‘Tis the season. No, not the holiday season. Apple season! Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Gala, Jazz, Cortland, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, and, my personal favorite, Ginger Gold. Actually, the season itself is pretty well over, but the memories linger on. Plus, at the times the harvest was ready, I was busy picking, peeling, pie-ing. (Is that even a word?)
One of the best parts is going out to the orchard in my Wellies to tromp around in the wet early-morning grass with a big bucket to snag those big red globes. Ginger Gold is a fairly recent favorite, so many orchards have minimal trees of that variety. That means getting out early. But I’m not really that picky. Apple pies of mixed varieties are the best anyway.
Come along with your bucket and picture the scene. Early morning, so early that the sun is just beginning to draw the moisture out of the earth. Step into the mist rising along the grass paths, and disappear. Out of sight of the barn, the parked cars, the other harvesters. Once we get to the trees, the branches reach out to us, practically begging to be relieved of their luscious burden. Many of the branches are low enough to pick without using a ladder. The trees are so heavy with fruit that we can fill our bucket from only one or two trees. But keeping in mind that the best pies need flavors from more than one type, we move along from tree to tree.
I’m lucky enough to have two old trees in our backyard, one with small apples that we leave for the deer, and one with larger, sweeter apples. The deer get those too, unless we keep an eye open for fallen apples. The fruit is too high on the tree for both deer and human to reach. It’s always a race to see who can snatch up the best ones. If only the deer would choose one apple and eat the entire thing. Instead, they sample. A bite here, a bite there, never the entire thing.
My favorite apple tree is down at the end of our road, on the corner of a utility property. I took the time to ask permission to harvest the apples, which they readily gave, considering they never even knew the tree was there. Those apples, like any wild apples, have also been sampled by insects. Most of the time, the insects are no longer in the apples, though tiny tracks remain in the flesh. As long as no bugs remain, it’s safe to cook with them. Sounds too primitive for you? Good! More apples for me to use! And for the deer to eat. I haven’t picked for myself for several years now, because someone else reaps the benefits. Well, not someone. Something. Two draft horses live across the street, and I pick up clean apples as a treat for them. They know me, and the minute I come across the street, they amble over to the pasture fence and wait. As much a treat for me as for them.
Finally, apple pies. Yum! Too many recipes to mention, of course. Everyone has a favorite. But here’s the secret: Bake fruit pies for ninety minutes—yes, ninety—at 350 degrees. Then don’t eat until the next day. That’s the hardest part. But it’s the key to having a pie that doesn’t leak all over the plate. So… Excuse me…there’s a pie in the kitchen calling my name.