Tag Archives: Apples

Apples or why we don´t have a garden

"Appelwoi"-barrel showing the opening hours of the "Apfelwein-Museum" in Frankfurt."Most"barrels look the same. ©Truegerman

Barrel to make apple wine.

“The only people I know that pick apples are either determined ecologists or extremely thritfty people”, Francesca wrote last week. “Hm”, I thought, “she is right”. But why do I only know people who pick apples?

Probably because I lived in Baden-Württemberg for a long time. Baden-Württemberg is one of the 16 “Länder”(federal states) that make up Germany. Placed in the southwest, it calls itself a “Musterländle”, a role model for other states. The countryside is beautiful and well cared for. “Streuobstwiesen”, green meadows where cows graze and apple trees grow, are an important part of the landscape.  In Baden-Württemberg, average income is high, unemployment is low, and its inhabitants pick apples. Though for different reasons.

Even in modern times, in Germany we attribute typical character traits to different regions or tribes. In Baden-Württemberg, two extremes come together to form an odd couple. While the  “Schwaben”(in Württemberg)  live according to their motto: “Schaffe, schaffe, Häusle baue und nicht nach den Mädchen schauen …” (Work, work, build your house and keep your eyes off the girls), the “Badener” rather enjoy looking at–and flirting with–the girls first and work to build the house later.

In “Schwaben” apple trees are a duty to serve. The main impulse in picking apples is “Nur nichts verkommen lassen”-Beware not to waste anything. So, every fall, the family fills crates and carts with apples and delivers them to the “Mosterei”, a local apple processing plant. The apple juice is put in a barrel in the cellar to make alcohol, an apple wine called “Most” (must). “Most” is a delicious drink to go with bread and wurst or any of the typical German dishes. Though, when you are invited to drink a homemade “Most” in September, you better decline. At this time of the year, “Schwaben” are very generous with their favorite drink, as the barrel has to be emptied before it can be filled anew. Alas, this late in the cycle the “Most” normally doesn´t taste its best. But drunk it must be.

Schwaben love their “Most”, though you don´t find any “Most-Wirtschaft” in Württemberg, probably because no “Schwabe” would pay for something he can get for free from his own cellar. One of the most popular, and slightly menacing sayings in Schwaben is based on it: “Dem werde ich zeigen, wo der Barthel den Most holt”, meaning “I´ll show him that I´m much cleverer than he is”. If you hear this, you better beware – they normally are.

In Baden, you won´t find any Most-Wirtschaft either. Baden is a wine growing region and apples are used to make juice, pies or “Apfelmus”, mashed apples, instead. To make Apfelmus, you slice and cut the apples, cook them, mash them and then fill them into “Weck-Gläser”, big glass jars that preserve all kinds of fruit and vegetables. Apfelmus goes nicely with “Milchreis mit Milch und Zucker”, round rice boiled in milk, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and topped with melted butter. While Milchreis still is popular in Germany, I haven´t eaten “Pfludde” for 30 years now. This is a dish based on mashed potatoes with fried onions, covered by melted butter, and served with Apfelmus. Also on the list of endangered dishes are “Apfelküchle”, slices of apples dipped in pancake dough and then fried, to be eaten hot, topped with vanilla sauce. Luckily, other dishes like “Bratapfel” see a comeback. For a Bratapfel, you punch a hole into an apple with a “Apfelentkerner” and push out the core. This hole you fill with chopped almonds or hazelnuts and either raspberry or red currant jam and top it with a flake of butter. Then you slowly bake it in the oven. Bratapfel has become so popular again that the dairy industry now even has created a limited edition of “Bratapfel”-joghurt in  winter.

For all this delicacies, you need special varieties to get the full taste. In the 70ies, most of the old varieties began to vanish. People, including me, preferred an imported Granny Smith to any of the homegrown types. I remember how, as a teenager,  I spent a considerable amount of my allowance to buy those green, glittering apples with its new fresh-sour taste at the supermarket instead of taking one out of the apple crate at  home.

Then, in the 80ies, the environmentalist movement and the Green party were born. “Baden” was one of the birthplaces of this movement.  The ecologists invented sponsorship for old trees and encouraged small “Mostereien” to keep up business. For decades, drinking “Most from Streuobstwiesen” served as a political statement. Though a lot of of the ecologists probably enjoyed the rich taste as well.

Today, the old varieties are well established again: Boskop, Goldparmäne, Renette, Alkmene, Gravensteiner can now be found at a farmers market or even bought in a supermarket. They are part of a gourmet trend that accepts a higher price tag in exchange for the better taste.

There is a flip side to the apple picking impulse, though, and that is why we don´t have a garden. In German cities, the usual home for a family is an appartment. To make good for the lack of space, most cities provide garden patches at the outskirts of the city that can be rented very cheaply. As my son wanted to build a treehouse and I needed two trees to hang my hammock, we decided to apply for one and soon found one. On our first visit, my spouse panicked:

” I don´t have the time to have a garden!”

“You don´t need extra time”, I said.” You just come here to sit and relax”

“But I can´t just sit and relax in a garden! All the work that is to be done! Look at all those apple trees. All this picking and preserving …”

As you might have figured out by now, my spouse is from “Schwaben”. By the way, we have the lowest electricity bill in town, too.

But this is another story.

©Truegerman

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Apples for Sale

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”

@Francesca

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