Tag Archives: Apples

A Saturday Morning Ramble

By: Mary

On Saturday in the early morning fog, I drove about an hour south to Gays Mills, Wisconsin. Now, Gays Mills is in the midst of the steep and rolling ground that Fernando came to know years ago. Every year when the trees are heavily laden with ripe apples, the town of Gays Mills holds a festival that is appropriately called Apple Fest. Before all the weekend festivities begin, a 2 mile and 5 mile race is hosted. Since last year I ran the 5 mile race, I decided to change things up and give the 2 mile race a try. All runners get to stretch their legs along a gorgeous local winding road.

After the race was over, I had time to kill before the awards were to be given out. So I wandered down main street with a bundle of dried pussy willow that I purchased in my bag, and a cup of hot coffee in my hand from a nice woman at the local natural foods co-op. Perhaps, the best part of the entire morning was meandering down the street looking at the wares that venders were exibiting. I lost track of time while making conversation with vendors while admiring their goods. At one stand, I met and elderly lady who sells jars and jars of preserves and spreads that she cans. She was as sweet as the lemon curd spread that she had me sample. I confessed to her that is was very good, but that I wasn’t going to buy it because I was inspired to try to make my own. By the time I left, she had stocked me with good canning tips, and given me her secret recipe for the lemon curd scrawled on a paper towel with directions on how to make a dozen pints of the wonderful spread that goes on toast, bagels and cakes.

My last and most lengthy stop was at the stand of an extremely eccentric and blunt artist. I dropped in to tell her that I am on an diet this month. (I have a serious earring addiction that I am trying to curb!) Susan, the artist expressed to me that she thought my diet is a stupid one, but that didn’t stop us from conversing and looking over her entire display…sigh. Maybe someday I will share some link to her work. She makes her jewelry out of polymer clay and paints it with masterful taste, last of all she adds beading. With getting caught up in earring lover banter, I lost track of time and almost missed out on getting my award for being the first female finisher in the two-mile.  I didn’t want to miss this because I had on a high school track shirt of Colleen’s that she left behind by accident when packing from UD. Now, Colleen is my running sister soul mate, and I know that she misses running the windy local roads of Wisconsin in this cool fall weather. With my strange sense of humor, I thought it humorous to run it in her name. Literally.

After the little town’s newspaper’s photographer took a picture of the trophy winners from the 2 and 5 mile races…

 the fog was no longer hanging thickly over the valley, so it was time to drive back home. Along the way, I did make a stop at an old apple tree. At this time in the season, I have come to regard the apple trees as free vending machines. Wow, are they ever good! Once again, I enjoyed the apple in honor of Colleen and then ascended back towards the ridge.

Until next time,

mary

September in the Orchard

by Kate

In the month of September, 2001 I was 22 years old with a broken heart and one of the most beautiful jobs in the world. Four months before, I’d given my first born daughter up for adoption.  I was still in shock, reeling with grief and grappling with the blank and terrifying future that lay ahead of me. At that point, one of the hardest things about adoption for me was that in giving away my daughter, I gained the freedom to do anything I wanted with my life. All I wanted was be a mother, but I believed- and still do- that in order to be the best mother for my child, being her mother was the only thing in the world I couldn’t do.

While wrestling with the question of what my future would hold, I fell into a job as a migrant laborer for the autumn season. Turkey Ridge was an organic apple orchard laid out over 280 acres of green ridges and deep valleys near Gays Mills, WI. The orchard had been neglected for years, and many sections were wild and overgrown but the trees were full of small and scabbed apples that needed to be picked for cider before the winter came and the hippies running the place were having a tough time getting enough people together to pull a bushel basket over their shoulders, grab ladders, and start bringing the apples off the trees. You were paid by how many 40 lb bushel bags of apples you poured into huge bins, and the professional migrants were too wise to spend their time fighting through tangled and towering branches on a ladder 10 feet high when they could be moving steadily down a close cropped row pulling pumpkin sized apples off the branches at warp speed at the conventional and well ordered orchards down the row. As a result our crew was a ragtag bunch of misfits of hippies, homeschoolers, and juvenile delinquents.

An apple orchard in the driftless hills is surely one of the most beautiful places on earth. Every morning I caught my breath watching silver clouds rise from the valleys and melt into the bright blue sky.  There is something both wild and domesticated in the shape of an apple tree, even a brambled and unkempt one reaching for the sky. The apples are flushed with rose or delicate green, round and smooth against the rough branches, and smell sweet. The grass is long and lush, and flowers planted to draw honeybees bob in the slight breeze. This is August, the beginning of the season, when the delicate thin skinned Macintosh apples are ripe and ready for picking. There is a deep silence in the orchard, broken only by the distant purring of an old tractor heading over the ridge. Perched on a ladder in the treetop reaching for an apple just beyond my grasp I felt as though I was doing yoga in the trees. I’d never done yoga, but I knew that the constant stretching was the reason that carrying 40 pounds up and down that ladder every day didn’t leave me aching at the end of the day. The beauty and the solitude of the orchard and the work that I was doing was uplifting to my soul. In the orchard, I felt free and the freedom wasn’t terrifying.

On September 11, 2001 I was making the hour long drive from my parent’s farm to the apple orchard. I had a mason jar full of coffee and, I am sure, a hand rolled cigarette. I was drinking in the coffee and the beauty of the early morning and listening to NPR as I drove. The early reports of a plane flying into the tower came at the top of the hour, notable because the announcer lost his smooth suave and sleepy public radio flow and sounded slightly muddled and confused. I wrinkled my brow for a second, trying to imagine what this would look like. I could not imagine it being a serious thing, perhaps because I couldn’t imagine the twin towers at all. I thought of radio towers, prop planes, things I had seen in the dairy country of Western Wisconsin. Then I dismissed the topic, turning my attention to the morning call in show that followed the news headlines. Wisconsin Public Radio is notable for featuring an unusual amount of  local level call in shows wherein guests discuss pets, state politics, gardening, cooking, books, and Issues of all sorts. Callers range from your classic NPR liberals to libertarians, contrarians, and conservatives. I am convinced this is partially a result of all the dairy farmers trapped in their barns morning and night with their hands full, wishing for some company beyond country music.

