Thursday, December 31

Apple Yoga

I was asked by my significant other who has her own blog about yoga to write a guest yoga sequence.  I decided to write one that was was inspired by many of the strateches and stances I take on a usual basis when I pick apples.  The sequence will be posted on her blog next week, but being as it was inspired by apple picking I thought it would be appropriate to also post it here.  Hope you enjoy it, even if you don't practice yoga.

 Apple Yoga  

I have picked apples for nine seasons and in many ways it has become part of me and influenced my direction in more ways than I probably know.  Having only begun to explore yoga a little over a year ago, it wasn’t until this past fall picking apples in the beautifully clad autumn of New England that I began to see how much yoga was involved in my daily life as an apple picker.  I saw it in my physical movements, whether it be a balancing pose on a ladder to reach that one apple that seemed just out of reach, or placing yourself in a squat in order to retrieve those apples just above the ground.  I saw yoga also in my simple presence among the trees.  The meditative act of picking fruit hour after hour gave me space to clear my mind and relax in the solitude of the darkening days of autumn. 
The sequence that follows in one inspired by apple picking, but I encourage you to also let it inspire you to reflect on all the ways yoga can be present in your life outside of the classroom or your personal practice.  Finding your breath in a spare moment during your day or listening to your body and being conscious of your movements as you move through simple daily tasks or more strenuous physical activities can allow you have a continuous yoga practice.  If you would find it helpful, try writing a yoga sequence that is inspired by a common task you perform or a work activity you do and see how it may change your actions the next time you perform it.  Being present in every moment and being aware of both your body and your mind and how you choose to use them is, I believe, the essence of a yogic lifestyle. 

  1. Standing Meditation (3-5 minutes)
  2. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) (stretch your arms up, pretend you are reaching to pick an apple that is just out of reach)
  3. Bring your hands into prayer pose
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 several times trying to reach a little higher each time
  5. Twist gently to each side several times warming your spine
  6. Anuvittasana (Standing Backbend) (gentle)
  7. Prasarita Padottanasana  (Wide-Legged Forward Bend) (6 breaths)
  8. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
  9. Utkatasana (Chair Pose) (focus on reaching arms up)
  10. Uttanasana (Forward fold)
  11. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog)
  12. Repeat 8-11 twice more
  13. Balasana (Childs pose)
  14. Table
  15. Balancing table (focus on stretching arms arm legs out)
  16. Repeat other side
  17. (Malasana) Squat, Hands in prayer pose (6 breaths)
  18. Widen stance come into Bakasana (Crow pose)
  19. Malasana (Squat)
  20. Step or jump back
  21. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog) (6 breaths)
  22. Stretch right leg back, open hip
  23. Low forward lunge
  24. Raise arms (interlock if you want)
  25. Lift knee, high lunge
  26. Anjaneasana (gentle backbend)
  27. Namaskar Parsvakonasana  (Prayer Twist)
  28. Virabhadra Mudra (Warrior Seal)
  29. Downward facing dog
  30. Repeat 22-29 other side
  31. Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I)
  32. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
  33. Viparita virabhadrasana  (Reverse Warrior)
  34. Parsvakonasana (Extended side angle)
  35. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
  36. Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) (imagine trying to do this on a ladder high up in an apple tree)
  37. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
  38. Adha Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing dog)
  39. Repeat 31-38 other side
  40. Matsyendrasana (Seated spinal twist)
  41. Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head to Knee)
  42. Lay on back
  43. Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
  44. Pavana muktasana (wind relieving pose)
  45. Bridge into Wheel or inversion of your choice
  46. Balasana (Childs pose)
  47. Ananda Balasana  (Happy Baby) (Hold for at least 6 breaths)
  48. Shavasana (Corpse Pose)

Thursday, December 24

The Apple Wassail

Wassailing, I discovered recently is not just a practice of walking from house to house caroling during the holy days of the year, but is also an old practice, taken up in orchards in mid-winter by farmers and country folk.  In his book Wild Apples, Henry David Thoreau recalls the following:

"On Christmas eve the farmers and their men in Devonshire take a large bowl of cider, with a toast in it, and carrying it in state to the orchard, they salute the apple-trees with much ceremony, in order to make them bear well the next season."  This salutation consists in "throwing some of the cider about the roots of the tree, placing bits of the toast on the branches," and then "encircling one of the best bearing trees in the orchard, they drink the following toast three several times --
                                           Here's to thee, old apple-tree
                             Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst blow,
                                      And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
                                          Hats-full!  Caps-full!
                                          Bushel, bushel, sacks-full!
                                          And my pockets full, too!  Huzza!

