Sunday, October 4, 2009

“A” Is For “Apple”

Its apple season and I sure miss the wonderful apples my Dad used to grow in our own back yard. When we first moved to Moreland Hills, I was the youngest of 3, just turning 6 years old. Dad acquired a three acre property complete with fruit trees, most of which being apples of various types. We each claimed a tree from that point on was referred to as “Beth’s tree”, etc. I chose the Jonathan, a sweeter, smaller apple hence a smaller tree of which I was capable of climbing. In addition to my tree, the yard was dotted with a couple of Golden Delicious, twin Granny Smiths, a Cortland and a Baldwin.

Dad soon learned how to care for his orchard. He went to the library to research sprays and pesticides appropriate for our region, when and how to prune, what to assess and maintain the trees he grew to take pride in year ‘round.

On those early autumn days while the weather was still warm and the late season sun cast an amber glow across the lawn, the air was crisp with the sweet fragrance from apples that had fallen to the ground. The yellow jackets buzzed around the decaying fruit the deer had left behind. We each grasped a corner of the durable woolen army blanket beneath Dad who was teetering 12 feet above us on the rickety old wooden ladder, poised to catch either him or the individual handpicked apples with care. The well-choreographed event prevented the precious fruit from bruising, requiring the unexpected phenomenon of teamwork. Wheelbarrows full of fresh multi-colored apples were carefully transported to the garage to be sorted, hand polished and measured into bushel baskets for sale.

I remember being escorted into the bank to open our very own individual savings account. Our first deposits totaled a healthy sum, even for the 1960’s. We continued to follow the same tradition every fall, introducing a different activity each subsequent year. The first year we attempted to squeeze our own cider with an antique cider press, only to find our efforts futile. The following year, we drove our harvest further out to the country to Patterson Fruit Farm, a large yet still old fashion operation. They systematically weighed our vehicle by driving our apple heaped car onto the wooden platform scale, weighing again after unloading the baskets and crates then compensating accordingly for the difference. The disappointment for me was discovering that the cider we brought home was in fact not from our apples with which I had developed a personal relationship. Some cider was enjoyed immediately, some stored to become “hard” and some kept and aged for medicinal purposes like sinusitis and digestive ailments. I got why the old adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” originated.

The bushels of freshly picked apples were transformed into pie and applesauce my Mom made in quantity, storing in the freezer for us to enjoy all year long. She taught me how to make the best deep-dish pie, 6 at a time! She showed me how to can applesauce she rigorously put through the ricer then slow-cooked, finally adding cinnamon red hot candies to sweeten, lending its characteristic pink colour. Decades later while living in Wisconsin, Mom sent me a huge box of individually wrapped apples from home. She included a blend of different varieties that carefully formulated a balance of both flavor and texture. It came to be known as the most expensive pie ever, considering the cost of postage by weight and volume. In anticipation of their future visit, I was also determined to make it the best!

The years past and weather took its toll on my tree. The sheer weight of ice following an unseasonable storm split my tree in half, too much of a shock for it to survive. Mom had the foresight to collect the last of the few apples that poor little tree would ever produce, and deliver them to me. Mom and Dad continued their apple ritual, earning a reputation in the community as well as with charities. They sold their now highly regarded apples to friends and neighbors, donating all proceeds to support Heifer Project International. Mom would take her pink applesauce from the freezer and package it with her signature chicken soup for friends who were ill or receiving chemotherapy.

When Dad died in 2004, all I could think to say in memoriam was the experience we had through the life of the apple. I offered an apple on the altar in memory of Dad, our teacher; of growth, harvest, teamwork, economics, sustenance, health, sharing and caring, respect for Mother Nature and the spirituality expressed by the symbology of the apple. Thanks Mom & Dad for the lessons learned and the lifetime of inspiration.