On a Wednesday evening in late July, I stand at the sink washing and cutting harvest apples into quarters to make applesauce. The very act of doing this and the smell of the apples takes me back home where Dad and I picked them a few days before, and still further back when I was a child and we helped our parents in the orchard.
“I’m climbing the tree,” Mary says. She picks up a basket and tucks it into the space between two branches, then climbs the tree, hands on the skinnier branches and her shoes gripping the bark, and hoists herself up.
I can climb that tree too, but there won’t be room for both of us. She starts, first with the apples she can reach from that crook in the centre, then leaning out further and further until she’s straddling one of the branches, tolerating its movement as my mother or someone else shakes the tree from the other side to get apples just out of reach. Exactly why I’m not climbing the tree. Mom’s not looking, or my sister would get a warning, telling her to be careful. She’s already had one broken arm.
There’s a wooden box at the base of the tree to be used as a step for shorter legs like mine. That tree is one of the few I can or will climb. Dad once built a small tree house— a platform really—for the three of us girls to play on. That seemed a little safer than shimmying out on branches.
“Time to pick,” I hear behind me, and I am reminded to get to work, even while I stand there, basket in hand. I pull apples from the branches that lean low, heavy with fruit, and I step on and around apples that have fallen. Ripe apples, some of them scabby or with worms—the bad apples. Later I will look for good ones that have fallen to the ground.
We use the better ones for making applesauce and send some to the cider mill for pressing into sweet apple cider. The cows and pigs will get a treat too, for they also like the sweetness of the apple. Our milker pails are clean, ready for the apple cider that Dad will bring home and Mom will bottle.
The apples are smaller than they once were, I reflect, as I cut them into pieces. I could pick one that fit my hand rather than two that I can hold now. Harvest apples seem rare now; one of those trees was taken down by the tornado in 1979. Dad doesn’t spray the tree anymore, and even then he was cautious, lest we eat substances that might hurt us.
I cut and quarter, tossing parts of apples that are bad. Sometimes I wonder if all the cutting and trimming is worth the time, but as the apples cook and I put them through the sieve, I smell the sweetness of the orchard at harvest time. My kitchen smells like a canning factory, just like our home where my mother spent days canning fruits and vegetables. I remember the potato pancakes Mom made when we had our first applesauce and new potatoes, and how we’d make a meal of that, maybe with some fresh peas from the garden, or a cucumber salad.
True, there was a lot of work involved, sometimes too much, yet we never went hungry. We had parents looking out for us and teaching us, and we had food to nourish our bodies. Even when crops were not so plentiful, God was caring for us and still does.