"They then shout in chorus, one of the boys accompanying them on a cow's  horn.  During this ceremony they rap the trees with their sticks."  This is called "wassailing" the trees, and is thought by some to be "a relic of the heathen sacrifice to Pomona"

Apple wassailing is thought to have originated in the cider orchards of Southwest England.  The first known mention of wassailing was in 1585 in Fordwich, Kent, a small town on the River Stour near Canterbury, England.  The practice, which is thought to "bless" the tree, quite possibly originated from pagan roots, and may have evolved independently of the more commonly recognized form of wassailing.  The general understanding was that the singing and noise made by wassailing would awaken the apple trees from winter sleep and scare away any evil spirits, making way for a good crop the following autumn.
Wassail bowls, which were used to carry the cider and bread to the orchard, could sometimes be very ornate.  Often the shape of a large goblet,  more elaborate ones would be decorated with silver decorations.  More common however, were bowls made from white maple, which were commonly used by poorer peasants.  
If one would like to wassail in the old way, the tradition is still very much alive in parts of England.  If one were to visit Somerset or Devon in the Southwest of England on January 7th (the historic 12th night), they would find crowds of wassailers making there way from orchard to orchard, making general merriment in hopes of a good harvest to come.
If you find yourself in an orchard this season or just strolling past a scraggly crab apple, lonely in the deep dusk of a winter afternoon, give the trunk a good wrap.  Look for the deep red of that one apple that never fell and still clings under the burden of the falling snow.  Stand for a moment in the solitude of the coming darkness and let the thought of warm tangy cider on your tongue comfort you and the brisk wind that nips your face evoke the crisp of a late fall apple.  Give a good shout and awaken the tree with this verse:                              

Stand fast root, bear well top
Pray the God send us a howling good crop.
Every twig, apples big.
Every bough, apples now.

Sunday, December 13

Story of an Apple: Cortland

The Cortland has been around since 1898, when it was born in Geneva, New York.  After the advent of the McIntosh breeders began to experiment with hybrids through grafting.  The Cortland was one of the first successes, the result of a union between a McIntosh and a Ben Davis.  The apple was named after the city of Cortland, the county seat of Cortland County, New York.  
A very popular apple in the 19th century, largely due to its properties as a good keeping apple, the Ben Davis was a favorite for growers since it would not fall from the trees until late in the season and could be counted on to produced a good crop year after year.  With improvements in packing and shipping techniques in the 20th century, the Ben Davis fell out of favor being replaced by apple varieties that were thought to have better flavor.  Today it is almost impossible to find a Ben Davis, however the offspring of this nearly extinct cultivar is still popular and can be found in most orchards.
With prominent green and red striations the Cortland is a larger apple with stunningly white flesh.  Cortland trees, whether large or dwarf tend to show a distinct "droop" of the branches, that often remains even after the weight of the fruit is removed.  They seem to also attract more vines than other trees giving them a particularly wild appearance.  I have often imagined that a Cortland tree might bare a resemblance closest to what one of its ancestors may have looked like growing in the forests of Kazakhstan.
Cortlands are a mid-season apple, usually harvested after Macs but before later apples like Empires and Red Delicious.  They are often a favorite of pickers because they are generally very large and do not bruise particularly easy.  After weeks of picking delicate Macs that seem to fall from the tree when you breath, and bruise when you touch them, Cortlands are a welcome change.  Cortlands often grow in pairs, stemming from either side of the branch (see above), which allows them to be easily picked two at a time if you can manage to fit both of the large apples in one hand.  The biggest chalange when picking cortlands is spying the greener apples that skillfully hide in the dense foliage of the inner tree.  Cortland trees often hang low to the ground requiring a lot of kneeling or bending over even in larger trees.

Thursday, December 3

Picker Lingo

I have been thinking lately about the different phrases and terms that are thrown around in the orchard.  There seem to be a number of idioms and expressions that are innate to a pickers and orchardists (that itself may be my own term).  Much of this lingo seems to have implanted itself in my brain without me even being aware, as if the act of picking apples was some how an unconscious course in linguistics.
Realizing this, I thought it would be fun to start a glossary of these words and phrases.   I have only started with those that readily popped into my head, I hope to continue to add to this list and if there are other pickers out there reading this I welcome additions or revisions.  If you are not a picker or familiar with terms I hope you will still find it entertaining. 

