To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
~ Pete Seeger, Turn! Turn! Turn!, from Book of Ecclesiastes
A hailstorm ravaged our garden last week — shredding the squash, chard leaves and cucumber plants, and denting the tomatoes. Mother Nature has a way of reminding you that she’s in charge.
However, something about the weather this summer triggered a fruit tsunami in my neighborhood. It’s rumored that back in the 1880’s and later the area was full of orchards. Every lot seems to have had a couple of very old fruit trees, primarily apple. As a result, we had a massive old apple tree in our yard that came down in a big wind a few years ago and still have a big pear tree that dwarfs our two-story house.
Most of the time the pears are small, hard and bug-bitten — the ones the squirrels don’t steal. The fruit is too high up in the tree to pick without far more effort than we are willing to put into it, so we see it when it falls. Our dog, Rosie, likes the green deadfall pears and chews them into small pieces which she leaves around the house. She also pulls crabapples off the lower branches of a relatively young tree we planted and plays with them before she chews them up. (I suspect that green fruit has an effect on the frequency with which I have to clean up the yard.)
Years ago, we harvested some nice apples by gathering them from a precarious perch on the roof, a pretty scary prospect given its slope and height. The apple sauce a friend made from that fruit was tasty. I’ve also picked apples off the reachable parts of a big old tree in our son’s yard and froze them for pies and strudel.
This week, that tree was ready to be picked again, so I got out the ladder and picked the mostly lower branches. A recent experience related to the ladder and my balance, and a freefall into the bushes and flowerbed from above made me conservative about the heights to which I was willing to go. However, I did get a whole lot of mostly small, somewhat bruised or bitten apples. I spent the next few hours washing, trimming, slicing and blanching them for freezing, and ended up with enough for more than a half dozen pies.
In fact, most of the fruit trees in the neighborhood are producing splendidly this year. Our crab apple has gone nuts (or crabby?), and we’re hitting up the neighbors to see if someone wants them for jelly. The fruit we picked a few years ago were turned into jelly by a friend, but they had a very mild, almost bland flavor and were not quite worth the effort.
There is already a bunch of crab apple deadfall — which is landing in the compost pile. In addition, a neighbor across the alley has a half-dozen or so apple trees in her yard that produce fruit that isn’t particularly edible, so I’ve invited them to throw the deadfall into our compost pile. It’s obvious that multiple bucket of apples are arriving daily, and I’ve had to turn the pile more often to keep up. I’m pretty excited to see how it effects the compost.
Years ago on the fence along the alley, I planted some blackberry stems given to me by a friend. It’s an un-trafficked area that I pay little attention to, but by this year the vines covered the fence and have sprouted tons of blackberries. I picked some off and on, finding many to be tiny, and squishy by the time they were ripe. Also, the blackberry thorns are sharp and plentiful, so picking was an adventure and resulted in fingers (and lips!) stained black with juice.
In contrast, years ago in Alaska I picked wild blueberries with some neighbors. We sat on a small hillside and reclined into the slope, slowly picking and eating our way through the small berries on the foot-high bushes. At the end, I was somewhat embarrassed to see that my bowl was relatively empty, but my stomach was full and my fingers were blue.
Most of the time, these days I am very happy to go to the local farmer’s market for the fresh local fruit or to Safeway for the berries from South America. I enjoy the Colorado peaches and Rocky Ford melons, but have a sense of the effort it takes to get them to me. Particularly given my own experience with the weather and picking and preserving fruit, I know without a doubt that I could never be a successful farmer or do what those immigrant farm workers do.
And so, I salute all those that labor to bring me the fruits of the fields and orchards. May your hands be tough and forever stained, your backs strong, and your balance better than mine. I thank you with every bite.