Johnny Appleseed

“Let's write about apples,” she says.

A branch of crab apples from one of the trees in the abandoned apple orchard that neighbored our house where I grew up. 

A branch of crab apples from one of the trees in the abandoned apple orchard that neighbored our house where I grew up. 

A few weekends back I took a food writing workshop from acclaimed food writer Molly Wizenberg, author of the blog Orangette (known by many as the number one food blog), as well author of two books, most notably "A Handmade Life," and most recently "Delancey," titled after the locally-famed pizzeria her and her husband own. The workshop was held at The Pantry, a bright little room tucked underneath the restaurant.

I was surprised what came out when I put pen to paper. Most of the time I feel like nothing is swimming around up there (nothing worth sharing, that is), but throughout the exercises and critiques in the workshop, I began to think of food writing as a way to examine life, and I was shocked by the stories that followed. Subtleties and nuances explained characters and defining moments that otherwise couldn’t be put into words.

So she gave us an exercise. “Let’s write about apples,” she said. So I did.

Branches heavy with young apples. 

Branches heavy with young apples. 

Apples.Were.Everywhere. All over the ground, on top of the cars, rolling down the driveway. The dogs would pick them up and toss them up in the air like tennis balls. The trees were old, creaky and rotten, their roots slowly rising from the ground, unwinding the foundation and creating a delicate balancing act between the last stubborn roots still clinging to the sodden earth and the ever-increasing weight of the overflowing branches. Finally, the tree would let go with a thunderous “THUMP!,” as it laid down to rest on the orchard floor.

The timetable of this event increased exponentially when my sister chose to rig a rope swing on a loftier-looking branch. She would swing and swing to her heart’s content to be suddenly jolted from her childhood shenanigans as the tree cracked and gave way, falling a little more to one side.

Crab Apples from the orchard. 

Crab Apples from the orchard. 

Crab apples are not very sweet. Preferred for applesauce and cider (two food’s whose processes concentrate the sugar and sweetness), they are rarely eaten right off the branch due to the instantaneous sucking shut of the lips they inspire. Nonetheless they were everywhere and we ate them as such.

The best was when my mom would make applesauce. She would boil and mash and peel and reduce until, finally, she has a luxuriously smooth consistency, far from any impostor you could find in the store. She sprinkled in fresh cinnamon that added a warmth like her.

She still makes that applesauce from time to time and when I get that supple bite memories of days spent running around my parents property, barefoot and in overalls come flooding back. My dad in his overalls, working in the garage, both doors wide open. My mom calling us all in from the porch for dinner. Apples will always do that for me...

Entrance to the old orchard. We'd easily climb over the weed-eaten ivy-tangled fence. 

Entrance to the old orchard. We'd easily climb over the weed-eaten ivy-tangled fence.