just past the old chicken houses built during World War II by German POWs. Charlie dove into the thicket, reached up and twisted off what he judged to be the perfect Fuji apple. I took a bite.

It cracked open with a resounding snap. The tart/sweet tang was almost intoxicating. For a rare moment, I was speechless.

I still appreciate the agro-industry that allows us to enjoy our favorite summer produce while we’re shoveling snow off the front walk.

But if you’ve never bitten into an apple that still thinks it’s attached to a tree, then a visit to T.S. Smith & Sons in Bridgeville will be well worth the drive.

Oh, and while you’re there, I’ll take a half-dozen of those doughnuts, thank you.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.