Sunday, November 24, 2013

How Do You Like Those Apples?

On the Atlantic side of America this fall, we had a bumper crop of apples.  And in this bumper crop, one of my favorite moments was when my friend Jack Brennan invited us to pick Golden Delicious apples at his house.
            Jack and his wife, Mary, live in a corner of New York’s Capital Region that is emphatically rural - -  despite the python-like pressure of suburbs all around.         
            When we got to Jack and Mary’s house, Jack, an author and delightful story-teller, told how he became an orchardist.  “When my daughter, Mary Ann, was attending Cornell,” Jack said, “she took a course in pomology - - how to grow apples.”  “One of her class assignments,” he continued, “was to graft a Golden Delicious onto root stock.”
            Mary Ann brought home her graft of a Golden Delicious.  It was, Jack recalled, “about the length of a yardstick and the diameter of a man’s thumb.”  The Brennans planted this sapling on the east side of their house, for the sun and shelter from the area’s raw west winds.
            Despite a fragile beginning, 30 years later, the tree is over 40 feet high.  At some point along the way, Jack thought, “If one tree is good, then two must be better” and planted a companion, also a Golden Delicious.
            Over the years, the harvest waxes and wanes.  Jack and Mary eat the apples raw, feed the most blemished ones to cattle in a neighboring field and make applesauce with the rest.  With a lot of elbow grease to core and peel the apples and a recipe that his mother gave him, Jack sets up an apple sauce assembly line for a week or so in October.
            On the day we visited, the sky was one of the brightest blue of all season and the temperature was nearly perfect.  Low-hanging fruit was already applesauce in Jack’s freezer but many more apples were available from for anyone willing to climb a ladder and catch apples in a long pole cutter.
            Jack does not spray the trees.  With spots and a gray black scale on them, the apples look a bit scary.  Neither, however, hurt people - - and neither hurts the taste.
            These apples are like snow flakes in that none tastes exactly the same.  Eating the apples is also like watching the light reflect off a diamond’s facets.  One bite can be sweet, the next tart.
            Often, store-bought Golden Delicious apples are useless for baking.  They are too sweet or get mushy too soon.  Jack’s apples stayed firm, right into November.  When my wife Dorothy made the last portion of apple crisp with these apples, they had many brown spots that needed to be removed but the fruit was still firm.

            Although the weather is colder than it was when we picked apples in October, the taste of that apple crisp will remind us of the pleasant autumn senses almost to Thanksgiving.

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