McIntosh. An apple of which there is no other. Surely, that was the apple the wicked witch gave to Snow White. Round, red, perfect. Juicy, asking to be eaten.
We had an orchard with over 80 trees on our 98-acre farm in Massachusetts. When harvest time came, my sister and I and the whole family went out to pick apples. My father had fixed the pick-up truck with a platform on the back and had invented picking bags, sort of like kangaroo pouches, that hung around our shoulders. Once filled, we would empty them into boxes to be stored in the cellar.
Then there was the hurricane. Warnings had been broadcast. It was the middle of September and the trees were still laden with red apples. Everyone, including the neighbors’ kids, was recruited and the apples were picked and dumped under the trees where they wouldn’t get bruised when the wind knocked them off the tree. It was September 15, 1944 and was known as the Great Atlantic Hurricane. The maple tree over to one side of the house had branches blown off and smashed through the glass window panes in one of the upstairs rooms, where we had been told to hide out. Earlier my father had put a steel cable on the tall hickory tree in front of the house and fastened it to the ground. I’ve never again heard wind howl like that and even speaking was impossible, except for one short moment when there was absolute silence. We were in the eye of the hurricane and I can still hear that eerie quiet before it began again, louder than ever.
The apples made it through the hurricane. The biggest buyer every year was Bradford Junior College where my father taught. Of course they had to be perfect in size and color and we would sit together with friends, sorting them and giving them an extra polish. Those that didn’t make the grade went into apple pies and I became the official pie maker, with double crusts, sugar and cinnamon, and sometimes latticework. I was really good at crimping the edges. I used to hold up a pie and turn it as I cut off the excess dough, which draped down onto the table, making believe I was Snow White making a pie for the Seven Dwarfs. There was no lack of applesauce. Smaller imperfect ones were chopped up and pressed into cider. As the year progressed the mice discovered those kept in the cellar beneath the house. Signs of their visits were the layers of apples chewed up into mice mouth-size pieces for what they were after were the seeds. The rest of the apples? Of no interest, at least to the mice.
There were also a couple of large golden delicious, behind the house on the way to the sand pit, which was where we dumped our trash. But while the trees were great for climbing, the apples, which tasted sort of like bananas, were too bland for us.
Haven’t ever found another apple that is as good as the McIntosh. Guess my father agreed for when he moved to Italy he planted a McIntosh tree at the edge of the olive grove but it was too close to the chestnut trees on the slope and gradually leaned over to where it could get more light. The climate was also just too hot and the apples baked on the tree.
My sister and I had learned to prune, snip off the suckers, although now I couldn’t tell you how to do it. Then the trees had to be sprayed periodically – don’t know what my father used, but when we helped him we also had to put on hats and masks and long-sleeved shirts. The year my father was too occupied writing his textbook and both my sister and I had left home, they didn’t get sprayed, much to the delight of the worms and the apple crop that year was far from saleable.
There were several rows of peach trees and wild raspberries and blackberries as well as strawberries hiding in the grass. We often went barefoot for the grass was so much softer than here in Umbria. There was one drawback however. Actually, two. I’ll never forget the time I stepped on a garter snake. And lovely as the leaves were, we soon learned to keep our distance from poison ivy. There were violets beneath the enormous sour cherry tree, where we would perch and eat cherries till our teeth hurt.
There was an enormous garden (aside from all ducks, geese, guinea hens, and even peacocks) and we had wonderful corn on the cob – I think I ate ten ears at one sitting – not to mention the pumpkins and squash.
And the flowers. They were my particular precinct. Asters, zinnias, marigolds, gladiolas. There was a whole field of asters, for they were my mother’s favorite.