When I go up north to my parents cabin, I think a lot about my mom's mom and dad, Grandma Lee and Grandpa Les. They lived next door to the cabin for almost all of my memories of them, retired alongside the Wolf River. My grandpa and I would pick blackberries until the backs of his hands bled, his skin thin with age, and the brambles so amazingly sharp. While we were at the cabin, I crept into his old backyard, now a summer cottage for some folks from the city, and picked his blackberries myself. Grandpa would have approved, and berries don't last so we went for it. I even found the seed pods from some Lupines that he and I planted decades ago, part of the reason we named our girl what we did. It was lovely.
But he and I didn't just pick berries. We also picked apples. There was an old farm just down the road, loaded with wild apple trees. We use to go there and fill the bed of his truck with apples for the deer, and plenty for ourselves. That old farm has changed hands a few times now, and every September I drive by staring wistfully past the "No Trespassing" signs to my favorite apples ever that grow along side the drive.
I decided this weekend to find out who owns the farm. Heck, maybe they'd let me pick. And I wanted to ask about taking a cutting someday when I have established trees of my own to graft onto. Clearly no one was picking the apples, as the ground was covered with them. I stopped and asked a neighbor who owns the old farm. "They moved out west. They never come back anymore." I told them about the apples and about my grandpa. "Pick all you want. The owners are friends and if anyone troubles you tell them we gave you permission to pick."
My heart lept. My apples!
Right then and there I jumped the fence and picked one from my favorite (now elderly) tree. It was just as good as I imagined. I tossed one to Lupine and she bit in, then closed her eyes and said, "It tastes like cake!" Yellow skin, pink blush, and medium-soft sweet-sour flesh. Yum.
I went back twice this wekeend and picked apples from the trees inside the farm fence. Lupine and I spend an afternoon there together. We picked apples, found a bird's nest full of babies, then found wild white sage, tansy, red, black, and white gooseberries, raspberry leaves and rose hips. We were both in our bliss. It was truly a perfect day with my girl. She loves it as much as I do.
I went back a second time, alone, and I picked and I picked and I picked. Apples for apple butter, storage, and for sauce. Heck, maybe even a crisp or two.
With wild apples like these (planted from seeds, not from garden starts) you have to taste your first apple to see if it is worth hauling any home. Hard? Soft? Really soft? Sweet? Chalky? Sour? And then take what you want. One tree, laden with perfect looking fruit gave apples that were so soft (even when under-ripe) I could stick my thumb in them. Gross.
But most were perfectly delicious. I kept marveling at how people actually buy apples, when driving by such (free!) abundance each day.
In all, this weekend alone we foraged:
- Wild Plums (questionable, but worth experimenting with)
- Rose Hips (for tea and jam)
- Raspberry Leaves (for tea)
- Sumac (for fiber dyes and for "lemonade")
- 50-plus pounds of wild apples
- Red, black, and white gooseberries
- White Sage, tansy, and yarrow for a wreath
- Blackberries (for fresh eating and jam)
I also saw plenty of our-of-season treats in the woods, including wild strawberries and raspberries. The abundance was amazing.
I'll share what we do with the bounty in the coming days!