It’s back to school across the country and with it comes the start of my favourite season – Autumn. Fall in Canada could very well be our best-selling feature. The leaves turn shades of red, yellow and orange and pumpkins are ready for harvest for Thanksgiving and Halloween. Hold UP! Before we get ahead of ourselves, all of the glorious sights, smells and enjoyment of Autumn begin with one simple thing. Apple season. Yep, apple picking is when you know Fall has officially arrived and it is a great activity to kick off this wonderful season.
The tranquility of strolling through an orchard is only interrupted by the thoughts of all the delectable treats you will make with the prize acquired through your hunt. I’m serious about the word hunt. There is something primal about apple picking. You stalk the farm, combing through tree after tree for that one perfect apple. When spotted, like a cheetah you tear the fruit from the branch with one fell swoop. The tree resists but cannot retain it’s hold on the apple. Your bounty is your reward. Alright this isn’t another episode of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”, and besides, I’m more of a gatherer than a hunter – but you get my point.
Apple picking is a tradition in my family. Of course it wasn’t so commercialized when I was young, and now “pick your own” orchards have everything from face painting, to playgrounds, haunted houses, corn mazes and petting zoos. Many are geared towards families with young children which give Mom and Dad a great opportunity to take the kids out in the cool autumn air and create lasting memories. But fear not childless or senior couples, because many farms can still transport you back to yesteryear with hay rides, great food and of course the apple picking itself.
Oh yes the cherished memories surrounding apple picking. Not every memory or tradition remains unblemished though. Let me preface this story with – I am a finicky eater. Finicky might be putting it lightly. I examine my food thoroughly and no one can talk about anything disgusting in my presence while I eat. My gag reflex is superior to most and my stomach rolls at the slightest thought, smell, vision or taste of anything I find revolting. Like I said, I’m a finicky eater.
Years ago with family in tow, Q and I headed out to a local apple orchard. I won’t say who or where it was, but we all know I live in Ontario – so that gives you over 1 million square kilometres to consider. Any whoo, this wasn’t just an orchard. It was a farm with other crops and livestock.
We were greeted at the gate by the lady of the house who loaded us up with the bags and baskets you need for the picking. As we were about to descend upon the orchard the farmer appeared. Convinced our trip would be enhanced by a hay ride, he had rigged his tractor up to a wagon to pull us through the farm. How lovely.
The farmer, an older gentleman weathered by time and his work, filled with good intentions was covered in shit. I kid you not. I’m certain it was pig shit, could have been horse shit, Q thought it was sheep shit. In any event, he had dirt and literally shit smeared on the front of his overalls. His hands were stained brown by what one could only assume was shit, his face speckled with something that resembled shit and I couldn’t quite make out whether it was his breath or what he was covered in but my God he smelled like shit.
The ride through the many acres of the orchard had us down wind from the farmer. All of our heads were turned to the back of the wagon, while the farmer drove forward into the fields. He finally stopped the tractor once he deemed he had found the perfect spot for us to begin picking.
Hoping to catch a breeze or get up wind quickly, we all hopped down from the wagon and made a bee line for the trees. But before we could enter and be hidden by the plants and fruit, the farmer stopped us. He had one more magical idea he was sure would boost our venture.
He told us that apple picking could only be improved upon by picking and eating an apple while in the orchard. He felt the sweetness of the apple would only serve to sweeten our experience. And with that declaration he grabbed a big juicy Mac from a tree. With his mouth wide open, he began panting on the fruit, producing a breath condensation before proceeding to wipe that spot of the apple off on his overalls. “Dear God,” I thought, “he’s cleaning his apple off on his dirty, shitty shirt”! He kept panting, wiping and chatting with us. His intention became clear. This apple wasn’t for him. He had picked and ever so meticulously cleaned this apple for one of us.
Remember in school when the teacher was looking for a volunteer to recite something you knew nothing about? You did not make eye contact. In fact you bowed your head. Even better if you could, you slid behind some other sap in class. Well that was me on this day. I thought, “for the love of God do NOT pick me”! With my stellar gag reflex and sensitive stomach I’m liable to hurl if given the apple considering how close I was to hurling at the thought.
He continued to blow and huff on the apple, swipe it back and forth, back and forth on his clothes. And then, like a father with a new-born baby, proud as a peacock his arm began to extend, ready to hand over his prized possession to the lucky recipient of his choosing. His arm passed my mother in law. His arm passed Q. Oh no, please no, please no. His arm kept passing everyone in my family until of course the apple ended up in front of my face.
I choked past the first gag. Like Snow White waiting for the impending doom, I glanced past the apple at the witch, I mean the farmer. He was smiling, so proud and convinced of how special this moment must be for me to be rewarded such an exceptional specimen. And then, because I am a polite Canadian, I accepted that damn apple! My stomach threatened to spill it’s contents, my gag reflex began to strangle me. I was angry at God. In the far reaches of my mind, I asked him “why me?” In fact when diagnosed with a disease that is attacking my very existence I didn’t ask “why me?”. But I did this day. I cried out in my mind “WHYYYYYYYYYY??”
Everyone was staring at me. My family’s eyes were full of fear, unsure of what to expect. The farmer kept smiling, nudging, encouraging me to take a bite. Then as quick as the thought entered my mind, I ever so slightly rolled the apple in my hand towards the still pesticide residue area of the apple. Better to eat chemicals I thought. I bit down and smiled back at the farmer with an acknowledgment of how good the apple was. Content with himself he scanned my family for the next victim. Well you never saw a group of people rip an apple from a tree and begin eating it as fast they were that day. Yeah I had taken one for the team.
The truth is, the farmer was right. Yes apple picking is about being with family, enjoying the outdoors, being swamped with every culinary apple creation you can think of night after night and of course the memories – even those that may scar you for life. But nothing beats being in the solitude of an orchard, the sun setting gently in the distance, butterflies nesting in the leaves while you wander among the trees. Tasting the sweet goodness of the fruit just brings it all together. Just one word from the wise. Accept the hay ride but for the love of God do NOT attempt to eat the fruit with the farmer in sight! Heed my warning – farmers like nothing better than to offer you the product of their hard work – hog shit, bad breath and all!
~ True North Nomad
What is your favourite treat to make with all those yummy apples? How does your family create memories in Autumn?
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