  • Bottoms - all apples that can be picked without using a ladder.
  • Color Picking - selective picking of only rip apples, leaving green ones for a later pick or for cider.  Usually apples taken during a color pick must be fifty to seventy-five percent red or blushed.   
  • Drive Row - the space in between rows of apple trees where the tractor driver places bins for picking into.
  • Drops - apples that have fallen from the tree before an apple picker got to them.  Ideally this is a very small percentage of apples, however especially among apples that hang loosely to the tree such as McIntosh, this can be quite a few.  Traditionally drops were picked up and pressed for cider, however with the E. coli scare and the advent of more stringent standards, most orchards no longer practice this. 
  • Escaladder - my favorite spanglish word from the orchard, a combination between the English and Spanish word for ladder. 

  • Gourd Ass Green - this a phrase I have to include, it was coined by the crew leader back in Wisconsin.  I hope I am remembering it correctly.  It was used to describe apples that should not have been picked during color picking.  I am not sure if the phrase made sense to me at the time, but it seemed to roll of the tongue nicely.     
  • Gravy - incredibly good picking.  Usually gravy is characterized by large apples on small trees that do not require any ladder work.  Gravy however can also consists of more normal sized apples if they are easy to pick (don't spur) and do not bruise easily (so they can be picked faster).  Good "gravy" varieties are often Cortland, Empires, Mutsu and Jonagolds among others.  Note: Many seasoned pickers I have spoken to say they prefer lager trees rather than smaller ones when there is a good crop cause there is less bending over and a good ladder set can often yield a full bucket without moving from one spot.
  •  Gravy Grabber - a picker who always seems to gravitate towards the best picking when given the opportunity. 
  • Ladder Set - all the apples that can be reached from your ladder.  Smaller trees often only have one ladder set, whereas larger trees often require four or five to reach all the apples.  Knowing where to place your ladder is important for stability sake, but knowing where to place a ladder to maximize picking can also mean the difference between two ladder sets or five in a larger tree.
  • Marbles - unusually small apples, usually found on trees that are sickly or were not thinned properly during the summer.  Picking marbles is highly undesirable because it takes much longer to pick a bushel and small apples are much heavier in the picking bucket.  
  • Spurring - occurs when the "spur" comes off the tree along with the apple.  This is undesirable both because it causes the picker to slow down and remove the spur (ideally) before putting it in the picking bucket and because the spur is the source of next years flower and subsequently fruit.  If too many spurs come off the tree during picking the next years crop will be greatly reduced.   
  • Stem Pull - a big no-no for pickers, especially when it comes to Red Delicious, stem pulls occur when the stem stays on the tree instead of coming off with the apple.  Unlike spurring, stems pulls do not affect the tree, but with out their stems apples will not keep in storage as long.
  • Stripping - one of a picker's favorite words to hear.  When you strip a tree you take all the apples, as opposed to size or color picking when you only take those apples that are suitable to be sold for eating and leave those that are too small or green for cider. 
  • Tops - all the apples that can not be reached easily (key word) by standing on the ground.   
  • Walking on Marbles - picking in trees where the majority of apples have already fallen prior to your arrival.  In the worst cases so many apples have fallen that they form a solid layer under the tree, but have maintained enough structural integrity that they do not crush under your weight, but rather roll like marbles.  I would venture to guess that every long-time apple picker has lost at least one bucket while walking on marbles.  

Thursday, November 26

Giving Thanks

"All apples are good in November.  Those which the farmer leaves out as unsalable, and unpalatable to those who frequent the markets, are choicest fruit to the walker.  But it is remarkable that the wild apple, which I praise as so spirited and racy when eaten in the fields  or woods, being brought into the house, has frequently a harsh and crabbed taste.  The Saunterer's Apple not even the saunterer can eat in the house.  The palate rejects it there, as it does haws and acorns, and demands a tamed one; for there you miss the November air, which is the sauce it is to be eaten with....These apples have hung in the wind and frost and rain till they have absorbed the qualities of the weather of season, and thus are highly seasoned, and they pierce and sting and permeate us with their spirit....To appreciate the wild and sharp flavors of these October fruits, it is necessary that you be breathing the sharp October or November air.  The out-door air and exercise which the walker gets give a different tone to his palate, and he craves a fruit which the sedentary would call harsh and crabbed.  They must be eaten in the fields, when your system is all aglow with exercise, when the frosty weather nips your fingers, the wind rattles the bare boughs or rustles the few remaining leaves, and the jay is heard screaming around.  What is sour in the house a bracing walk makes sweet.  Some of these apples might be labelled, "To be eaten in the wind."
                                                                 -Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples

