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Caution: Orchards May Contain Magic

A brief detour from our backstory brings us to just now, which involves picking, grinding, and pressing our own small yield from our first (beautiful) cider apple trees. We were in Mosier all of August, but "without portfolio," which translates to we had no cider barn. We had to return to California, but our apples weren’t on our schedule. They said, “uh, we’re gonna fall off these trees if you don’t pick us.”

In England they have machines that shake the trees and only the ripest apples fall off. They have other machines that hoover up the apples, and they make several shake-and-sweep runs as the apples ripen. Nick Gunn at Wandering Aengus says he shakes their trees and if an apple hits him on the head he knows they’re ready to pick. We used some combination of his technique and a rube-ish method to measure brix (or sugar value) in the orchard. It was immediately clear that we either had to pick now before leaving or we’d come back to a ground covered with rotting apples.

A satisfying sound is the clunk of an apple in the pick bucket. These are apples we almost know personally since our orchard as yet has only 80 producing trees -- Dabinetts, Roxbury Russetts, Yarlington Mills, no coddling moth, no worm holes, no bruises or bugs (except ladybugs!). Dump them into two changes of washing water and fling them into the grinder and see them come out like apple coleslaw. Press and presto, fantastic fresh apple juice. We had to freeze this first juice and will ferment it when we return in October.

In the mix with our apples were some crab apples that our new friend Steve Bickford at Mt. Hood Winery gave us the go-ahead to pick from his Jonagold orchard. Big, overgrown orchards are magical and strange, and the crab apple trees were small and entwined under the heavy Jonagold-laden branches. Rob and I couldn’t hear each other from two rows away, yet the trees seem to be…whispering and watching. Hard to explain, this place full of small sounds but also hushed, almost a little scary.

We look forward to having those mysterious apple sprites in and around our own orchard when it grows up, because I can just tell they mean to bring us good luck.

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