A bushel of apples–I think–I don’t know what a bushel is, and I don’t care enough to Google it, which is saying something from the girl who has Googled such gems as “Rachel Ray needs a boob job” and “repeated dreams that one leg is longer than the other and I run all gimpy”
Ah, apple season. The crisp smell of leaves, crunching beneath the workboots of bearded woodsmen, heading out to tap maple trees of their thick, golden syrup. The sharp tang of cinnamon tints the air, and the sound of feed, pitter-patter-scatter across the chilly ground, as red-cheeked cherubs feed the turkeys to fatten them for Thanksgiving…
It’s a magical thing, apple season. Except for in Texas. In Texas, apple season is in July and early August. It seems the heat–the blistering, soulless heat–acts as hormone-laden milk to the apples, causing them to mature when it’s still the dead, dying middle of summer. It’s freakin’ weird. But I love apples in a way that’s almost unhealthy, so I’ll take it when I can get it. Even if it means temporarily hip-checking gorgeous summer berries out of the picture, so that I can focus on the very-distinctly-fall fruits. Sad, kinda.
Not to be deterred by the unnaturally premature development of my beloved apples, Chris and I just went with it. We woke up early on Saturday and packed into the car for a 90 minute trek out of town to the apple orchards. Medina, TX has the dubious honor of being named “The Apple Capital of Texas.” Kind of like calling Anchorage “The Peach Capital of Alaska”, but whatever. Medina is a town that consists of a small orchard, a store devoted entirely to apple kitsch, two gas-station-cum-general-stores, and a tiny town square, covered by a peeling white pergola, that becomes a farmer’s market each Saturday. A tiny, squalid farmer’s market, but a farmer’s market nonetheless, in that it has farmers (usually two), marketing their produce (usually two or three different kinds of produce, all of which look like they’ve been attacked by angry moles).
We pulled up to the orchard, lured by the online promise of “pick your own” apples. Apple pickin’ sounded quaint and homestead-y, which appealed to Chris’s and my less rational ideas of what we could and would be, were we not so horrified by Texas nature (here I’m thinking of various flesh-eating ants, as well as UV rays visible to the naked eye). After a few minutes of milling aimlessly in front of the abandoned orchard, a nice, mustachioed hispanic man pulled up in a ramshackle truck to greet us. He had large splotches of orange egg yolk on his face, with pieces of the white clinging tenaciously to his mustache. Hott. He was incredibly friendly, if a little hard to follow, and ran behind the farmhouse, emerging moments later with a golf cart. He jumped into his truck without a word about the golf cart, then drove off into the orchard. Mmmmkay…
I knocked on the door of the farmhouse, trying to ascertain whether or not I was supposed to be following in the cart, or waiting for him, or what. An old lady answered and told us to “git on out there and follow him to the apples.” Sure thing, lady. We hopped on the golf cart and hauled semi-confused butt out to the orchard. Mr. Mustache was was waiting patiently, gestured gruffly at the rows we were allowed to harvest, and then left. And all of a sudden it was just Chris and me, a golf cart, and a few boxes, standing in front of a row of laughably small apple trees. We got to work.
Me picking one of the three apples I managed before the attack. I look sweaty, but that’s just a trick of the light. The actual sweating didn’t occur until a solid three, maybe even four, minutes later
We started pulling them off and chucking them into our boxes. The first tree, third apple, I got to had a little brown clump next to the stem. When I held it up to my eye to examine the clump, checking to see if it was some kind of apple disease I wouldn’t want to eat, it unfurled itself into an alarmingly large spider. I hurled the apple about 50 yards into the clump of trees and resigned myself to the role of foreman, pointing at apples for Chris to pick. No way in hell I was sacrificing any limbs.
He was a pretty good sport, grabbing the apples I found, as well as many of his own. Sure, his grabbing of the apples was quick and minimized any extended hand contact. He’d rip them from the tree, and throw them at the box I was holding, hoping that any lingering “nature” would be slower at rousing than he was at throwing. About every third apple he’d pull would have some “threat” that he’d perceive, causing him to throw them on the ground and announce “that one spoiled the bunch.” Sometimes he’d refuse to pull the ones I’d point at, explaining patiently “that one’s keeping me away.” Laugh a minute, that guy.
Chris bravely grabbing apples. My knight in shining Nike.
We decided to quit when Chris saw some ants tromping in a line across the hose like some sort of communist military regime. We already had about 25 lbs of apples, which was plenty for our modest apple needs, and we both were feeling very lucky that our worst nature assault hadn’t resulted in loss of life or limb. No need to push that luck.
But it turns out that 25 lbs of apples is…A SHITLOAD OF APPLES. So we spent the entire weekend dealing with them. We baked apple pies and apple tarts. We processed and canned apple butter and apple slices. We made apple caramel, and feed strands of apple peels to our dog, who (not unlike a goat) loves them. Thank God for our apple corer/peeler, which made lighter work for us. Now we just need to get a housekeeper to mop the sticky up off of every available surface in our kitchen (including the floors and ceilings). Turns out dealing with that many apples means apple juice and cinnamon and sugar get spread on everything. I’m actually afraid of our kitchen right now.
The apple pie was a treat. I made a crust with 2/3 butter and 1/3 lard for the fat, making it flaky and savory and sweet and crumbly all at the same time. Then cooked the apples just a touch, leaving the crisp intact, using a sticky turbinado-style sugar that still has gobs of deep molasses flavor throughout. The apples went into the crust, got a quick lattice top, and baked until golden brown.
Excuse the yellow pictures. It was late night and I was too lazy to unearth my lighting props
Scoops of Ben and Jerry’s Cinnamon Bun ice cream went alongside, making us both roll around on the floor in fits of ecstacy. I’m a big fan of the chunks in ice cream, and this has bumper crops of cinnamon bun dough and thick cinnamon goo swirl throughout. Absolutely perfect as a foil for the rick and thick crust.
Go buy a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cinnamon Bun and let me know what you think. I enjoyed it again, for lunch. I need to go to the gym…
That’s cinnamon, not funk
Less than 24 hours from tree to preservation means a fresh-tasting product all winter. The “fresh” apples in the stores right now were harvested last year and kept in storage. Sort of brings a whole new view to the idea of “fresh”, doesn’t it?
Ack, gotta go. Willie is licking the floor, trying to get all of the various juices up for us. It’s a sweet gesture, but will likely result in a sticky dog, which is the last thing I need.