Wednesday, August 18, 2010

under the apple tree

It was largely decided by an overgrown apple tree.   One warm spring day, I encountered said tree behind a 1920’s craftsman whose four walls and shingled roof would become our first home.  Brimming with period details, the charming house could not surpass the allure of gossamer petals fluttering on a soft, sweet breeze.  Dappled light cast pointillist impressions as sun filtered through snowy white blossoms.  As I stood beneath the tree, the dreamy scene and promise of fruit beckoned me, my bright eyed optimism failing to conceal the sense of homecoming I felt.

No longer was I standing behind a quaint old house with loads of potential.  I was lost in a reverie of bygone days, replete with visions of Anne Shirley and Matthew Cuthbert atop horse drawn carriage, meandering along a winding dirt lane lined with blossoming apple trees, delicate blooms forming a canopy overhead.  Anne disagrees when Matthew describes the stretch of road as ‘The Avenue’, fervently proclaiming that she “shall always call it the White Way of Delight’.”  In other words, I was a goner.

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ imparted an indelible impression on my youth, so taken was I with descriptions of landscape and flora vastly unlike those found on my tiny Alaskan island.  Anne’s story unfolds on Prince Edward Island, in Nova Scotia, a world apart from my childhood home in Sitka, Alaska, on the opposite coast of North America

When elusive sunlight directed its rays upon the oft gray skies of my island home, the whole family would sometimes hop in the car for a scenic drive about town.  Dad did his best to venture down the road less traveled; not an easy task on an island spanning 14 miles of paved road from one end to the other.  On one such drive, we happened upon a winding lane leading to a quaint old house with an apple tree gracing the front yard.  This was a remarkable discovery for,  as far as we knew, it was the only apple tree in town.  Mom said, “Park the car!  I want to get out and look at the tree.”  We stretched our legs, said ‘hello’ to the owners of the house and gazed in wonder at that solitary tree. 

Two decades later, I stood under another apple tree behind the old house that would become our new home.  The tree produced a substantial showing of fruit that year; but to our dismay, most of the apples were located in far off branches and would sail down with a thump on the roof of our house before tumbling to the ground, unfit for consumption.  Furthermore, resident squirrels took to the tree, nibbling away without bothering to pluck the fruit from the branch.  This resulted in a host of inedible, half eaten apples, much like the ones I brought home the year I was eight and won the apple bobbing competition at a Halloween party.  Thirteen red delicious apples went into the crisper, each bearing bite-sized evidence of my victory.

When the apples in our tree commence their annual descent, our backyard resembles a fruit-strewn battlefield, littered with the bruised and battered remains of a harvest that never was.  As the apples grow, so does the threat of being clocked by one as it comes plummeting to the ground.  My daughter, Annabelle, has devised the perfect solution.  Rather than being barred from the backyard for the duration of apple season, she proudly dons her bicycle helmet as protection.IMG_2023
After four years surrendering our harvest to a handful of hungry squirrels, it was time for an intervention.  My good and decent husband took to our ladder like Jack to a beanstalk, gathering as many unscathed apples as he could find.  When he could spot no more, he would shake the branch, sending a shower of apples to the grass below.  Annabelle, waiting in the wings with her helmet securely fastened, would then scamper across the lawn to retrieve the newly fallen fruit. 

The remainder of the day was a blur of culinary activity; first, homemade applesauce and apple pie and later, oven dried apples and whole grain apple scones.  A familiar scent of warm apples wafted from the kitchen stove, filling every room of our house with their sweet fragrance.

The following four recipes work well with most apples. Our tree produces tart apples whose flavor and texture are a cross between Granny Smith and Pink Lady.   Farmer’s markets are a wonderful place to find the more obscure varieties. 

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