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.