By Ron Smith
Autumn brings crisp apples and vivid memories.
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
— Robert Frost, after Apple-Picking
I prefer the apple over the pumpkin as a symbol of autumn. The crisp, sweet-tart taste of a Fuji, stem and one curled-up leaf intact, conjures up images of frost-heavy mornings that concede to clear, slate-blue afternoon skies that submit to fire-charged sunsets and fade to dark with the cooling breeze of evening.
I recall picking apples from the mini-orchard my dad planted and tended next to our Upcountry South Carolina property. A dozen or so dwarf trees he ordered from a catalog included red and yellow delicious varieties and a few others that defy memory.
In early fall, we picked snacks off the trees, stuffed them in pockets and went about our business — stalking squirrels, fishing the creek or doing chores.
With no affordable cooling facility available, mom and dad found ways to preserve much of the fall apple harvest. Dad bought a cider press and turned the apples that littered the orchard floor into soft cider, though a few batches spent too much time settling and provided a bit of kick.
Mom cut and dried apples for winter pies and what we always knew as apple pan dowdy, fried apples. Regardless of the name, it was a treat. She made jelly from the peels, and applesauce and apple butter from the rest.
Eventually, the orchard played out. After my dad died, no one tended it and the trees withered away. But my mom continued to work apples into her fall schedule. She often had one of us (five children) accompany her on a day trip to the Carolina mountains, a mecca for apple orchards.
The apple-picking excursion included an opportunity to see fall foliage at its peak and find fresh apples at dozens of roadside stands along the winding mountain roads.
A few weeks later, we could count on a few jars of fresh apple butter or apple sauce. Pies came later.
I expect to stop by a roadside stand in the next few days and buy a few fresh apples. I know I can pick some up at any of the grocery stores in town, but something about picking apples out of a wooden box in an open-air venue appeals to the nostalgic impulses that touch me as fall arrives.
I will bring home a dozen or so. I own no cider press and have no clue how to make apple butter, so buying by the bushel makes no sense.
It’s not as good as plucking a fresh apple off a tree my dad planted and tended, but maybe it helps keep an apple farmer in business. I like to think so.