Thursday, October 11, 2007

You gotta pick some apples to make apple butter

Remember that scene in Wizard of Oz when an orchard comes to life and pelts Dorothy with apples? Or how about those shiny lunch pails sprouting from trees in the decidedly Dadaesque Return to Oz? Boy, do I!

But if my apple-picking experience resembled any cinema fantasy it would be ... let's see, maybe those Vaseline-hazy scenes in Woody Allen movies where our heroes escape from New York to a bucolic, antique-filled countryside. We were a cheery group, full of teeth-baring laughs, pointing out sights along the West Side Highway (but don't look too close: the man beside me is my ex. O so Woody!)

We arrive at Outhouse Orchards (yes, really). It's crazy busy. There's a harvest festival clogging traffic, offering free tastes of pumpkin cheesecake and generally reeking of that singular combo, funnel cake n' burned hot dogs.

The damage: $20 for a bag that, Apple Lady assures me, will hold 20-25 lbs. Lickety-split calculations: it's a DEAL!

The trick to apple-picking in an orchard crawling with single-minded, pomaceous-mad families is, in a word, determination. The apples growing at the bottom of the hill, dangling from the lower branch, bobbing at the short end of the kiddie pool -- those are long gone. And all those long-handled poles specially tricked out with a four-pronged claw and rope bag? Not nearly enough to go around (and don't be the jerk to jack one from Grampa).

But there was apple butter to be made! Clad in Minnetonka Moccasin lace-up boots and short-shorts, I scrambled up the trees and tossed sun-warmed fruits to my friends below (see Jane in the purple dress, about to catch a Jonagold in her cupped hands). As a girl who buried my schnoz in books rather than dangle from woody limbs, this was thrilling.

Once we reached the top of the orchard's hill, away from the masses of drippy-nosed toddlers and scowling teenagers, the pickin' was easy. Our biggest concern was getting the greatest variety -- do we have the perfect Macintosh in our sack? And how about these interesting green specimens? (Apples are deceiving, by the way: each tastes different. Can't judge a tree by a single fruit.)

And have I mentioned the ungodly heat? In our apple-picking dreams, we're feeling sexy-cozy in our flannels, not sweating like it's high summer. It was picturesque and there were some happy-autumn playful moments, but we didn't linger and we certainly didn't warm up with some cider afterwards.

Twenty-five pounds of apples later, we headed back down the hill and snacked on hazelnut cake out of the car boot. Back in Brooklyn, I began preparing for the real fruit of our labors: Bucks County Apple Butter, a recipe dating from 1915.

Apple butter is a substance that, I've recently learned, people are rabid about. ("You're making apple butter? Oh my god, I LOVE APPLE BUTTER!" or "Bran jelly? Think I'll wait for the apple butter.")

Without the benefit of experience or even (dare I say it?) a particular love of this butter, do I have the balls to take on such an American institution? I'll say this: I do have the apples.

To be continued...


LunaPierCook said...

See, this past Sunday when Mary and I went to the local pumpkin farm, I made a choice between the apple butter and creamed honey, deciding on the creamed honey. Thanks to you, Nora Leah, and the craving you've initiated, I'll be headed back down there this morning for some danged homemade apple butter! ;-)

You have a very nice blog here. Keep up the great work!

laineylu said...

yum! yum!
i like reading your blog.. now i just have to find the time to cook, instead of doing my homework!