Apple picking! Or a vague approximation thereof.

When I say “apple picking”, what comes to mind?

For me, it’s 1992.  And I’m wearing a sweatshirt and stonewashed jeans and I have a headband in my stringy hair.  It’s prime hay fever season, and my mom has Benadryl in her purse but nothing to wash it down with.  Dad gets to carry the basket-on-a-stick-apple-puller-thing and Mom is stuck carrying the half-bushel bags of apples – the kind of bags with cotton drawstrings that dig into your hands – and my brother and I are occupied by stomping on rotten apples and eating all the non-rotten ones we can reach.  Apple picking means riding out on one of those wagons hitched to the back of a tractor, driven by the orchard owner’s cute and bored teenage son.  Apple picking means maybe stopping for  barbeque on the way home if everyone is still speaking to each other and no one is bleeding (much).  Apple picking means having a couple bushels of apples sitting in the basement – in the closet next to the 286 and fancy new 486 – to be turned into fried apples and mom’s apple pie and all the fresh apples you could ever want; till they’re all gone.

That’s what apple picking means to me.

So yesterday Jeff and I sought to relive the experience, only in 2010 and not 1992 (our flux capacitor is broken).  We went to the closest apple orchard – Eckert’s in Belleville IL.  I’d just gotten Grandma’s applesauce recipe, and had taken a double dose of my allergy medicine.  I brought my Nikon.  I warned Jeff that we’d probably be buying a *lot* of apples but yes I had a use for them all.

I should’ve known it wouldn’t be the same, the moment we pulled up.  We saw Eckert’s Restaurant, Eckert’s Frozen Custard, Eckert’s Grocery, Eckert’s Garden Shop, Eckert’s Ghetto Carnival Rides*, and there – way off at the back corner – a small yellow sign reading “this way to pick your own.”

So after a brief walk past Eckert’s Pumpkin-Palooza*, Eckert’s Muffler Service*, Eckert’s Basketweaving Classes* and Eckert’s Mani-Pedis*, we found ourselves waiting for the “pick your own” transport, holding a plastic shopping bag to fill with delicious apple-y goodness.

After a few minutes, a white passenger van pulled up.  “Oh, how nice,” I thought, “They have handicapped service.  Must be for all the senior center field trips we saw on our way in.”  My eyes wandered over to the tractor + wagon combination, sitting disused in a corner of the lot.

The van was *not* for the seniors.  The van *was* the apple picking  transport.  Jeff and I were to take our plastic shopping bag, get on the air conditioned passenger van, ride out to the field, spend 10 minutes filling the bag, ride back, pay $30 for the privilege, and stop by Eckert’s Souvenir Extravaganza* on the way out the door.

Not quite what I’d imagined.

I wasn’t *completely* willing to write it off altogether, though.  So I asked the van driver – a little old man – “Are there pick-your-own Jonagolds?”  (the website had promised there would be).  “Ummm…don’t think so.  Maybe in the grocery store?” was his reply.

That was that.  I could handle all of the overcommercialized bullshit, and contrived hokiness and shameless mediocrity, if it meant there would be delicious Jonagolds waiting for me.   But no Jonagolds?  No thanks.

So we went into Eckert’s Grocery.

And found the Jonagolds.

It was practically like being in the orchard!

Jeff carefully picked *two whole bags* of apples (real apple bags, not crappy shopping bags):

Now that takes skill.

Then we stopped by Eckert’s Ye Olde Cidre Press, for some fresh pressed apple cider:

(It tastes nothing at all like the stuff we get at Aldi for half the price.  Nope.  Nothing at all.  OH.  WAIT.)

Then, exhausted from our time as farm workers (a la Colbert), we rested and ate an Eckert’s Frozen Custard hot fudge sundae:

Jeff, waxing philosophical on a long day in the field.

And so concluded our Eckert’s apple picking (sort of) adventure (not really).  Let’s just call it “lesson learned”, ok?

I have a plan for next year, by the way.  It involves going to my local farmer’s market and buying my 30lb of apples from someone there.  Then I can use the time saved to, y’know, make applesauce and  stuff.

PS>We did “create family memories“, after all.  Memories like, “Let’s remember not to do this next year.”


*Possibly exaggeration.  Possibly not.  You decide.


12 responses to “Apple picking! Or a vague approximation thereof.

  1. LOL! Remember the bees? Remember my apple cake with whipped cream? Remember how it seemed like the tractor and wagon would pick up everyone in the orchard and return them to the wagon stand before they would pick us up? Remember how I was always afraid you and Ryan would fall off the apple wagon?

    Your hair was never stringy. No one ever bled THAT much.

    Excellent post.

    Please let me know when your flux capacitor is repaired.


  2. I don’t think I will ever stop loving your blog.

  3. That’s not the Eckert’s I remember from 2 years ago.. We rode on a tractor out into the field and picked and picked our little brains out. we have plastic bags but they had little handles on them like the paper ones do. Sad that you rode in a van.. I wonder why it was like that… hmm. Try again next year… the experience can definitely be better, promise!

  4. There’s a new-ish apple picking place in Macon. With a winery, which is better than an apple cidery (you know, where they make apple cider) any day.

  5. lol! I don’t think I would’ve paid $30 for that either – I mean, think of the stuff you could buy for that!

    I have never been apple picking – I’m not sure it’s something that really happens much here, I’ve not seen anywhere you can pay to do it anyway. It does always sound like one of those lovely things that make people like Fall so much, though, so maybe I should give it a try…

  6. It’s been several years since I’ve been to Eckerts but that’s not what I remember, either. We got on a hay-filled wagon, rode out to the orchard, picked to our hearts contents (way too much), stayed out in the field until last call, threw apples at each other, ate our fill of the apples on the ground and then rode back, paid for our apples ($90!), and then stopped by the store to get a caramel apple and benedryl. I’m sad to hear that’s not how it is anymore. I did start wondering if they had transitioned from orchard to tourist trap when I started getting emails from them every single day.

  7. We went apple picking this weekend too! We didn’t drive up to Hick’s Orchard b/c it was too far so we ended up going to Concklin Orchards in Pomona, NY. It was ok, AG had a lot of fun & I got a lot of cute pics of him. But the amount of waste I saw made me feel sad. There were lots of abandoned bags of apples & we even saw a group of 3 kids picking apples off the trees to throw @ each other & the parents were nowhere in sight. Now I know why some places charge a per person fee (we were only charged $1.25 per lb).

  8. Our favorite pumpkin patch / corn maze is heading that way. It’s gone from a cute little family thing to a huge Event, and now it goes clear through Christmas with fake snow and all like that, and I heard they’re looking at becoming a year-round “vaguely associated with agriculture theme park” sort of thing – like Knotts Berry Farm or something.


  9. I completely agree with this portrayal of Exckerts! I hate the darn place.
    I fortunately (or unfortunately) experienced this freakshow in ’08 so last year I discovered a new place called Mills Farm in Marine, IL. It was so awesome! There were like 8-10 different kind of apples to actually PICK and everything was simple and beautiful and wonderful and home made. I’m sure it was much like Exckerts back in the way day. Any way, if you are interested in re-doing the experience let me know. I might be going this Saturday bc I have yet to go apple picking this year!

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