By Ed Pierce
With the weather warming into the low 70s last weekend, my wife Nancy and I decided that Saturday afternoon would be a great time to go pick some apples at a local orchard.
We decided to visit one particular orchard about 20 miles from our home based upon recommendations from friends and its large abundance of different varieties of apples grown there.
The last time we went to an orchard together was about five years ago when I worked in New Hampshire and things were a little different here at this orchard in Maine.
First, in our haste to start picking almost as soon as we got there, we neglected to notice the ribbon system used to identify the rows of the apple tree varieties posted at the entrance to the orchard. When you miss knowing what kinds of apples they are, you have to rely of your taste buds to determine if the row of apples that you’re in will be great for snacks or better when baked into an apple pie.
We wandered in and out of rows marked with pink, purple, yellow, green, candy-striped and blue ribbons without learning what specific kinds of apples they were. Turns out the orchard we visited grows more than 25 varieties of apples, but we spent most of our time in the rows of Macouns, Braeburns and Gala apples and never actually saw any McIntosh or Red Delicious apples.
Second, dress appropriately. We had on long-sleeved shirts and jeans, but with the sun beating down on us and lugging around a half-bushel bag filled with apples while wearing a preventative COVID-19 mask made for a very warm and tiring experience.
Third, know what you are sampling. As we were nearing the end of one of the rows of trees in the orchard, some were marked with a black ribbon. The fruit on the trees was small, dark and sort of resembled plums. My wife thought they might be crab apples, but I thought I could discern what there were by trying one. I picked one off the tree and when I bit into it, I found out that this particular kind of fruit was something that was rather bitter and not at all ripe.
Fourth, remember to take photos. The last time we went apple picking I thought it would be a fantastic location for photos, but for some reason I forgot to take any even though I planned on doing so before we left home originally.
Fifth, try not to shake the trees when picking the apples. Some perfectly good apples fell on the ground and I later saw a sign while leaving the orchard that the employees are not allowed to pick up the apples on the ground. Seems like such a waste that some of those apples couldn’t be turned into apple sauce or cider or cattle feed rather than lying there rotting away.
Fifth, hit the orchard snack bar early. On the way into the orchard from parking our car, I noticed people standing in line for the snack bar or sitting at a nearby picnic table enjoying a bag of apple cider donuts. I thought that we could drop by as we were departing and buy some cider donuts for the ride home. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the snack bar, all they had left was popcorn and we were advised that a new batch of cider donuts would be ready in about a half-hour if we wanted to wait. Being hot, tired and hungry, we passed on waiting for them.
Sixth, bring lots of cash. The half-bushel plastic bag we filled was $32 at the checkout counter.
Lastly, know your surroundings. Within two miles of the orchard we spent the afternoon at, I spotted a small farm with a roadside store and knowing that my wife really wanted McIntosh apples, we stopped and went inside. They had bags of apples for sale grouped by type and we purchased a bag of McIntoshs for half of what it cost for the half-bushel bag at the larger orchard. And they also had small brown paper bags containing four “apple pie” donuts for $5 that we enjoyed driving home.
My best advice if you’re heading out to the orchard to pick apples is to have fun, appreciate the natural beauty and surroundings and make it a memorable time. Now I can’t wait for a slice of Nancy’s apple pie. <