Red apples and golden yellow, apples that are pink with stripes, green with tan specks, and blushing rose. Small cherry-sized bitter-fruited apples, mammoth thick- skinned pie apples. Apples to eat, apples to store for the winter, apples to make ciders and sauce—this is the year of the apple.
Trees are loaded with fruit, so big and so plentiful that branches bend and break with the weight. One neighbor’s tree split down the middle. Across the street a branch broke off onto the driveway. The apple population is exploding.
Every October we strap my grandfather’s long-handled apple picker to the roof of the car and pick apples where we find them. I have gathered apples every October most of my life, having grown up in an old orchard, as well as having many tees on the family’s farm. But I have never seen a year like this. A ten-inch twig might have ten plump and shiny apples crowded on it. I marvel, taste, and pick. Every tree is different, and there is no apple guide to help me name them. Some we know—the Wolf River is unmistakable, big, squat, and homely. But what is the delicate thin-skinned apple with the odd brown bump at each stem? The owner did not know and warned us that they were wormy when we asked to pick, but I have filled a dozen jars with sauce from them, and saw one lone worm.
They are all beautiful, these apples. Varied colors dot the trees along the road, they are thumbnail size, or so big it takes two hands to cup them. They seem to be everywhere. Trees I never noticed before are loaded with fruit. Trees I visit every year have the ground below them carpeted with apples, yet the tree above still seems to have more fruit than leaves.
There has never been an autumn without apples in my lifetime. They come, bringing cider, cinnamon-scented pies, and the anticipation of winter. I make batch after batch of applesauce. For me, the sweet spicy scent of warm apple, allspice and cardamom is essential for October to be October. We store several baskets of tough-skinned apples in the root cellar, but this amazing bounty has me fermenting ACV, drying apple chips, and longing for a cider press.
What perfect combination of temperature, moisture, and light caused this explosion? I do not know, just move from tree to tree in delight. Just when I think I am exhausted from admiring and photographing the insanely laden branches and put the camera away, another tree comes into view and I shout, “Stop!” I examine the fruit and marvel at how it differs from all the other apple trees we have visited. The color of the peel, the shape, the size—each tree has different apples. It seems there are no two trees in the state of Maine bearing identical fruit. And the taste—some are sweet, some so bitter I spit the fruit out of my mouth, but never quickly enough. Those apples make me feel as though I had eaten chalk.
This is the year of the apple. These apples tease and beckon, and won’t let me go. I think it has been years since I climbed up into the branches to reach a distant fruit high above my head, but more than once this year I have shimmied and wriggled and wrapped my leg around a the tree trunk as an anchor to lean out and stretch my arm and entire body to grab a perfect fruit singing its siren song. The branch bows with my weight, and I am an apple, too.
My eyes open and my hand grips the apple I was after. I tug. The branch with the apple bounces, I bounce on my branch, and the apple comes away in my hand.
I add the apple to the brimming basket below me. What a year for apples.
- 6-10 apples, a variety of types, sweet, bitter, in-between
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- Roughly chop apples, including peel, into about 1-inch chucks. Place them in a large saucepan, add water and sugar, and spices. Bring to a simmer, uncovered, over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking. The apples will begin to soften, then turn to chunky sauce. I stop there, but you can process if you want a finer sauce.
- Makes about 4 cups