I read this passage for this first time the other day and found it speaking to me.  The late November air outside my window has seemed to strip the last of the leaves from the trees.  Only a few stubborn Oaks still cling to the brown remnants of their photosynthesizing extremities.  Having always left the orchard when picking was done, I often try to imagine, not really knowing what the trees now look like.  I imagine their are some fruit that manage to cling to the branch longer than the leaves around it.  They perhaps have lost some of their luster as they hang from a leafless branch.  To walk thought the orchard now would be a much different experience.  Wandering among skeletons, the trees might seem much smaller now without their leafy cloaks.  Perhaps there is, somewhere under a tree, the half eaten core of an apple enjoyed by a picker as they sat, back against their bin on a warm September afternoon.   I think I can relate to what Thoreau speaks of, for that same apple if placed in the bin rather than eaten by the picker on that autumn afternoon would not, in my opinion have given the same enjoyment to any other palate no matter how well kept or preserved.
I think of all the supermarkets and all the apples that are the only apples that have ever been tasted by many souls and it makes we wonder how our idea of a desirable apple might change if we placed more emphasis on how an apple tasted in the crisp autumn air, eaten among the trees from which it came, and less emphasis on how well an apple travels across the country in a box or how beautiful it looks on the produce shelf once it has arrived. 
I can only begin to imagine the complex tastes of one of Thoreau's apples found on a long walk some November afternoon.  What I am assured of is that the apples I ate while picking, usually several times a day when hunger would encourage a mid-morning or afternoon break, do not compare to any I would take from the store of apples in the basement let alone any I have ever found on a supermarket shelf.  I know that many foods taste better out of doors, but I do believe there is something that is even more exquisite about a fruit, taken from the tree not a minute before it is ripe and eaten in the grassy shade of that same tree. 
It is now November and the only apples left on the trees are no doubt better suited to fall in their own time than to be plucked by my hand.  The apples in storage, although perfect for sauce, butter or a crisp would not provide the same gustatory  experience as they would have two months ago when my hand briefly grasped them between the tree and my picking bucket.
I  am well aware that what I propose puts into question my own work as an apple picker, the thing that brought be to the orchard in the first place.  I accept my place as a picker, a provider of fruit to those who do not venture out into the orchards, or the woods among apple trees wild and grafted.  As we celebrate this time of "Thanksgiving" I find myself feeling cynical in my perception of what I believe to be a great detachment from the harvest and bounty that we are fain to celebrate and give thanks for.  If one's knowledge of an apple goes no further than the produce section of the supermarket or even the local farm stand, are they really able to conceive the true nature of  the apple, whether it be a wild one found on one of Thoreau's saunters in the woods or a Macoun, Pippin or Ida Red taken from a tree in the long rays of an October afternoon.  I wish for every person who desires to feel truly thankful for what is continually provided to us to at least once in their life walk the circumference of an apple tree searching for that one apple that calls out to them, pick it and polish its skin with the inside of their shirt, lean against the trunk among the fallen leaves and half rotting apples and enjoy the apple in its juicy simplicity.

Thursday, November 19

Story of an Apple: McIntosh

Although it is not personally one of my favorite apples, I thought it appropriate to introduce the McIntosh apple, being as it is the parent by hybridization of many other apple cultivars.  This apple dates back to 1811, to a tree discovered by John McIntosh on his farm in Dundela County, Ontario Canada.
John was the son of a Scottish immigrant, who was a loyalist during the American Revolution.  Born in the Mohawk Valley of New York state in 1777, John moved to Ontario Canada in his early twenties.  He settled in what was then Matilda township and began clearing his newly acquired land.  During this process  he discovered a number of seedling apple trees.  He decided to transplant them to his garden, but by the next year only one had survived the cold Canadian winter.
After tending this survivor for several years the tree finally began to bare fruit.  The fruit it bore -  green apple with a distinct deep red blush - would ultimately be named the Red McIntosh by the man who discovered it.
In an attempt to propagate his new found apple John planted several of it's seeds, only to discover what many after him also would; that apples grown from a seed often show no resemblance to the apple from which they came (I plan to cover this phenomenon in detail in a later post).  In the 1830's John and his son Allen welcomed a visitor to their farm who as luck would have it, was able to show them how to graft a cutting from his prised McIntosh tree onto the base of another apple tree.  With the new found ability to propigate the McIntosh through grafting, the family began to develop a full fledged nursery and by the late 1830's John's sons Allen and Alexander had taken over the family business.
The original tree which John had transplanted into his garden survived the nineteenth century, although it was severely damaged by a fire in 1896.  In 1908 over a hundred years after the tree had been discovered in bore it's last crop.
In the years since the McIntosh has gained significant popularity around the world.  In its homeland it accounts for over half the apples grown each year.
Today many different varieties of the McIntosh exist.  Among them are:
  • Hampshire Mac
  • Linda Mac
  • Marshall McIntosh
  • Mor-Spur McIntosh
  • Pioneer McIntosh
  • Rogers Red McIntosh
  • Scotian Spur McIntosh
  • Summerland Red McIntosh
  • Spotted McIntosh

