There are a few certain experiences, annual signals, really, for the looming fall season, that are accepted without question, without heed, by the residents of rural north Jersey. These experiences are not exclusive to our small region, but they seem as inherent to our identity as it is for others who live in this varied state to claim they live off such-and-such exit of the Turnpike. Fall, thus, is naturally associated with activities like corn mazes, haunted hay rides and apple picking.
In an energetic, rosy-cheeked nod to our rural landscape, we went apple picking last Sunday. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun.
I can remember, though, the first time I went apple picking: I must have been in first or second grade, on a school field trip to a local apple orchard. I remember the trees being so tall, and the apples being so good. I tried verbalizing these memories to my mother during the long walk down the dusty dirt road to the apple trees last Sunday, and it came out something like:
“The apples were the best I’d ever tasted, so sweet and crunchy. Well, I don’t know if they were the best, but they tasted like the best. Which I guess amounts to the same thing.”
This time, the apple trees were a lot shorter, but the apples were still painfully delicious. Painful, really, because it’s the recognition that this open air and this soft dirt and this warm setting sun is what makes the taste of an apple so perfect, one that you will not be able to recreate later on with brown bag lunches and lazy afternoon snacks.
What you bring home, then, is no small mixed sense of exhaustion and exhilaration along with your bushel of apples. We have at least thirty stuffed into two large baskets on our kitchen table, singing of endless kitchen opportunities. I made apple cookies yesterday, but while their taste was pleasant their texture was off, so I will leave out the recipe. Instead, I give a wish list for our apple baskets, for recipes like applesauce and apple butter and apple tart cake and apple pancakes. I want to cook as much as I can before the picking season ends, when I can fill up a big bag of the promising fruit once more.