Big fluffy clouds—the kind that morph into elephants and dragons, old-man faces and battleships—float across a cerulean sky. The air is crisp and scented with sweet fruit and fresh-cut hay.
A wagon trundles by every 15 minutes or so, carrying a cargo of laughing kids and their parents. Honeybees buzz purposefully from tree to tree. Normally, stinging insects freak me out. But not when I’m picking apples.
These are some of the most vivid images of my childhood.
Every fall, when I was growing up in western Pennsylvania, my parents took me and my younger brother Angelo apple picking. We’d usually go in late September, always on a Sunday. After church and a big lunch, we’d pile in the car and drive 17 miles to White House Fruit Farm, in Canfield, Ohio. We’d grab bags at the farm store, then ride on a tractor-pulled wagon out to the trees and jump off when it reached the rows of Idareds. (They were good for eating and baking and keep through most of the winter, the tiny old woman at the farm told us in a raspy voice the first time we visited.)
As kids, Angelo and I bullied each other as much as any two siblings might, but when we went apple picking, we were best buds. We teamed up to find the biggest apples, the smallest ones and those that were the most perfectly shaped. We’d fill enough bags to make a bushel—about 45 pounds—then ride the wagon back to the store. Dad would go inside to pay and come out with small cups of cider for everyone. Before heading home with our bounty, we’d sit sipping our cider happily on hay bales amid plump pumpkins.
That night, Mom would make apple crisp to eat after supper. And for the next few months, we’d work our way through those apples, eating them fresh and in Mom’s apple crisp, chunky applesauce and cinnamon-spiced apple cake. My favorite treats were caramel-covered apples and “apple squares”—sweet apple filling spread thin inside two layers of flaky crust.