The McIntosh or Mac as it is often called is a fairly early season apple, usually one of the first of the popular fall varieties to be picked.  For pickers it can be a very frustrating apple to pick due to the fact that it is incredibly soft and very easy to bruise.  It comes off the tree very easily however, which makes them easy to pick quickly, but also allows them to fall to the ground if you even look at them the wrong way.  Picking a branch of Macs can often be like playing Jenga; if you reach for the wrong apple first you may loose half the branch.  Thus the skill of a good seasoned apple picker is often evident in their ability to pick Macs well.  

Tuesday, November 10

End of the Season

Picking bags have been hung up for the season, ladders collected from the orchard.  Pickers have gone on their way, heading to places like Pittsburgh, Asheville, Portland (Maine) and Hawaii.  Some not sure where they will even end up next as they pack up their belongings and head off in cars, on buses or motorcycles.  "The trellis" is always the last block of trees to be picked, mostly cider apples some of them being sold to other orchards.  It was a very good crop this year.  I spent my last afternoon picking a few good Mutsu apples that were left and then Macouns, slightly overripe and small, but still perfectly good for cider.  The air was cool and as clouds rolled in as the day drew close to an end far before it seemed like it should, as the light faded I headed out of town moving on to my own unknown place.

The past few months all of a sudden seem to have passed more quickly than I thought.  Being one of the last to leave the bunkhouse felt very empty as I packed up a car full of possessions that had made my little corner of the otherwise bare bunkhouse feel like home to me.  Trudging through leaves that had not even shown a tint of color let alone any hit of falling when I first arrived, I feel a certain melancholia that one often feels when leaving a place or people that have come to hold significance.  If even for a short time, this place, the bunkhouse, the long rows of apple trees, the picking bag hung over my shoulders, have all grown to feel familiar, stability in a fleeting world.   

All the apples are in and the last of the leaves are falling to the ground covering the apples that have already begun to decompose.  I wonder how many times some of the molecules in an apple have been recycled as a tree nourishes itself with it's own fallen fruit.

Tuesday, November 3

Turning Leaves Falling Apples

 "When the apple is ripe it will fall." -- Irish proverb

 Its amazing to me sometimes how quickly the light changes this time of year.  Not just the length of the day, but the quality of the light.  It seems as the days grow shorter the shadows longer and the light more golden.  The past week has felt very fleeting as many of the remaining leaves have fallen off of the trees.  Many of the apple trees have also begun to turn a burnt golden, creating a great contrast with the dark reds and purples of the apples remaining among their branches.  Those apples that somehow hid behind the leaves in September can no longer camouflage themselves among the leaves that now so exquisitely compliment their hue.  Below many of the apple trees lies a blanket of overripe apples, which can make picking difficult.  Scrambling between trees with a half full picking bucket while walking on a layer of partially decomposing apples is like trying to keep your balance on marbles.  The  pungent smell of vinegar wafts up occasionally greeting your nose with an odor that provides a gentle reminder of the cyclic nature of life.  When you go to dump your apples into the bin you often discover that the number of leaves that have fallen into your bag often out numbers the apples.
I have never picked into November before.  The long rays of the sun have begun to remind me too closely of a crisp December day and the temperature at dusk too closely mimics that of a winter evening.  All of the crab apple trees that are planted for pollination in among the Empires have lost almost all their leaves.  While a golden carpet surrounds their trunks, the crab apples themselves still cling to the branches, their red clusters stark against the brown branches of the tree, which reach out, almost begging for the first snow to cover them.
These first days of November feel very peaceful in the orchard.  The early morning seems to blend right into the late afternoon and midday starts to seem like a distant summer memory.  Reaching into the flaxen leaves to pick an apple, I know not whether to treasure more highly the leaves which will tomorrow turn brown, or the apple which almost seems to fall into my hand as I grasp it.

