"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.