Saturday, October 14, 2006 apple pie

I need to get some cider. Want to go?

I met Ed a year ago under these exact circumstances. He needed to get cider. He had read Ocean and thought I might want to come along and take some photos.

We should celebrate! It’s been a year since we met.
Celebrate? Don’t scare me. I don’t do celebrations. Let’s just get some cider.

Yes, but…

Such a brisk October day. It's morning, I am at the market. Shivering. Vendors stamp feet and blow on mittens. Scarves are drawn tight. Caps cover heads.

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I think I should stock up. My grandmother had a cellar, back in the Polish village. Wooden shelves, with apples arranged neatly. There must have been other things, but I only reemember the apples.

Run down and get me some apples, she tells me. Creaky ladder steps, smells of earth and apples, small apples, something for her to peel and slice and turn into apple cake. Thick on the dough, but a good dough. She was a baker once, in her years in New York (yes, she had a stint in the States before she returned to her village life in Poland) she worked nights turning out the breads and apple cakes. She knew her dough.

Ed and I drive out to Ski Hi, an orchard just north of the Wisconsin River.

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Ski Hi no longer sells at the market. It used to, Ed tells me. And occasionally I would buy their pie. And eat it all in the same day. He says this munching cheese curds and honey crisp apples, all at the same time.

My sister writes me this email today: I am going up to the village to shut off the water for the winter.

No apples in the cellar there now. My grandmother died fifteen years ago, in Berkeley. Maybe she had nightmares about the cellar. More likely she had nightmares about the furnace in the old house. That thing needed loading for the night. Heaving coal. Some bedtime routine! I pick up Gopnik’s book and read about New York before turning out the light. She heaved coal.

There are a number of others who drive out to Ski Hi today. But no one had a cart that looks like this:

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Making apple wine? I am asked.
No, Ed simply likes cider.
Others like pie and caramel apples and the Badgers.

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In the orchard, the branches create sweeping arches. Don’t trees grow up? Toward the sun? If, as a kid, I had the assignment to draw an apple tree, I would not draw it like this:

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My grandparents had fruit trees in their yard, but they pretty much ignored them. The cherries, we picked the cherries. But the pears and apples fell to the ground and turned into soil the next year, for all I know.

Babciu, can we eat the apples off the tree?
No, no good. Forget about those. Pick the berries instead. Here – go and find some wild strawberries. Diversionary tactics on her part.

But my little room in their village house looked out over the orchard, so how could I not think about all those apples, there on the tree and then somehow gone? Not to the cellar, no, not there. Gone to the compost pile or given to any passerby who would want shriveled little apples.

At Ski Hi, the apples are big and beautiful and the colors are of autumn.

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Apple cake, your grandmother has sent us apple cake again. My mother says this in an exasperated voice. Too much dough? Is that her worry?

I eat it silently. It is such a familiar taste.

Apple pie at Ski Hi is absolutely perfect. These people know how to grow apples and turn them into wonderful tasty beverages and sky-high pies. I take a forkful. Another.

It’s a different country out here, in central Wisconsin. The apples grow, the people come and take them home by the bagful. Make pies, press cider. Year after year.

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