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Kitchen Garden

At the Orchard

Wilson’s Orchard and Farm, Sept. 30, 2020

I began work at the orchard in August 2013. It feels weird not returning this season. I was asked. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and Iowa’s lack of governmental leadership in containing it, combined with my personal risk factors, I declined the customer-facing position as mapper. Maybe next year.

A May frost during bloom took out some of the crop. Then the derecho knocked down trees and shook fruit loose. For the first time in my memory there was no u-pick operation last weekend to allow remaining apples to ripen. It won’t be the best crop. The apples I bought yesterday were grown by the chief apple officer’s brother in Michigan.

There is a crop. I hope to buy a bushel of Gold Rush at the end of the season. When I last inspected those rows they were abundant. What happens is customers start picking them before they are ripe. I’ll wait to see what’s left at the end of October when they ripen. Fingers crossed.

Our back yard apple trees are reaching the end of their lives so I planted two new ones last spring. The Earliblaze trees are slowly dying. The Red Delicious tree had a branch knocked down and the scar from where it was can’t be fixed. Since my trees alternate years of bloom we’ll see what they do next year but it’s clear they need to be replaced.

On Instagram I follow a few Europeans who post about food. Yesterday Maria Bessières posted about apples:

“Got a bit carried away this morning at the market and came home with 4 kg of apples. Now, there is a difference between an apple you get from the grocery store and the apple that grows in your garden. In Estonia apples are one of those things that you never run out of during autumn. Everyone has a grandma with an apple garden or a summer house with apple trees and once the season starts, there is no end in sight. So you make apple jams, compotes, juice, anything and everything you can imagine that uses apples. And when there are still too many of them lying around, you put bags or buckets of them outside of your garden for whoever happens to walk by to help themselves. Apples for days and days to come.”

In the United States that world of apples doesn’t exist with consistency. Supermarkets sell many apples yet we rarely buy them there. When our own trees don’t produce we visit one of the several area orchards and eat them fresh and in season. Instead of dealing with apple abundance during off years we buy them as commodities for out of hand eating or specific recipes. When we do have a crop I put them up as apple sauce, apple butter, dried apples, apple cider vinegar, apple juice, frozen apple slices, and more. During off years we work the pantry down until there is another crop. There is a predictable pattern of our personal apple kingdom. It’s reflective of a type of American individualism.

It’s already October and the orchard is into Ida Red and the Jonathan family of apples. Because of coronavirus restrictions the experience isn’t quite the same. I see them advertising for help in social media yet I’m not tempted to return until the risk of contracting COVID-19 from customers is in the rear view mirror.

The orchard is a pretty place, a fit place for walking and breathing fresh air. A change of scenery from the isolating confines of home during the pandemic. The cloudy sky doesn’t look different, then it does as we spend a couple of autumn hours at the orchard.

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