There is only a few more days of picking and the word in the orchard is that they may run out of bins before they run out of apples to put in them; the consequence of a good crop.  It gets dark at five now and the walk home in the dusk is often filled with the sent of wood smoke.  It feels good to be part of the last days of harvests, there is something very rewarding about getting in the last of the fruit.  There is also something very lonely, almost haunting however about seeing all the empty trees around you.  There is a comfort however in remembering the fruit they once bore, for it is a reminder of what is to come.

Thursday, October 29

Rainy Days and Honey Crisp Cider

Another rainy day in the bunkhouse.  The rain on the tin roof seems almost therapeutic.  The squirrels made there way into the rafters a few weeks ago, I imagine they will probably stay for the winter.  They love to run back and forth above me, on rainy days like today it seems like we all get a little stir crazy.  Looking outside however, watching the rain fall and the last of the suborn leaves finally let go and fly away, I feel glad to be under this tin roof, the smells of a caramelized onion tart drifting up from the kitchen.

The bunkhouse at Moose Hill

The bunkhouse at Moose Hill Orchards is from what I understand an old barn, probably built sometime in the nineteenth century.  It is called the evaporator, owing to the fact that it used to be used to dry apples before storage.  It has since be renovated to house the picking crew during the fall.  The few brave souls that stay for winter tree pruning make there home in one side of the bunkhouse where they can be close to the barrel stove, the only source of heat in the cold winter months.  The kitchen on the first floor has become the place to socialize as the evenings have gotten colder.  The first floor also houses the room with the barrel stove where pickers often spend time playing the piano or guitar, or just drinking beers and telling stories.  The second floor houses several private rooms along with a library of books; shelves and shelves of them, collected and left by pickers over the years.  The third floor is sleeping quarters for those not wanting to spend their nights in a tent somewhere on the hill behind the bunkhouse.
On rainy days like today pickers can be found all over the bunkhouse, watching one of the many movies that have also seemed to accumulate in the library over the years, carving a pumpkin, or reading a book next to the stove.  Some just take the day to nap.  One can often find someone in the kitchen taking on a special baking project or heating up some leftovers for lunch. 
The desire for  a rainy day is a conflicted desire by this time in the season.  Earlier in the season when the days are long and the picking plentiful, a rainy day comes as a welcome reprieve from a six day work week, a lull in the storm that is the harvest.  By this time in the season however, as conversations turn to where people are headed next and when the last day of picking will actually be, a rain day just means one more day to wait. 

Honey Crisp Apples

They brought up some special cider from the packing house today, made only of Honey Crisp apples.  It was unlike any cider I have ever tried before.  Most cider is dark in color, due mainly to the dark red color skin that many apples have.  The Honey Crisp on the other hand has a much lighter skin and makes a cider almost the color of a white wine. Not as full bodied as most cider I have drank, it almost tastes as though it could be champagne without the bubbles.  On a cold rainy day the thought of mulling this cider and drinking it hot sounds like the perfect afternoon along with a bowl of popcorn and a good book.

Tuesday, October 27

Late Apples

"We are born believing. A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples."
                     -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

With only a week or two to go in the season, we have started picking all the later season apples.  The Mutsu, Golden Delicious and Red Delicious are some of the last apples to ripen.  With lots of apples still scattered here and there waiting to be picked for cider, morale of the crew felt low at the beginning of this past week.  Cider apples are traditionally all those apples that were either not big enough or red enough to be picked and sold as "fancy".  They are often scattered around a tree most of them on the inside and hard to reach.  All this does not make for very good picking when only cider apples are left.  With the first two days of last week dedicated to cleaning up several different orchards of Empires, Cortlands, Macouns and Galas picking the remainders of all for cider, the promise of the late season apples was still only a promise.  Come Wednesday morning after an all night rain, I awoke to a foggy morning, one of the only ones I have had here.  Hoping for a late start in order to let the trees dry out, pickers slowly made there way down to the kitchen to get that first cup of coffee.  Waiting for the roasted potatoes and fritata to be ready, standing out in the cool blanket of fog, the word came; we were headed for the Mutsus.    
An apple I have never picked until this season, the Mutsu was always promised by veteran pickers to be a great apple to pick, and for an apple picker that usually means a large apple that fills the bin quickly and doesn't bruise to easily.  The morning wasn't ideal, the fog held in the moisture, sometimes seeming to make the trees wetter rather than dryer.  Every time you would reach for an apple, you would be showered with drops of water cupped in all the leaves on the branches above you.
By the early afternoon, the clouds began to clear and the sun burned through.  It was good picking and nobody seemed to really want to go to lunch, for me, lunch ended up being an apple as I sat on my picking bucket taking a break.  The promise had had been fulfilled, the Mutsus were a great apple to pick.  
As the bins filled the day moved forward and the sun fell lower in  the sky.  By the late afternoon we had moved to long east/west rows.  As the sun reached the horizon I could peer down the row at one of the more beautiful sunsets I have seen since I have been here.  Each time I returned to my bin to dump another bucket of apples into the bin, it seemed as though the colors had gotten a little deeper and more brilliant, till finally it began to fade, as did the light.  By this time bins were being topped off and hands rubbed together as the chilly night air moved in with the deepening of dusk.  After seeing my breath, I knew I was glad to be heading back to the bunkhouse for some hot food and a good dark beer.    



