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You Can Pick Your Friends, You Can Pick Some Apples, but…

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Nothing illustrates more aptly autumn in central New York like the annual tradition of apple picking. After all, many of your apple varieties have their roots in the area. Cortland apples, for example, are named for Cortland, just a half hour south of Syracuse. Macouns were developed in Geneva, NY. And the Empire apple, first cultivated by the Emperor on Kashykk just before the Clone Wars, is also largely grown (on Earth) in this region. So when my parents came to visit, during their one free weekend of the decade, we decided it would be a great time to introduce both Justine and them to this fun (and fibrous) pastime.

Surprisingly, in my 11 years in Syracuse I have only been apple picking twice – once my freshman year of college, and last year when Kim and I went for the first time together. Both of those trips were to the same location, the hands down favorite of apple picking meccas, Beak and Skiff in Lafayette, NY. So when we were deciding where to take my parents, it was a no brainer. But before we could head to the land of trees and ladders, we made a brief pit stop in Weedsport, to watch my wife earn some cash reffing a field hockey game.

To earn some extra money, keep in shape, and relish in the feelings of supreme power and control that it provides, Kim has been refereeing field hockey games this fall for the first time. By all accounts she’s very good at it – those accounts coming from coaches and other referees. I certainly wouldn’t know – understanding the penalties of field hockey from a bystander perspective is like trying to understand the subprime mortgage crisis – you know something bad happened but you just can’t figure out what it is. In any case, we followed her to watch her in action. She did a great job. I think. No one egged our car afterward, at least.

After the game we headed straight for Beak and Skiff, following a wide menagerie of country roads served up to us by our GPS. “Turn left on back road #45,” and “Put car in 4 wheel drive now,” and “Roll up windows and ford river in 1 mile,” it would say, and dutifully I would. After a number of turns and a lot of cows we finally arrived at the vast orchards and parked. Before going out on the wagon, we grabbed a quick lunch (hot dogs, bratwurst and Coneys were all on the menu) and marveled at the hundreds of folks who joined us in this apple quest. Afterward we headed to wait in line to “get our apple on.”

Throughout the season they pick a wide variety of applies – on this particular day it was the aforementioned Empires. We boarded a tractor drawn wagon and headed out into the orchard. Upon arrival we were given detailed instructions (“Pick apples from the trees. Put them in the bags. Pay.”) and then were left to our own devices.

There is definitely an art form to apple picking. You want to pick the apples that have the least amount of defects, including soft spots, rotten areas, worms protruding, already fermented, on the ground, or have bites taken out of them. Once selected, you want to twist the apple so that it falls off with stem intact. At that point you may wish to taste the apple – I usually rub the apple on my jacket, which a) gives the apple a shine b) possibly removes some of the pesticide (transferring it to my jacket) and c) makes you look like you’ve done this before. Once you are happy with your apple, you put it in the bags they provide. Then repeat until the bag is full. (See – I can follow directions).

So that is what we did. It really doesn’t take a long time. We probably spent more of our time in the orchard taking photos of each other, and especially Justine, than we did picking apples. Justine, for her part, did her best to give the appearance of caring about the whole affair. I held her up on ladder for a picture, my parents held her for a picture, I strapped her to a pole and hoisted to the top of one of the trees for a picture (unfortunately it did not come out). It was a fun time. After we had our fill, we returned to the tractor, which took us back to the checkout, where we paid a pittance for our apples, then returned to the car where we suddenly realized that we had purchased far more apples than we could probably ever eat. I call it “Apple Remorse.” Oh well, se la vie.

With daylight still remaining, we decided to ride over to nearby Tim’s Pumpkin Patch, we had also visited last year. This place is one of the great moneymakers of the region, considering what they do is essentially seed a very large field with a bajillion pumpkins, then people come, traipse through the fields with some wheelbarrows, pick them up, and then pay for them on their way out. Other than buying some wheelbarrows, its easy money for them.

We headed out into the fields soon after we arrived – there was a large patch right near the entrance, but it was pretty picked clean and otherwise filled with rotting pumpkins. But everyone was following a path far out into the distance, and so we did the same. We rounded a corner and walked through a patch of trees and then we laid our eyes on one of the great sights of our lives.

History books talk about what it must’ve been like for Balboa to lay his eyes on the Pacific, or El Tovar to stumble into the Grand Canyon, or when Al Gore first cracked open a router and discovered the Internet. We felt such a similar feeling upon laying our eyes on the “Secret Patch” – there were pumpkins are far as the eye could see, a vast display of orange covering a ridge and valley, acres and acres of it, the promised land of gourds. And they were massive in size – big enough to carve out and have the cats sleep inside. It was breathtaking. Justine, of course, slept through most of the experience, waking briefly to bawl when we put her in the wheelbarrow for a picture.

We fought our way through the vines, trying to find the best ones, stepping gingerly over a sleeping Linus, trying to maintain his vigil until Halloween. We selected a few choice ones, took the requisite pictures, and pushed our way back to the parking lot. The cost for these massive gourds? $2 a pop. Kim and I then stood in line for some pumpkin funnel cake for quite some time – it was a very popular item. It was mildly disturbing however, to watch them restocking the fryer with large blocks of white lard as they made it. But it tastes amazing (probably due to said lard.)

While we waited my father spent a good amount of time in the “Fossil Dig” fighting off five and six year olds for some choice shale fossils of seashells. My father’s later in life love affair with rocks has become a ritual on trips like this, so a large pile of shale that these folks had found on their property, dutifully dug up and then deposited next to the pig pen was a natural draw for him. Surprisingly the fossils were large and far more interesting than I would have thought. Seriously though, he shouldn’t have made that one kid cry. Shameful.

All in all it was a wonderful weekend, as it always is when our families come up to visit. These trips are important for Justine to connect with her family, the cats to actually get some attention, and for people to buy us dinner. After all, why us would we tolerate visitors if they don’t feed us, right?

I know, I know. Shameful.

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