On this morning the burning topic on the call in show was: Product Presentation in Art and Literature. The expert on the potential dangers of Product Presentation was being interviewed via phone from a location in New York City. The interview was supposed to begin with an anecdote about a new novel sponsored by a high end Jeweler, but the expert was in that New York apartment glued to CNN, relating the little the TV people knew to the host of the Wisconsin radio show, and all the listeners. At one point, the host said something to the effect of “Look, this is very interesting, but I can’t have you reporting the news on this show. We are waiting for word from our official news team. Could we return to the topic at hand?” The terrified expert replied, “You have got to be kidding me. There is smoke outside my window. We might be at war. You want me to talk about product placement?! This subject doesn’t matter! It is completely unimportant!”

I pulled up to the orchard half an hour later and broke the news, what little of it I understood. The radio just isn’t the best medium to convey the scope of an unimaginable diasaster. You have to see to believe something like that.  Our ragtag crew of pickers dragged a beat up tv out of a corner of the packing shed, plugged it into an extension cord, and tried to find the local channel through the static on the screen. It’s hard to get reception on the ridge. We saw a little of the coverage, the planes and the smoke and the flames and the bodies free falling through space to the concrete below, and then we headed out into the orchard. There were apples to pick.

It is hard to imagine feeling much further away from New York City than a quiet ridgetop orchard at the end of a long dirt road an hour from the nearest little big town. I felt so safe on my ladder, in my tree, in that orchard, on September 11, 2001. Even after five minutes of fuzzy television, I couldn’t imagine a skyscraper, let alone one collapsing into rubble and ragged steel. I couldn’t imagine thousands of people lost, and the grief of their loved ones. I didn’t feel shaken by the tragedy of September 11th, I felt numb and confused by it, and grateful to be safe and high in the branches of an apple tree protected by the green hills of Western Wisconsin, far from New York City and the rest of the world. I had my own grief, my own lost loved one,  and that was all I had room for in my heart. I had my hands full  of apples, and I was glad of it.

This year, on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, I live in a great grey city spreading over ridges and valleys. Just down the hill and to the left, a forest of skyscrapers rise and fall on the horizon. I have had ten years full of freedom and adventure, of grief and pain and more often of beauty and great joy. I have a beautiful one and a half year old daughter.  This year in the second week of September I stood in my kitchen early in the morning listening to NPR and heard the story of Father Mychal Judge, the first victim of September 11th. If you have not heard of this man, please follow that link. It is an incredible piece and an amazing story full of grace. The story left me in tears. They were the first tears I cried for September 11th.

I am not numb anymore. I am grateful for the grace of God, poured out for hearts that are suffering. And I’m still grateful for the safety and the peace I found in that apple orchard ten years ago.

(For more of my adoption story, click here and here.)

The Taste of Fall

by Colleen

I know, I know-what a weird title for a blog post from Dallas, right?  Fall in Texas?  I’m sure you weren’t expecting anything like that for another couple of months.  And you’d be right.  The weather here has been blazing hot since I touched down two weeks ago.  Excepting today, it’s been 100 and over every day.  For a Wisconsin girl with a deep love of fall, it’s been seriously disappointing.  I miss the crispness of autumn mornings, long sleeve t-shirts, watching the leaves turn brilliant hues, and of course, the apples of Sweet Ridge Farm.

I was fortunate to receive a UPS box full of said apples last week, though, and I put them to good use.  After initially chomping down 3 or 4, I shared many of these apples with my new friends around campus, proudly declaring that they are “the best apples ever”.  And everyone agreed (0f course).

Soon Sunday was on the horizon, and I was feeling nostalgic for both fall and home.  Following Slattery tradition, I decided to make a dessert with the heavenly apples.  And not just any desert: I was going to make apple crisp, my favorite dessert made by Mom.  I went to the source for the recipe, Mom on the telephone.

With my friend, Emma, the fun began.  She and I scoured the dorm kitchen looking for knives, measuring cups, mixing bowls, and a pan to bake the lovely concoction in.  We found everything we needed, although the knives were so dull that the apples resisted cutting and almost overpowered me.  Soon enough the crisp was in the oven, and we were back to reading for school, the smell of sugar, cinnamon, and apples distracting us from Plato and Homer.

The crisp came out of the oven, perfectly golden brown and steaming.

Bowls were found…..

And we dug in with all the ferocity of college kids who happen to hate all processed food (read: everything in the cafeteria except the fruit, salad, and whole milk, which I smuggle out in a water bottle and take back to the dorms daily).

As you can see, it was delicious!  Every bite was a taste of fall and a reminder of home.  I’ll admit that I am a bit homesick here and feel so out of place sometimes underneath the hot Texas sun, but having Sunday treats with a new friend (thank you, Emma!) like this make me feel a whole lot better.  And, it gets better, the weather today actually was in the upper 80s!  Perhaps fall isn’t so far away after all…..

Mom’s Best Apple (or any fruit!) Crisp Topping:

2 c. flour

1 c. brown sugar

1 c. white sugar

1 c. butter (softend)

Optional (although this is essential for me!): Cinnamon

Simply combine all ingredients with your hands in a mixing bowl until the mixture is in pea-sized lumps.  Spread over a pan full of your fruit of choice (apple is the best, though!), and bake at 375 F until bubbly.