I bought my first seasonal orchard-grown apples this week. Walking into the apple shed, I closed my eyes and breathed in the delicious smell of apples. This always brings back sweet memories.
When our children were young, we bought property that included a small orchard of around 400 apple trees. My husband knew a bit about trimming and spraying trees from his 4-H and FFA days; the rest he learned by reading or talking to some experts.
That first season we hired three “retired” people to help with the picking. They were all in their ‘70’s, but worked hard and fast. None of us could keep up with them. We hooked a trailer to the lawn mower and loaded box after box of apples to haul in, sort, bag, and hopefully sell. Apple season lasts from August to October in Minnesota; sometimes it’s a scramble to get them all picked before it gets too cold and the apples freeze. Retail sales can continue through November, or even December.
We stored the apples in a large walk-in cooler. The heady scent of fresh ripened apples assaulted your nose each time you opened the door. Our small dog loved to sneak in and steal an apple from a box low to the floor. She usually snagged one of the bigger nicest apples for her snack.
Our Giant Schnauzer delighted in romping in the orchard as we picked. He couldn’t wait until we threw him an apple from the ground to fetch. He never tired of this game.
The orchard became a family project that filled every weekend, plus whatever time we could spare during the week. We all learned the proper techniques for picking an apple (twist rather than yank), handling them so they weren’t bruised or damaged, sorting by size and grade, bagging and weighing the apples, and lastly good salesmanship.
It was interesting to observe and listen to the children as they interacted with customers. Some were impressed by their knowledge, others were tolerant of their lack of experience, and a few dismissed them as too young to know anything about selling apples.
We rewarded our young helpers with Saturday afternoon donuts, freshly squeezed apple juice, and a small hourly wage. By the end of the season we were all weary and longed for “the end.” But we gained a new appreciation for the work involved in raising apples, and we learned to persevere even though we sometimes grumbled.
Now the kids are grown, the dogs are gone, and we no longer harvest apples. But the memories remain and come out to play each fall when I visit someone else’s orchard and reap the benefits of their hard labors.