One of the autumn rituals I remember from my childhood was driving out to a place called Jonathan Orchards with friends to pick a ton of apples, get a few gallons of freshly squeezed apple cider, and some super-sharp Wisconsin cheddar cheese. On the drive home, we would pig out on freshly picked apples and cheese.
The apples you get in the supermarkets are oh-so-big. And oh-so-bland. Not bad, mind you, but just not anything to remember.
Today, the Dotter and I went out on our annual Fields of Gold photograph expedition, and then on down Way Cool Creek Canyon to the West Fork trail, to get some hiking in. This does have some bearing on my memories of apples...
I was wary--first, because of the sturm und drang of the past few days, and secondly, because the Dotter tends to not be able to handle a "real" hike without becoming whiny and wanting us to carry her. Let me tell you, the thought of carting a 35-lb. (or more, not sure) little girl who is all whiny up and down a trail didn't appeal to me.
The first stop was a lovely little meadow that edges one of the big curves of the road from Hippy Dippy Enclave in the Woods to the highway. Oh, there are some grand meadows further away, meadows that stretch on for acre after acre of yellow flowers at this time of year. But this meadow was on the way, and the yellow flowers are beginning to wane--best to stop before the hike and get the picture now, I thought.
Then we motored on, down the twisty, turny road that switchbacks through Way Cool Creek Canyon. By the time we arrived at the trailhead, the Dotter was fast asleep, so I had a half an hour to people watch, and note the plastic bags filled with apples, and realize--how could I forget?!--it was apple picking time.
The flat bottomed meadows that dot the edges of Way Cool Creek Canyon have one-hundred-year-old apple orchards, left over from when it was still relatively unknown and was being homesteaded by sturdy pioneer types. West Fork is one of those spots, with ancient old apple trees dotting the area.
As we marched out, we passed the trees, some with ripe red apples crowding the (sigh) upper limbs. I found one under one of the trees that looked relatively new, and handed it to the Dotter. Intrigued by the concept of Apples! In trees!, the Dotter took the apple, bit into it, and went, with surprise, "Mmmm!"
Somehow I persuaded her to let me have a bite of that apple.
These apples aren't the big glossy baseball-sized monsters you find in the grocery store. The biggest ones were only slightly bigger than the Dotter's fist. The skin isn't the tough, thick skin that the commercial apples have--it was light and crisp. The apple flesh was tender and juicy.
And the flavor--oh, my God. The flavor. It was like biting into heaven. Tart, sweet, zingy. Beautiful. Scrumptious.
So we hiked, the Dotter occasionally letting me have a small bite from her apple. The air was scented with fermenting apples...wet forest...hot rocks. We stopped to play in the main creek:
We passed some utterly gorgeous overhangs with moss-covered seeps flowing down the rock walls:
The Dotter learned to use rocks as stepping stones as we crossed the creek a few times on the way out. We plunged into shadow early on, and stayed in the shadow, with the sun highlighting the canyon walls. We found a spiky green caterpillar that was crossing the trail, and examined it closely (but, oh, no! I forgot to take a picture!). The Dotter happily played in the sand in the trail, learned the etiquette of allowing others to pass when you're stopping to peer at things or write your name in the dirt, and got wonderfully dirty.
We turned around, got back to the apple trees, and began trying to get apples.
Alas, the majority were too high up. However, after climbing a few trees fruitlessly (har!), I finally found one tree bough that I could shake, and we got a handful of those luscious, zesty apples to bring home.
It was a good day.