By Nicci Micco, September/October 2009
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.
I moved to Vermont seven years ago and, shortly after, I visited an apple orchard for the first time since high school. My husband Jon’s sister Jen and her husband, Brian, were visiting from Connecticut. It was fall and we wanted to do something “Vermont-y” with them. We picked up some wine and cheese, packed a big blanket and drove to Shelburne Orchards, overlooking Lake Champlain. We spent a good half hour picking apples, then settled down to enjoy a lunch of wine, apples and cheese. Jon and I had such a great time that we vowed to do it again the next year. We did—and have every fall since.
Jon and I have a little boy now. When we went picking last year, Julian was only 4 months old. He seemed fascinated by the colorful orbs suspended from the branches, but I can’t say that the experience for him was enchanting—yet. I am eager to see Julian toddling around the orchard this fall, plopping apples into bins. I’m excited to give him tastes of my mom’s apple crisp—a recipe passed down from her mother, my Grandma Mary. In a few years, will Julian have a little brother or sister to go picking with, and will they conspire together to find the best apples? Will he let me teach him how to roll crust for a homemade pie?
Nearly 30 years ago, I picked Idareds with my mom and dad and Angelo. Thirty years from now, Julian may have children of his own and take them picking. Time moves fast. That age-old epiphany can make you nostalgic, even sad. Or it can help you to appreciate how the simple things in life—like picking apples with your family—really do shape your world.
Nicci Micco is EatingWell’s deputy editor of nutrition and features. Since her sister, Kate, was too young to pick apples during the family visits to White House Fruit Farm, Nicci looks forward to taking her apple picking when she visits Vermont this fall.
Find a U-pick apple farm in your community at pickyourown.org.