If you're a regular reader of this blog then you are definitely aware that the unavailability of local, fresh apples has been the girls' least favorite aspect of rationing so far.
So, this past weekend we burned up some ration miles to visit a nearby u-pick orchard. It is the same orchard from which we hauled home 20 plus pounds of apples last year. Friends, these were the best apples ever. So many varieties, all picked while ripe. I'm not a big fresh apple fan but I happily gobbled an apple a day while we had that stash in the house. In light of the restraints we've had this year our plan was to come home with at least twice as many apples as last year - what we didn't eat fresh we'd can, dehydrate or bake in pies to freeze.
When we arrived at the orchard after our 35 minute drive we noticed that the parking area seemed very, well, quiet. Eerily quiet. Entering the little business shack I happily skipped up to the counter and proclaimed, "We're here to pick apples."
Behind the counter slouched a gray, elderly, and unamused woman. "There aren't any apples," she said.
Say what? I told her I didn't understand.
She then proceeded, in a most disinterested voice, to explain that the orchard was hit by a fungus this year due to the high heat and humidity we had this past summer. Her blue eyes were lackluster and she was very...well...ho hum about the whole thing. As a friend who went to the orchard with us described it: "She is so done with the orchard thing."
I stood, dumbfounded for a few seconds while it all soaked in. I had checked the orchard's website just days before and it had no mention of a crop failure. We had just used up critical miles with the expectation of coming home with bucketfuls of wonderful, crisp, juicy apples. I had pictured the girls, with beaming smiles, rolling around in piles of apples declaring that it was the best day ever.
But there weren't any apples.Seeing my hesitation, the clerk did offer one option: "There's still the Asian pears."
"Yes, we'll pick those," I quickly blurted out. Yes. We would pick Asian pears. This is how the trip would be salvaged.
"But I don't like Asian pears," one of the girls mumbled from behind me. "The ones from the co-op tasted bad."
"These are different," I said, figuratively crossing my fingers behind my back.
Onward we march up the orchard hill, past rows and rows of apple trees. Indeed, something terrible had happened to the apples - most of the trees had lost their leaves and the ground was blanketed in a layer of brown, rotting fruit. The smell was enough make it smell like a college bar on a Sunday morning. A few red fruits still clung to random trees, but we weren't sure if we could pick them.Eventually we found the Asian pears and began picking. There were plenty of pears of a few different varieties and a quick sampling let the girls realize that they did, indeed, like Asian pears. So pick, pick, pick we did.
And as we did we came across other apple trees that looked like they weathered the fungus slightly better than the first trees we passed. When the clerk rode up the hill in her golf cart to check on us we asked her if it was okay to pick the unharmed apples.
"Yes," she said. "But I can't guarantee they're ripe on the inside."
Over the next 40 minutes we continued to pick Asian pears and salvageable apples as we walked our way down the orchard hill. When done, we had roughly 70 pounds of fruit (three-quarters of which was Asian pears).
So instead of apple butter, apples pies and such we'll be processing pear butter, dehydrated pears and pear crisps. Stay tuned for recipes!