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.