By ADRIENNE ANIFANT
WHEN I WAS A CHILD, my grandfather used to take my mother and me berry picking at the beginning of every summer.
I hated it at first.
I would have just settled into the languorous days of my summer vacation routine that began with sleeping late. Then my mother would shake my shoulders at 5:30 a.m.
“Dziadzia, will be here soon. We’re going berry picking today.”
Dziadzia, pronounced Jha-jhoo, was Polish for grandpa. I slumped my shoulders and dragged myself to the landing to put my shoes on.
As I hauled myself through the door in a sleepy torpor, I peered at him through squinted eyes to show him the hour was too early. He was standing on the front step and looking at our bushes.
“Deer are eatin’ your bushes, and your dogwood is dyin’ from a fungal disease,” he said, pointing to the shrubs and trees in our front yard.
He was always giving us this kind of information. He turned around to look at me.
“What’s the matter with you?”
I smiled and pretended to sleepwalk, peeking at him through the corner of my eye.
“Oh tired, are ya? Well, let’s go. It’s time to work.”
When we arrived at the farm, I stepped out of the car. The dew still clung to the blades of grass and berries like small diamonds. The sunlight began to spread its marmalade-colored fingers across the sky.
I watched Dziadzia grab a cardboard berry-picking box from his trunk and walk into the patch, his flannel shirt catching the summer breeze and the tall grass brushing against his bow-legged stride.
Then, I loved everything about picking: the quiet early morning, the soft din of other pickers, their heads bowed, exchanging a few words, and kneeling in between the rows of berries as I spread the leaves searching for the pops of red.
I picked a lot, and I tried to pick the best berries, so Dziadzia would be proud of me.
WHEN I HAD MY OWN CHILDREN, I wanted to fill their childhood with memories like mine — the experience of standing amidst the silence of bushes and trees, putting your hands on branches and picking ripe fruit.
A friend’s family owned apple orchards in the valley, and suggested I bring my kids apple picking.
I had never been to an apple orchard before.
We didn’t eat fresh apples often as a child; I never liked the ones my father brought home from the grocery store.
But I decided we would give it a try. I wanted to celebrate the fall season with the same tradition in which I began my youthful summers — picking fresh fruit.
It wasn’t quite dawn, but it was still early when we pulled into the parking lot of the orchard. The sky was stained pale peach from an early September sun. The air was crisp and fresh. My son strained to see out his window,
“Look at those trees! What are we going to do here?”
The woman at the small red stand handed us two bags to fill with apples and gave my children a red wagon. My three-year old son took the handle and my two-year old daughter happily climbed in for the ride.
I had never heard of most of these apples! She must have seen my confusion because then she added cheerfully,
“Just try each one to see what you like!”
We thanked her as I helped my son pull the wagon.
As we walked up the hill into the orchard, the quietness settled around us like slowly falling snow.
I looked down at the long rows of apple trees each with their distinct shape and strangely twining branches. Lush green leaves framed clusters of bright red, shining apples that varied in size and detail depending on the variety. They were as beautiful as every poem and story I had read about fresh apples on the tree.
As I plucked one, there was a soft pop as the stem released the apple that almost fell into my hand. I gave it to my daughter, and I picked another for my son.
“I think these are Macouns. Try one,” I said.
They held the apples with two hands as they took their first bite. They smiled with the joy of having received a special gift.
“It’s like a song in my mouth,” my son said.
I looked at him in surprise. He was always saying things like this.
I took a bite of the apple, and I could hear the crunch and then taste the complexity of flavors: an essence of berry underlying the sugary sweetness. The flesh was tender-crisp and bright white.
I gave them each a Ginger Gold. I rolled the buttery yellow apple in my hands. Another I had never seen!
I took a bite, and the mild, crisp sweetness was light, refreshing, complex.
My son began to pick the apples he could reach near the bottom, filling his bag and whispering to himself. I lifted my daughter to pick the apples on the highest branches.
“Pull it,” I encouraged her. She paused and cupped the crimson apple in her hands and put it to her cheek.
“Pretty,” she said.
Click on the apple or orchard’s name to learn more about it, or watch the short videos below to learn more about Fuji and Macoun!
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VISITING A PICK-YOUR-OWN orchard this weekend? Watch this short video for an idea of what to expect.
As always, use our Orchard Finder to locate your destination, and call ahead to see what’s available.
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NEW ENGLAND APPLE ASSOCIATION will have four new apple varieties from Cold Spring Orchard, University of Massachusetts, Belchertown, this weekend in its booth in the Massachusetts Building in the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”): Fuji, Macoun, Shamrock, and Silken.
We will also have a new apple, Pink Luster, and Honeycrisp from Ragged Hill Orchard in West Brookfield; Cortlands from Breezelands Orchards, Warren; Galas from Nestrovich Fruit Farm, Granville; and Honeycrisp and McIntosh from Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, plus Carlson Orchards fresh cider, apple pies, apple squares, and cider donuts.
The 17-day Big E, the nation’s fifth largest agricultural fair, ends Sunday. The Massachusetts Building will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, and we will be serving apple crisp homemade by booth manager Bar Lois Weeks using her grandmother’s recipe.
If you can’t make it out to visit an orchard, come see us!
Grandmother Lois’ Apple Crisp
6 New England apples, like Northern Spy. McIntosh, or Cortland
1/4 c sugar
2 t cinnamon
Apple crisp topping
1/2 c (1 stick) cold, cubed butter
2/3 c brown sugar
3/4 c white or whole wheat flour
3/4 c old-fashioned oats
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Peel, core, and slice apples into 8×8 pan. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over apples.
In medium bowl, use pastry cutter to blend butter and brown sugar. With fingers, mix in flour and oats until crumbly texture. Cover the apples.
Bake 45 minutes, or until apples have softened and juices are bubbling around the edges.