Monday, September 24, 2007

apples and gratitude

We went apple picking at Indian Ladders orchards yesterday (the photo above was taken there this spring). The place was packed! Not surprising, it was a beautiful day.

But as we stood in line at the orchard stand across the road from the big store and the petting zoo area, waiting to pay for our bag so we coule pick apples, they announced they were officially closing down the "U-pick" section! That meant they were telling cars trying to drive in there was no more picking that day, although plenty of apples for sale in the store, and more picking next weekend. We were told by a young sweaty guy that, after running around the entire orchard (!), there were still apples for picking at the end of the rows, and he told us how to find them.

So most everyone still in line was game for it, and we bought our bag ($11 and you can fill it as full as ya like, plus eat as many as you can hold) and headed in. Empires! The Jonagolds seemed to be gone, but as we walked we saw people with HUGE gold-green apples the size of bocce balls. The Empires were few and far between at first, but as we moved to the ends of rows most people had not gone to (as the orchard runner had described), we found plenty. But at first we were looking under boughs and even on the ground to find lovely apples people had missed, or dropped. Empires are best with plenty of red on them, and we got a few that were a bit green but still ripe. By the time we really found the "motherlode" we had filled our bag.

What got to me was the people complaining about how there were "no apples"! Just because they did not see the trees nearest them groaning with apples (and of course the ground was littered with huge apples that people had carelessly dropped, or taken one bite from and tossed away), they acted like there was nothing. I heard people say "it's really disappointing here today" and "it's like looking for buried treasure" and "there's nothing here!" and was really perplexed. I mean, wasn't part of the reason to go apple picking to, you know, go apple picking? If you just wanted to spend five minutes filling your bag from 3 or 4 trees, why not just buy them ready picked from the store? The whole place is surrounded by apple trees so it's not like you'd get no view of the orchards. Same apples, no effort. Considering a few yards' walk yielded trees full of fruit, I think it was mainly laziness or cluelessness.

What bugged me the most was the people who brought their kids and basically encouraged this lazy, cynical attitude towards what should have been a really enjoyable experience, outdoors on a beautiful day, a way to observe the change of seasons, to reinforce the connection between the living earth and our food, etc etc. I mean, do you really need to teach your kids to think every outing just ends in disappointment because you're too fricking lazy and unimaginative to make it into a positive experience? Also, despite being told politely but firmly by the sweaty orchard runner not to pick inside the taped-off areas, because the fruit was not ripe enough for picking, and that they'd get sick if they ate those apples, some people ducked under the tape and picked from the trees that, despite being covered in fruit, were not designated by the orchard owners for public consumption. Why do people do this stuff?

Of course, some folks were a bit more intrepid and into the experience and enjoyed the search. I pointed out to soem folks near us how many good apples were on the ground (this was before we got to the area where some trees still had plenty of pples on them) and this caused some people to consider this possibility. Maybe in years past, the crowds were smaller? I know the apple crops last year were not great in the Northeast, so maybe people made up for it this year. Maybe all the articles urging people to celebrate fall (and the equinox) by visiting orchards or picking apples (hey maybe they read my Witchvox article!) drove people out to the orchards.

After filling up our bag and eating 2 or 3 apples apiece, we put them in the truck (we had parked quite a ways from the picking orchard) and headed back to the store, planning to get some lovely hot cider donuts. I was even willing to go off my autumnal equinox "fast" (which is only half over, and which has me giving up sugar, meat, alcohol and, later this week, dairy and flour) to have some! But there were at least a hundred people in line, in the hot sun. The smell of spicy donuts frying in oil was enticing, and it was not that hard to believe people were willing to wait in line for them. But we'd have been there for an hour. And, unlike many of the folks there yesterday who only visit Indian Ladders once a year (again, this perplexes me: most of them live locally like we do; and why doesn't the comparative rarity of the experience make them appreciate it more?), we love it there and will probably go back at least 2 or 3 more times this season. We'll go next month at my birthday to get additional apple varieties (the Mutsus and Fijis will be ripe), and will get a pallet of apple wood for our fireplace (cut from the older orchards when they prune the trees), and some local cheese, and yes, we will get some donuts without having to wait in line. Maybe they won't be hot, but they'll still be good!

So we drove home, with our back seat full of apples, and a few more tumbled out of the bag every time we stopped, and though the bag handles broke and a bunch of them fell on our driveway, we rescued them and they are now in bowls and bags in our fridge and on our counters. Yum. Apples. We'll bring some to friends in Boston, and save some for the homebrew being made for our wedding, and enjoy the rest. Gratefully.

Happy Autumn!


Anonymous said...

Can I just say, I love you.

When I was little we went apple and peach picking several times a season. We had peach pie, peach cobbler, apple pie you name it we had it. I was excited to go out and stuff my face full of peach or apples and run around under the trees while my entire extended family navigated wheel barrows of goodies through the orchards.
Now... the younger set of children in my family want no part of it. Its a chore. They don't want to dragged away from their video games and when there are they make it so miserable that my mom doesn't want to make the effort to do the things we did as a kid.
(to clear things up, there are 2 sets of 3 kids in my family with a significant difference in age).

Its unfortunate but I'll just have to hold on to my memories so my children to be can enjoy the experiences.

Peg and Hannah said...

Gosh, I am sorry to hear these kids don't sppreciate this wonderful experience. I took my niece and nephew apple-picking for the first time, and we made a pie together (also a first for them). They were ecstatic!

Give it a try again. These kids need to be able to appreciate their connection to nature and to their food. Such knowledge will serve them well in life.

The Ginger Darlings said...

When I was growing up I lived in the Vale of Evesham, in Worcestershire. We were surrounded by apple and pear and plum and cherry orchards. In spring the blossom scented the air. In autumn I would go with my dad to pick brambley apples, huge cookers, bigger than my hand and sharp and green. The orchards would buzz with the sound of wasps and I would pick from the ground while my dad climbed the ladder with apple baskets. I would start on piptoe stretching up to the highest and twist and the weight would fall into my hand. As I stripped the fruit the branch would rise, free from the weight of fruit so always I would be reaching up.
I remember the smell. It was green. The taste of the fresh fruit.
In early summer we would pick cherries. They hung dense and red, full of juice on the trees. We could pick all we wanted and the farmer would take nothing. The orchards which were planted by his father were doomed. It seemed that it was no longer worth his while t pay for the pickers, the price for these ruby gems was so low. It would cost him money to sell his cherries. So the orchards were grubbed up and all the trees lost. The apples are still there I think, in their orchards, with hedges trimmed with old man's beard and in the trees clumps of mistletoe grow.
You would love it there. But more you would love the old oak trees and the air of magic in Tycanol Woods in Pembrokeshire.
Love from Jackie and the ginger cats.

Peg said...

Oh, what beautiful descriptions. I have been to some parts of Wales and it is lovely country, but I have never seen any orchards there. I'd love to see the place you're talking about, it sounds truly magical...and with a wonderful name. Tycanol Woods. I feel a poem coming on.