If you live in the Northeast United States and have children, chances are you’ve taken said children apple-picking at some point. Who doesn’t love apple-picking? The apple cider donuts for sale, the wagon ride into the aromatic bounty, the bracing autumn air, the ensuing apple pies and cobbler and chutney and sauce. It is a wholesome, inexpensive, and generally upbeat weekend activity.
Some years ago, when a gorgeous Saturday in October came around, I decided that apple-picking we would go. I mixed batter for pancakes, put on Oklahoma!, and began to sing along to “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.”
Anya and Stella burst from their rooms.
“No! No, no, NO!”
“What is this music?“
“Oklahoma! of course!”
They hung over the banister, glaring. From my grandmother’s chaise lounge, even the dog seemed to be giving me the stink eye.
I clapped my hands and said, “Pancakes, then apple-picking. We’re going to Bishops.”
“We did that LAST weekend with Daddy and Rachel.”
“It’s a gorgeous day and we are not going to hang around the house all morning and afternoon. We are going to go apple-picking. End of story.”
But it wasn’t. I realized, as we got onto I-95, that I’d forgotten my phone. Anya had hers, however—she sat to my right absorbed in it as usual—so I kept on towards Guilford. The girls perked up when we got to Bishops and acquired the requisite donuts and caramel popcorn. We stood in line for baskets and then for the wagon, which lurched up a hill and deposited us amid the available varieties of apple. I consulted the chart. “So Macintosh is better for eating, Cortland for cooking.” The girls ignored me, but Anya put her phone away, and they both set to work filling their baskets. “I’m going to hit the Cortlands,” I said. “Do you want to come with me or stay here?”
In unison, “Stay here.”
“Okay. Back in a few.”
When I returned the girls were gone.
Maybe I’d misidentified the row. I backtracked, then explored the adjacent Macintosh rows. I checked the Cortlands. I checked the pears. I called my daughters’ names. I started to panic. I ran down the wagon path to the farm, lugging my basket of apples. To a woman of some authority I said, “I can’t find my kids.”
She loaned me her cell phone, and that was when I realized I’d neglected to memorize Anya’s mobile number. The woman got on a megaphone and suspended the wagon rides and any new forays by foot into the orchard. She called to a teenage boy. He dropped what he was doing and ran up to us.
“Her kids are lost,” the woman said. “I need you to go look for them.”
“We were apple-picking and I went off for a minute and now I can’t find them,” I explained.
“Holy crap. I’m on it.” For a second I thought he might rip off his shirt in a fit of heroism. “I’ll find them, I will find them. What are their names? WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE??”
“Anya and Stella. They’re—”
But he was off already, running up the wagon path, muttering, “AnyaStella, AnyaStella, AnyaStella…”
I yelled after him, “They’re twelve and nine! Anya’s five-seven! With a red streak in her hair!”
I waited anxiously with the megaphone woman and a few concerned bystanders. I heard two indignant voices.
I turned. I saw two angry pairs of brown eyes and two furious frowns. The winded teenager trailed my daughters, looking…disappointed?
“I thought they’d be littler,” he told me.
I apologized all around; we paid for our apples and fled. In the car the girls expressed their mortification and displeasure. And, “He was cute!” Anya cried. “And now we can never go back there! And he was cute!”
“Hey, look at it this way, you wouldn’t have met him in the first place if not for me.”
I promised to never again insist on apple-picking. The truth was—well, they were middle schoolers, we’d picked more than our share of fruit, we missed Brooklyn, we were all a little lonely, and they were over apple-picking.
Returning to Frost’s famous poem, which I hadn’t read since my own middle school years, I was gratified to find that ten thousand thousand fruit deep he reaches the end of his apple-picking rope as well.
by Robert Frost
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.
Coconut Apple Crisp
Along with most fruit, Stella abhors apples, and I just don’t eat them because of the fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, and monosaccharides, and also the polyols. So I made this apple crisp for Anya specifically, and I made it with coconut sugar because while my generation enjoyed diet soda and cigarettes, kids these days enjoy protein shakes, coconut sugar, and cauliflower pizza crust. I did have a bite, and I have to say I was impressed with the coconut sugar. Real sugar is definitely better, or at least I think so, but the coconut sugar in this sort of context provides a subtle, offbeat, and entirely natural sweetness.
5 tablespoons cold butter (plus more for greasing); 2-3 pounds peeled, cored, and sliced apples (I used Honeycrisp); juice of 1 lemon; 1/2 tablespoon thinly sliced lemon rind; 1 teaspoon chopped candied ginger; 1 cup coconut sugar; 1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant); 1/2 cup flour; 1/4 cup chopped raw walnuts; 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut; 1/4 teaspoon sea salt; 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg; 1/4 teaspoon cardamom; 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves; 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
Heat oven to 400. Cut the butter into small pieces and put it in the freezer. Butter two 9 inch ceramic pie pans, or one larger, deeper one. Toss the apples with the lemon juice and rind, the candied ginger, and 2 tablespoons coconut sugar. Transfer the apples to the prepared pan/s. In a food processor, combine the chilled butter with the remaining sugar, the oats, flour, walnuts, coconut, salt, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon (pulse just enough to combine and break down the butter). Crumble the topping over the apples and bake for 25-35 minutes, depending on the dimensions of the pan. You want the apples to be bubbling and the top to be lightly browned. Serve with vanilla ice cream of your choice.