Apple Pickin' and Pumpkin Patchin'
Butternut Farms had one crowded parking lot so we parked on some grass in what looked like a backyard. The big house situated between us and the farm made it feel like we were properties away, but we followed the trampled grass, knowing others have done the same countless times, and rounded the bushes 'til we saw the wonderland of apples, pumpkins, and other juicy delicious things they grow and sell here.
For some reason I thought it was too late to pick apples in the middle of October and the trees would be skeletons. This is because some of the varieties I like peak in early September or even late August. I never realized that the good stuff wasn't even ready until October. In my defense, I've only ever gone apple picking in late summer. That time of year, this place is hopping with blueberry and raspberry pickers and if you don't get to those early, you'll be on your knees digging around for the last scraps of fruit on the cane or branch. There are peach trees around the property, too, but I've never made it in time to get my hands on one. Better late than never, I guess.
But yeah, too late in the season to pick apples? I learned quickly that today was NATIONAL APPLE DAY. The place had the excitement of a theme park. We were only missing the guy in a pumpkin costume patting kiddies on the head. So who's the dummy now? Happily, I'll wear that crown. And I'll climb the highest ladder on the tallest Granny Smith tree and claim my scepter, a delightfully firm orb of sour-sweet crunchy flesh, tart green with cloudy red swirls. And I'll hold it to the sun, much too warm for the late October day it is, and boldy proclaim, “Yum!” Then I'll drop my prize in my peck bag, feel that gravity pull the bag to the earth, and Isaac Newton moment aside, get back to pickin'.
These bags fill fast. People make apple picking into this big daylong adventure, or act like it will be, but really it doesn't feel much different than going to the local farm to pick up the weekly CSA. Just grab some groceries, plop 'em in the cart, and go. But if this is all some people do to get in touch with their food, please, touch away. It's worth every stretch of the arm and every pluck of the branch.
Some of these trees are not much younger than me, trunks thick and gnarly with age. Here to stay, baby. Some of these trees are not much older than our puppy, and the huge fruits drooping off their wimpy twigs were impressive. So much in such a little place. We picked Granny Smiths and Macouns the size of grapefruits, then sampled one Aztec Fuji each and tossed a few of those into our bags, too. We fed the cores to whatever winged things were crawling around in the shade of the trees. I imagined the someday pigs and maybe chickens I'd pasture under my own daydream orchards. As Restoration Agriculture author Mark Shephard says, turn those wasted apples into bacon and pork chops!
I had enough room in my bag for about half an apple so I squeezed one more little Fuji in there and kettlebelled the bag over to the checkout area. The pumpkin line was out the door, but the checkout girl in the little barn looked pretty bored so we watched her heroically teeter-totter the overflowing apple bags on the grocery scale like a pro.
The smells of apple cider donuts baking had been cast off from another barn on the farm and those tasty tendrils hooked us and lured us inside, where money was spent and donuts were passed into hungry hands. With our treats, we walked to the pumpkin patch to see if anyone was going for the pumpkin-carrying challenge. For $20, you could keep every pumpkin you could carry for twenty steps. The day's records were 115 pounds (men) and 85 pounds (women). Someone could easily walk away with four or seven pumpkins if they were loaded up properly and willing to be miserable for about ten seconds. It was a tough decision, since I love silly challenges, but I wasn't sure what to do with a MINI full of pumpkins, so I pretended the pumpkins were puppies and petted them, warts and all.
The pumpkin patch made a pretty sight, framed in with the foliage. All that foliage. Blue, crisp sky. In the foreground, kiddies pulling wagons loaded with fruit. Rogue pumpkins and discarded vines in pretty garden rows. The smells of apple cider donuts and dried leaves in unseasonal heat. It was a lingering moment of the departing summer, and a sweet sliver of autumn bliss.