Friday September 21, 2012

It’s easy to get carried away when picking apples.

I try hard to be efficient. I like systems, routine and the feeling of a job well-done with no time wasted. This past Sunday all seemed to be going great -- it was a gorgeous September day, we didn’t have plans and the head colds that had kept us home in the morning had abated a bit, so we decided to take some time to go apple-picking as a family, even bringing Wonka, our family dog, along.

Clearly we weren’t the only ones who decided to take advantage of this lovely day in the same way -- Green Mountain Orchards was packed!

Not only were there apples and blueberries to be picked, but they had live music and horse-drawn wagon rides. My husband and the girls waited outside with the dog while I braved the crowd and went in to get the details on picking. We had decided to try Gala apples -- a favorite when bought at the grocery store, but a variety that we had never picked ourselves. I was shown where the Galas were ready and waiting and then grabbed four half-bushel bags, one for each of us, citing that this way there would be no arguing over whose apples went in which bags. Ready to go, I headed for the door and my family, feeling pleased with myself for being so organized, taking advantage of this afternoon in such a fun, yet productive way.

We headed up the dirt track, past the solar panels and ponies, swinging our empty bags. My husband, Jon, had looked at me with a questioning expression when I handed the large bags around. Feeling ridiculously pleased at the idea of bringing home the apple harvest, I merely smiled and waved off his apparent concern over the volume of apples I intended we pick and went on chattering about where we were headed, reminding 7-year-old Margot how to pick the apples with a twist, just like she had been taught in preschool.

The Gala apple trees were absolutely loaded with fruit. Our 12-year-old daughter, Marielle, kept finding branches that had snapped off trees because of the weight of the apples growing on them. These apples still stuck to the branches, slowly softening as the branch dried up, a reminder that sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. Margot didn’t have to worry about twisting the apples from the branches; very often they just plunked off onto the ground, or, if she were lucky, into her bag. Jon and I picked away as well, and Wonka, who was surrounded by his favorite snack, munched away happily on one of the many drops.

After about 20 minutes of picking, laughing and picture-taking, we realized that we didn’t need all that many more apples to fill our four bags. I couldn’t believe how quickly they had filled up -- apples are efficient that way, as raspberries and blueberries can’t be because of their size. I was feeling recklessly pleased with our haul, so satisfied with how we had spent our time together as a family, outside in the gorgeous Vermont sun, all while picking fruit that promised to be made into some of our favorite treats.

What I had forgotten was this: Someone has to turn that fruit into our favorite treats -- it doesn’t happen magically with the help of kitchen elves. And then, as we turned to head back toward our car with our four bags of apples, I also remembered that what had so recently been a relaxing and fun walk out to the orchard, would now be weighed down with the fruits of our labor. Jon and I each took two bags, while the girls shared the camera and the dog. After several stops to rest and let the blood flow back into our fingers, we trudged up to the counter with our apples, meeting along the way a few friends who commented things like "Wow! You’re going to be busy!" Looking at their reasonable sized peck bags, I realized just how many apples we had picked and wondered what lunacy this bounty revealed in us.

When we got home, Jon weighed the bags to see just how many apples we had actually picked. The total came to 80 pounds. Now fully aware of the sheer volume, I jumped right in. We made apple crisp for dinner, as well as my grandmother’s apple knobby cake for a special lunch box treat and a big batch of applesauce to freeze (love that food mill my mom picked up -- I won’t need to borrow my friend, Jill’s, anymore!). This didn’t even use up an entire bag. The next night we were back at school and work with a variety of things going on, but I did manage to make another batch of applesauce, which the girls had also been eating for breakfast and snack. On Tuesday I asked Jon to pick up more butter, as we were burning through that and I was going to need more flour before I could make pie crust for the pies I wanted to freeze. That night I made another apple crisp (breakfast for Wednesday) as well as a third batch of applesauce.

Now I was running out of containers for freezing the applesauce. Granted, we were almost down by half, or 2 bags, but were still tripping on them as they waiting, now almost mockingly, in the kitchen, but there was still a long way to go!

And so we will continue to crunch on our apples for lunches and snacks. There will be more applesauce made, not to mention the pies that I have promised, and maybe even some apple dumplings. I also love to make baked apples, full of raisins and cinnamon on a cool fall evening. It’s feeling like hot oatmeal weather as well, which is always good with a bit of chopped apple stirred in. Somewhere I have an apple quick bread recipe lurking around, and maybe this weekend I will plan a dinner braising apples and cabbage together as a side dish, or grilling a halved apple to go with a piece of pork. And when I just can’t take it anymore, a friend mentioned to me that they just freeze sliced apples, easy to use in sauce, pies and crisp, right out of the freezer.

It’s a good thing apples are so versatile -- we’ve got enough to last us a long, long time, and I am thankful that the weather has turned cooler so that we can store these last 2 bags out in the barn, helping them to stay fresh a bit longer. Please, someone remind me next year that when it comes to apples, it’s OK to be a little less efficient and to spread the joy of apple picking out into a couple of trips!

Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at jpottercooks@gmail.com.