Sunday, September 10, 2006

Chercher les Pommes

I imagine that the difference between dedication in the pursuit of one's goal and batshit insanity can sometimes be a fine line. This is probably not one of those cases, however. People will also tell you that knowing that you have a problem is the first step towards solving it, but, here again, I've always been happy to live with my obsessions when it means that I get what I want.

The particular towards which my perambulations are, however gradually, working their way is that it's entirely ridiculous to spend four hours on the road in order to pick fourteen pounds of honeycrisp apples, but I would rather be without sanity than without the apples, and I've got the apples.

I had, until yesterday, never tasted the elusive honeycrisp. I've been reading Lindy's effusions about them for some time, and I've done a bit of research, but as of now, one is no more likely to see honeycrisps in any of my local markets than one is to see fresh truffles, marked down to three pounds for a dollar. Apparently, honeycrisps require a combination of coolness and warmth that mainly exists north of the Mason-Dixon line, and if you look for pick-your-own honeycrisps in, say, Pennsylvania, you'll find a number of good options. I have, however, been able to find only one pick-your-own orchard in the otherwise vastly superior state of Maryland (I know that I write occasionally about wanting a very small orchard in Pennsylvania, but that's mostly because of the far greater availability of affordable and arable land. Pennsylvania may yet come around, but for the moment, I much prefer to live in a state where if someone asks me "And who are your senators?" I can respond without having to cross myself and spit.), and it is in Elkton. You want to know how to get to Elkton? Drive to Delaware and then go back a mile. According to google maps, it's 92.8 miles from my driveway to Milburn's Orchards in Elkton. So one could very well say that it's less than a hundred miles away and in the same state and it would sound as if one didn't really have to go all that far, but that would be true only if one were good at picking out not-so-easy-to-see street signs and did not spend, after having driven sevnty-five miles on the mind numbing expanse that is I-95, half an hour discovering that the University of Delaware has a pretty campus.

Anyway. I'm not showing you a picture of the orchard because I forgot to take my camera, and I'm not showing you a picture of the apples because they really are not very pretty. In fact, when I was riding in the wagon out to the apple fields, the woman sitting opposite me told me how she had brought two honeycrisps with her back from Washington State and given her teenaged son, who was sitting beside her and who loves apples, one, and he had initially refused to eat it because it was not pretty. (Here, reader, you may, if it pleases you, spend some time reflecting on how appearances can be misleading. Pretend that I have written several thousand words upon the subject and that you have considered them and have been duly edified.)

I had called the orchard on Friday to make sure that the honeycrisps were indeed to be harvested on Saturday and Sunday as was listed on the webpage. The man who answered the phone said that they were but that because of some sun damage, the crop would be lighter than usual and the apples would be less attractive than usual, so that I should probably come on Saturday if I wanted to be sure to get some apples, which, he assured me, still tasted good.

I had intended to arrive at the orchard at 10, when it opened, which meant being up and dressed by 8 on a Saturday morning. Those of you who regularly complain that I am not sufficiently dedicated to cuisine will please take note of how I have suffered. I didn't actually get out the door until a little after 8, and between needing to stop for gas, my unscheduled tour of UD, and what might be considered inadequate signage at the orchard, I didn't park my car in the appropriate place and walk to the pick-up spot until nearly 11. As we were loading into the long, narrow wagon behind the tractor, the driver told us why the honeycrisp pickings were somewhat meager this year. Apparently, Japanese beetles bothered nothing at the orchard except for the honeycrisps. And because the beetles ate the tops off the honeycrisp trees, the apples were not adequately shaded from the sun, and many of them "opened up" before they should have. When we got out to the apple fields, it was easy to see which trees had suffered beetle and sun damage. It was also easy to smell them as the spaces under the trees and in the rows between the trees were littered with rotten apples and apples that had been picked and then rejected because they had great cracks in the skin. The hornets seemed very pleased with the situation, but actually picking the fruit -- normally an activity in which can take unfettered delight -- was decidedly difficult and unpleasant. It was difficult to walk without treading on rotten apple, and it was very hard to find unblemished apples on the trees. Fortunately, the apples are very large, so it did not take too many to fill my bag, and after a quarter hour or so of grimacing, I was ready to head back. I had had to accept some apples that I would rather not have taken, but I reasoned that they would be fine if they were eaten in fairly short order. I set aside two of the worst and rinsed them off so that I could eat them on the long drive home.

I was feeling a little tired and disgusted when I finally pulled out of the parking lot and back onto the highway, but the first bite into the first honeycrisp put me right back into good spirits. It really is an unparalleled eating apple. What sets it apart is the texture and the juiciness. Eating a honeycrisp is almost as dangerous as eating a peach. Napkins are advised. The flavor is very well balanced, too.

Would I make that same trip again for those apples? Perhaps not. It was certainly well worth the effort for my first taste of them, but I think that I would rather go slightly farther to one of the Pennsylvania orchards and be assured of a larger supply (Milburn's grows many varieties, and there are only a few long rows of honeycrisps) and a more pleasant drive. Then again, V. said that if he had not had a volunteer commitment Saturday afternoon, he would have been willing to go with me, and that means that he would have been driving. On the other hand (yes, I get as many hands as I like: don't you wish you were me?), V. would probably also drive if we took the more scenic route to one of the Pennsylvania farms. A long drive through the country on a beautiful September morning is a fine thing, especially when someone else is driving.

I think that the better option is to encourage one or more of the local orchards to start growing some honeycrisps, or, failing that, to go through with plans to get my own piece of land and grow some of my own.

I haven't figured out exactly what I'll do with all of my honeycrisps. I've read that they keep well for months in the refrigerator, but I may just eat them all out of hand over the next week or so. (There aren't that many of them, really.) Our big fig bush/tree in the backyard is pretty loaded with not-yet-ripe figs, though, so if they start to become ready in abundance next week, I might have a very nice fruit salad.


Anonymous lindy said...

Envy. Ours are not quite ready yet. I am managing, however, to be very happy for you. But the fig thing, well it's almost too much to bear.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous lindy said...

PS We are doing our very best to vote out and vanquish the accursed senator of whom you speak.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Lindy said...

PPS. I mean, the other one's no good either, but there's bad, and then there's, uh, Satan...if you know what I mean.
Okay, I'll stop adding comments now.

3:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heyser Farms at Bonifant and New Hampshire has a sign up that says they have Honeycrisps.

11:11 AM  
Blogger goblinbox said...

The first paragraph of this entry might be the most brilliant paragraph ever written. It has everything, including the admission that knowing one has a problem DOES NOT imply one wants to 'solve' it, and it also includes the word 'batshit.' Bravo!

10:45 PM  

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