We invited a slew of friends over at the beginning of the month to pick apples, hoping to share the bounty while spending time together. It was such a nice day, connecting with each other over potluck dishes in the early fall weather. Our neighbors brought two vehicles: a pickup with multiple plastic tubs in the bed came first, and then the tractor with an antique cider press in the bucket rolled in, and the party really got started. We put the kids to work filling the tubs with apples to be pressed, and everyone broke out their milk jugs and quart jars to take home fresh, raw apple cider. It might be the best cider I’ve ever tasted.
When I went out the next morning to clean up and collect anything left behind (only a blue soccer ball and a metal soup ladle, surprisingly), I was dismayed to realize the trees looked as if we’d hardly picked anything. We had pressed close to ten gallons of cider, and most families took at least one bag of apples home, and still we were swimming in fruit. It wasn’t until a newer mama friend brought her five kiddos over to pick that we actually made some headway. This crew came prepared with baskets and totes, and they meant business! My girls loved playing with them and helping them fill their bags, and I got to engage in some much-needed adult conversation. The icing on the cake was the selection of home-grown-and-preserved goodies they brought for us, along with a couple of acorn squash.
About a week later, we asked those gracious neighbors of ours if they’d be up for pressing again one afternoon if we picked the apples and carted them down the road. We were quite excited when they said yes, and so we hitched the wagon to the four-wheeler, and trundled down the dirt road with our apples. This time we took our turn at the crank, and helped strain the liquid while the girls ran around the garden. We left five gallons behind for wine making, and took another five or so home. I froze two gallons, canned one quart and a couple pint jars, gave a jug away and enjoyed the rest. It was just the kind of afternoon I had hoped for when we moved to the country – working together with neighbors and friends, each bringing something to the table that the other doesn’t have, and all leaving richer and happier for the joint effort. Really, really nice.
I think we may finally be coming to the end of what apples we can use. The drops need to be cleaned up still, though I’ve dropped two cases off at the sheep farm, and sent oodles home with a friend for her pigs. Making crockpot applesauce is still a near daily task, but we now need a ladder to pick what fruit is still good.
Because a lot of it isn’t good. A lot of it is bad, and for reasons mostly unbeknownst to us.
Last weekend we packed lunches and put ourselves in the truck for a drive back up to MOFGA for their Great Maine Apple Day. We had spent the day prior collecting a sample of all of our apples, one from each tree, and numbering them to match a crude orchard map Swee and I had drawn. We paid our $8 admission, and wandered through the hall, tasting fruits and checking out the different varieties. Tucked into a shoebox were our own apples, and I had a really nice conversation with an expert about what we might have on our hands (five Red Delicious trees among them, in his estimation), and then left our fruit and our email addresses with him. A whole team of people will sit down over the next few weeks and try to identify apples brought in from all over the state, and then let us know what they think. I’m excited to see the results.
What I was less excited by is the confirmation that we have several pests to deal with in the orchard: coddling moth, plum curculio, apple maggot, flyspeck, and potentially even a case of fire blight in the pear tree. Woof. It’s a daunting list, and we will need to sit down this winter and decide on our course of action. We know for sure that the trees all need to be heavily pruned, so that’s next on the list of skills to acquire.
Oh, we have so much to learn.
ps: All of this apple exposure has definitely filtered down into the pretend play around here. Just yesterday morning, the girls built their own cider press out of their workbench, complete with “cloth” for filtering. I love it.