We stood in front of many types of apples from all over the world. Which one to take? The crunchy green, sour type, the soft sweet red or one of the many somewhere in between. My father eyed them all critically and with the air of an expert declared, “Take the red, those are the best.” I was taken aback. For one my father never had advised me before what to shop for in food matters and secondly I asked myself where he had gathered his expertise on apples.
I forgot that my father grew up in a time and environment completely different from the one he lives in now. Growing up in small town America he spent his summers helping out on farms and attended the Fall Fair Festival at the end of September. Here farmers competed with their produce of fruit and vegetables, from apples to corn and with their animals, from horses to pigs, for a blue ribbon. Obtaining one would increase their leverage for achieving a good price in the subsequent sale of their goods.
He lived in apple country then and fate would have it that he now lives in one of the apple “Länder” of Germany. Apart from their natural form, you can find apple juices of varying density and mixes. In Frankfurt and area you have “Äppelwoi”, a wine made from apples. Truegerman invited me to a particularly dark sample of apple juice at the library canteen last week. It looked like mud and tasted like heaven: refreshing, sweet and filling.
Despite the apples popularity and lore of this area picking them yourself is not so and the only people I know that do are either determined ecologists or extremely thrifty people. Not even farmers bother to do their own canning or make their own “Marmelade”. Many fruit trees stand ignored in gardens and on fields with their precious load either rotting on or beneath the trees.
My neighbors belong to the thrifty and ecological type and have an agreement with a farmer nearby. They pick his apples and pay a relatively small amount of money in exchange. They invited my son to join them one year and he spent a delighted afternoon climbing into a tree and the evening preparing apples to dry. He earned a crate of apples for us and had a great time. A reason this might not be so popular is that the art of conserving fruit for the winter has been forgotten.
In a very german move a concerned group of “Bürger”, in the town where I grew up, organized themselves in a “Verein” (Club) that dedicates itself to conserving and opening an orchard to the public, with the specific purpose of encouraging people to pick their own fruit and educating them about the advantages in the course of the project. As so often this group of determined “eccentrics” now finds itself at the forefront of a reversal of ideas.
Common sense, political, health and ecological arguments fail to be heard; yet the absence of a tinkling noise in your wallet sounds very loud. The economical crunch encourages people to rethink their attitude to the fruit growing outside their doors, because there is nothing cheaper than for free in money terms. Into the bargain you get some exercise, regain control of your “shopping list” and the total on the bottom of your expenses table.
I expect vegetable patches to return to now grassy or tarmac covered surfaces, as they are in England. Maybe I will dig out the booklet with instructions on conserving fruit and vegetables. The next step would be to work up the courage and ask a neighbor, with a cherry tree in his front yard, to let me plunder it when the time comes. I’m sure my Dad would appreciate some cherries right off the tree. Apart from the money, apart of the health and exercise, apart of the ecological aspects – homegrown just tastes better.
Apple Song – Apfel Lied select Melodie next to the title “In einem kleinen Apfel”