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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Household Apple Harvest

Apple trees. Pie apples. Apple blossoms, apple pie, an apple for the teacher. Iconic fruit of temperate climates, the apple was my childhood icon, as well.

When I was growing up, we had a pear tree, a raspberry patch, and three apple trees, the largest of them our backyard shade tree and my personal fantasy world, a world whose nature changed with the seasons and my daily moods and fancies. Sometimes it was a tropical island, surrounded by ocean, and my little friends and I had to venture out to sea (“swimming” our arms through the air, which in our play was water) in search of sustenance. Another day the tree might be a rocket ship that Jimmy and I took to the moon or beyond, little green apples stuck on broken twigs (broken for the purpose, mind you) serving as control knobs and levers as we passed beyond the rule of adults in defiance of gravity.

Some of the sweetest times in the apple tree, though, were times I spent alone with a book. Stretched along a high, sturdy branch, hidden in greenery, high above the heads of anyone wondering where I was, I would lose myself in a story, the bare tree better than any treehouse could possibly be. A treehouse would be suspected of harboring a missing child, but a quiet, still child alone in a tree could be happily solitary for hours.

My mother made the backyard tree’s fruit into pies. Another tree downhill in the side yard was harvested for applesauce. As for the third apple tree, it was more notable for blossoms than for usable fruit, and while the side yard trees were climbable, they were too small to serve as solitary getaways.

Then there was the dreaded task in the fall of picking up fallen apples. The yard could not be raked, nor the grass mown, until the apples were picked up, and that job fell, naturally, to the children. Bushel baskets came out of the garage, and we were put to work. My sisters and I had to pick up not only good, sturdy fruit for kitchen and pantry – we didn’t mind that -- but also soft and rotten apples, apples gone to worms, apples stepped on and turned to repulsive brown mush.

Neither of my little home apple trees today would support the weight of much more than a robin, but they do bear fruit, and I also harvested apples from wild trees in the neighborhood, where the fallen brown fruit on the ground is winter food for deer and other wildlife. Last fall’s apples that did not become sauce went into the Paris kitchen farmhouse food dryer, which was, I must say, a great success. I did not dry a quantity sufficient to try making dried apple pie, but we have enjoyed for months now dipping into the big glass jar for a few slices to accompany afternoon tea. Some slices are thicker than others, some pieces rather than rings, but I've found that none of the differences affects the taste or the keeping quality of the fruit. Exactitude is not a requirement, it seems, when the project is drying apples, and I like that. 

In a world of rigorous demands, I like a “forgiving” project, one that tells me I’ve done a good enough job.