Sunny autumn days bring many of us outdoors for a walk or a ride through the colorful scenery. Art fairs, orchard and pumpkin tours draw families to appreciate the numerous products of nature and talented craftsmen. It almost seems as if we need to move around in the outdoors before the winter days keep many inside.
It’s a time to appreciate God’s abundance and to make new memories. Others recall happy days when children were young and enjoyed a hayride to a field filled with fall produce, especially pumpkins.
Sometimes the pick was the largest pumpkin in the patch. It might be a small globe on which to draw or carve the perfect face. Ears of “Indian corn” were chosen to hang on a door or with other decorations.
Arriving home, it was time to carve the pumpkins — not a favorite job of the man of the house. Mom was expected to roast the pumpkin seeds and make pumpkin bars or pumpkin pies. However, after preparing the fresh pumpkin for a pie once, this cook is convinced there really wasn’t much difference in taste from using the canned variety.
In the search for apples, it wasn’t necessary to go far. For more than 40 years we lived in the midst of a dozen snow apple trees in the yard, with an additional dozen or more varieties in adjoining couple of acres of orchard. The original planting, 10 years before our time, included older varieties like Haroldson, Spartan and Wealthy. To this day, a combination of at least two types is still the family preference for making tasty recipes.
On late summer days, when the fruit was ripening, there were a lot of helping hands. But as the season progressed, it could be a daily “chore” to pick and keep the apples from rotting on the ground. (An old German lady once advised that it wasn’t necessary to spray fruit trees with insecticides to produce a good crop – just keep the ground underneath free of debris – and the fruit would be fine.) Our children seldom felt sympathy for their friends who complained of raking fall leaves – they didn’t have to rake leaves and apples by the bushel in their yards!
Farm friends and deer hunters would sometimes come to collect the fruit to feed cattle or place near a deer stand. The deer in the area usually took care of the fallen fruit, even near the house. It wasn’t too unusual to see 10 to 14 deer in the front yard.
Keeping up with the apple crop became almost a community effort. Neighbors who wanted apples could pick their own – no shaking the trees, though, as that could cause damage.
Luckily, there were no complaints of injuries from anyone who may have fallen from a tree. We didn’t entirely discourage that activity as even small children could usually manage to get into the first or second fork of a tree – a new and exciting experience for some.
One large family in our parish enjoyed several days of filling baskets and boxes with the red-ripe fruit. We thought they were helping us, but little did we know it was a good deed on both ends.
A few years later, the mother confided that those apples and all the applesauce, pies and snacks they had provided had taken them through a particularly hard winter when her husband had lost his job and money was tight.
We spent many fall weekends cleaning up the yard and then having a cider making session near the barn. The seconds were washed and run though an antique cider press we purchased at one of the many local auctions. The press was so heavy it took three people to move it out of the barn.
We learned a way of sanitizing the equipment and utensils through an earlier wine making course. Our advisors assured us it wasn’t necessary to inspect the apples too closely, just remove any that had been on the ground too long. A few spots just added to the flavor. Neighbors would stop by to sample the juice and, as far as we know, no one complained of bad effects.
We were glad for the help and visitors – a bushel basket of fruit produced one gallon of fresh amber juice so the camaraderie was welcome. After pressing for cider, only a small amount of waste remained.
A few apple trees remain on the property but no longer are productive, except for one tree that provides an unforgettable picture of blossoms in the spring.
In the albums or boxes of pictures is proof of those happy days. If we all share our memories and the stories they bring to mind with our children and grandchildren, who knows? Maybe we’ll be invited to join an apple or pumpkin picking adventure and make memories with a new generation.
(King, a member of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake, is married to Thomas. They have seven children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.)