Saturday, October 24

Story of an Apple: Golden Delicious

The Golden Delicious is one of the most well known apples in the United States along with its companion the Red Delicious.  Unlike many popular apples today which are the result of an intentional hybridization of existing apple cultivars, the Golden delicious was a product of nature, a chance seedling.  
Found in a pasture on a farm in Clay County, West Virginia, it is believed to be a cross between a Grimes Golden and a Golden Reinette, neither of which is commonly grown today.  The following is an account of the discovery:

“I was born in 1876 on the farm where that apple tree later became famous. My dad was L. L. Mullins, who owned the farm. "Now one day, when I was about 15 years old, that would have been about 1891, dad sent me out with a big old mowin' scythe to mow the pasture field. "I was swingin' away with the scythe when I came across a little apple tree that had grown about 20 inches tall. It was just a new little apple tree that had volunteered there. There wasn't another apple tree right close by anywhere. "I thought to myself, 'Now young feller, I'll just leave you there,' and that's what I did. I mowed around it and on other occasions I mowed around it again and again, and it grew into a nice lookin' little apple tree and eventually it was a big tree and bore apples. "Now my dad later gave that piece of the farm in a trade to my brother, B. W. Mullins, and later still he traded the farm place to Uncle Anderson Mullins. "Uncle Anderson had a brother-in-law named Gus Carnes, and one day Gus and Uncle Anderson decided to send some of the apples to the Star Brothers nursery to tell what kind of apple it was. And that was when the tree became famous and started the Golden Delicious apple line, for it was that tree that has produced every last one of the Golden Delicious apple trees that have ever grown anywhere. "The Starks sent a man to look at the tree, just like you've heard, and they bought the tree and the ground for 30 feet around it, and eventually they fenced it.  They were to get all the fruit from the tree, down to the last apple." [i]
Starks Nursery who bought the propigation rights to the apple began to market it in 1914 as a companion to another one of it's apples, the Red Delicious.  The original tree, which was purchased from Mullins for a sum of five thousand dollars continued to produce fruit until the early 1950's when it finally died.  It has since become a very popular apple and is grown from New England to Washington state.  It was also named the state apple of Virginia in 1955.
The Golden Delicious is one of the later apples to be harvested.  From a pickers perspective I find it to be a fun apple to pick.  Usually large, it is not as easy to bruise as a Macintosh, but if bruised, the golden skin will show it very readily.  When very ripe they often develop a blush where the sun hits them, especially those that have exposure to the early morning rays.  When over ripe they can be a little waxy to the touch and are very aromatic once in the bin.  Although I don't personally find it to be a great keeper, fresh off the tree it is very sweet and if not overly ripe, very crisp.  A great snack on an October afternoon. 
[i]"Dunbar Man 'Discoverer' of Golden Delicious Apple". Charleston Daily Mail. October 18, 1962

Wednesday, October 21

A Background

"What a healthy out-of-door appetite it takes to relish the apple of life, the apple of the world, then!"  -- Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples

