15 October 2014

the Orchard

The first two (and only two) apples produced from Sycamore Hill Orchard this year-they tasted better than they looked
When I was a kid, the months of September and October came with the expectation that not less than a few days would be spent at Lemert's Orchard, just south of Teegarden, Indiana, picking apples with my grandfather.  Gramps set up a crate-making assembly line in the garage at the truckstop and often traded the crates he built for apples at Lemerts.  I recall riding in the back of his pick-up to the orchard and back, some 15 miles round-trip....something you can't do today.  And I recall stopping briefly at the cider press at the orchard farmstead and drinking amber goodliness out of an old tin cup they had strung to the press.  Recently I came across one of the crates gramps made, that my dad had placed on the brush pile, its in my garage now.

A few of last year's peach crop-none this year
When we moved to Sycamore Hill I determined to set out a small orchard for ourselves.  A year later we placed a dozen trees in the ground....and, with fierce competition from the deer, most survived.  Last year we picked a full bushel basket off the peach tree, and this year-which was pitiful for fruit crops-we pulled the first apples from a tree (2 apples to be exact).  The grape vines I set out are doing exceptionally well-our second season of canning juice completed last month.

2013 vintage grape juice
Last week I visited a friend in Culver and our conversation turned to the orchard industry that was thriving on the east shore of Lake Maxinkuckee during most of the 20th century, right up until the last decade.  One remnant orchard remains along 18th Road, the trees unpruned and now competing for room against an onslaught of brush filling the once neatly mowed paths of the orchard.  Since I have a project in that area that revolves around the old Lake Maxinkuckee Orchard, my curiosity was piqued when he started asking questions about an old foundation on what was once the Vonnegut Orchard.  So we took a long hike and found what appears to be the foundation of a caretakers cottage built about 100 years ago.  The cottage would have looked out over the vast orchard once managed by the Vonnegut (yes, Kurt Vonnegut) family who summered at the lake.

Believed to be the caretaker's cottage steps on the former Vonnegut Orchard
Standing there, imagining what it must have looked like, smelled like, hearkened back for me days standing in the midst of Lemerts Orchard, taking a big bite out of a Yellow Delicious and letting the juice run down my arm.  Years later, something in me still wanted that experience so I would stop and pick up a bag of apples in the fall at our local farm market, and eat not less than one on my trip back to college in Michigan.  A few years ago my daughter wanted that apple-picking experience and we were hard-pressed to find an orchard, let along one that would let you pick from their trees.
Our 2009 trip to the orchard
I don't think it's a matter of waxing nostalgic when I say I wish for yesterday, at least as far as this matter is concerned.  I think it's a basic instinct to want a stronger connection to the land, to understand the seed, the tree, the food of which you partake.  I think it's something our Creator put in us.  Maybe that's why fall harvest time has us longing for something we seek out in pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and the like.  Enjoy this time of the year.  I know I do.

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