I fee like perhaps it is appropriate to begin with the story of my life, maybe not my whole life just now, but at least the part that has lead to a bunkhouse in New Hampshire, where I now sit next to a barrel stove writing this. 
I was born in Chicago Illinois, although I wouldn't consider myself a city kid.  By the time I was old enough to be out exploring my surroundings to any great degree, my mother and I had relocated to rural Wisconsin.  It was a small town in the hills called Gays Mills surrounded by orchards on one side and the Kickapoo river on the other where I spent most of my childhood.
I feel as though I have always loved being outdoors, but more than that I think I have always loved working outdoors.  From a fairly early age this proved to be true, I worked on an organic farm for three summers during my high school years.  It was also then that I got my first taste of apple picking.  I worked with a few friends at Flemming Orchards, one of the smaller orchards on the ridge outside of Gays Mills (there were six orchards at the time two of which have since closed).  Even my first experience picking was a solitary one.  I would often get sent out on an ATV pulling a small trailer with crates, filling them as I went.  Occasionally I would get to pick into larger bins, usually twenty bushels, which would require me to wear a picking bag.  From time to time I would also arise at two in the morning on a Saturday and travel with the owner of the orchard to the farmers market in Madison Wisconsin selling pecks and half pecks of apples as well as fresh pressed cider.
By the time I was a senior in high school I
had "graduated" to one of the larger orchards on the ridge, Kickapoo Orchards, another family owned orchard.  There I picked with a crew of people, mostly local, some of whom only worked seasonally or the occasional odd job.  I had finished most of my required classes in order to graduate, so I would spend the morning in classes and the afternoon in the orchard.  It was during this time that I began to fall in love with the apple harvest.  After spending all morning in a stuffy classroom, the fresh crisp air of an October day felt amazing.  Climbing a sixteen foot wooden ladder to the top of a Cortland tree and observing the surrounding valleys and bluffs cloaked in their autumn blanket would always give me pause.
After high school I attended a small liberal arts college in Iowa.  The schedule which worked on the block plan allowed me to take a month off per year and still be a full time student.  I didn't have to think twice about which month I wanted to take off.  For two out of four of my college years I spent the month of September in the apple trees before returning to school, with some extra money which I had no trouble finding a use for.
With four years of higher learning under my belt, I took a post graduation road trip, which at the time almost felt like a requirement.  Even after a trip British Columbia and the Olympic peninsula, the apple trees and autumn air pulled me back to Wisconsin and come September I found myself once again with a picking bag strapped over my shoulders, this time at Sunrise Orchards; the largest orchard on the ridge and the largest family owned orchard in the state of Wisconsin.
By this time the rhythm was set, I knew where I wanted to be when fall rolled around.  The following year I hopped off the Appalachian Trail after hiking for four months and headed back for the apple harvest.  Although I moved to Madison and worked at a cooperative bakery for the next two years I still found time to come up to Gays Mills for at least part of the season.  After two years in Madison however my wanderlust lead me to the road once again.  Having left Madison this past May I embarked on a long distance bike ride from New York to Michigan and than another across Iowa.  With this summer also came the fulfillment of a long time dream of mine as I made my first journey to Alaska.  Upon my return however summer had made it’s way to a close.  As the warm summer nights gave way to brisk autumn mornings I made one final journey to New Hampshire where I would pick apples for the first time away from my hometown.  My destination was Moose Hill Orchards, a place I had herd much about from several different friends who had picked there ten and twenty years before. 
Here I now sit next to the barrel stove in the bunkhouse at Moose Hill Orchards.  With apples still left to bring in and frost on the pumpkins, I can't think of may places I would rather be.  Cheers!

Monday, October 19

The Apple Seed

I have been an apple picker for nine seasons.  In that time I have learned a great deal about the apple, how it is grown, tended and harvested.  But in that time I have also spent countless hours out among the apple trees, many of them solitary.  All this time has given me the opportunity to think more about the significance of this fruit, how it has worked its way into the fabric of our lives.  More than that however, I also think about the apple as metaphor, as myth.

During these seasons, the apple harvest has worked its way into my own life.  If I was not out in the trees picking, climbing ladders, listening to tractors off in the distance hauling off full bins of apples, I would feel like a part of me was missing.  I know this might sound cliche, but an orchard in the fall seems like the only place that feels like home.
I don't keep a journal, I never have been very good at that, but I wanted a way to share some of my experience as an apple picker, the "culture" of apple picking you might call it.  My idea was to keep a daily journal of the approximately two month long apple picking season.  However, more than that I wanted to share the many things I have learned about apples as well as the my own thoughts and realizations about the fruit.
The apple has made its way into out literature, mythology, and cookbooks not to mention our bodies for centuries.  I would love to explore this more, and I hope to learn as much by doing this as will anyone who chooses to read what I write.
The apple has been taken from the tree, remade, polished and placed in a little box labeled "Red Delicious."  I want to open that box and examine what is really inside.  Through my stories and journal keeping I also hope to give a glimpse into the lives of fruit pickers or more broadly food growers and harvesters, people who have been largely marginalized and forgotten.  
Like an apple seed which will almost certainly not produce anything like the apple it came from when planted, I do not know exactly where this will lead, or what will come from it, but I hope it is something that is compelling, slightly nostalgic at times, informative and entertaining. Let the seed grow!