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Published: Friday, 9/19/2008

The worm has turned for this apple lover

I did something this week that I first did about 60 years ago, and I don t recall it ever being so easy. Certainly there was less risk this time.

I m talking about the simple chore of picking apples.

I must make the distinction between picking apples from a tree and the way I first learned to pick them.

You see, in my pre-pubescent years I lived in Brooklyn, New York, where I was born. I never saw an apple tree until I moved to Elyria, Ohio, at age 5.

However, I continued to spend summers with relatives in the Big Apple. That nickname has special meaning for me.

Let me explain how Brooklyn youngsters picked apples in the late 1940s.

On every block there was a grocer, who had flat, wooden frames in front of his store filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. When the urge for a juicy, red apple struck us, one of the gang would distract the grocer and another would simply pick an apple.

Or two.

Without paying.

And then we d run as fast as we could.

Eventually the grocers would just chase us off if we came anywhere near their stores. It made the apple-picking business more challenging, even if less filling.

It was sort of a game and a lot more fun than the way a retiree must do it now.

Oh, sure, you can always go to a grocery store and ante up the asking price for a bag of apples.

And I doubt that seniors like me would get very far if they did it the snatch-and-run way we did many years ago.

Still in my youth in Elyria, I remember climbing a neighbor s apple tree to grab the fruit before it had a chance to ripen. I knew I was risking a belly ache, as we were warned about the dangers of green apples. I was careful not to overdo the eating part, so the only pangs I suffered were likely a bit of guilt.

Looking back, it probably wasn t much different than swiping the Brooklyn grocers' apples. I was lucky because this neighbor knew me and apparently didn t mind my transgressions.

What I remember most was climbing the apple tree. It was not terribly tall, but I still had to hoist myself into the lower branches and carefully work my way up to where the apples were growing.

Now I discovered there is another way to get apples that has become easier too.

Pick-your-own apple orchards are fairly common in this part of the country, but from my early encounters with apple trees, I envisioned the necessity of ladders or such.

However, I have an unreasonable fear of heights and ladders, and have become rather fond of terra firma. The more firma, the better.

My apple of preference, the crunchy, tart winesap, isn t available at the sales counter at any orchard I called in or very near Toledo. Neither is it available at any of several groceries or markets I contacted.

My search for the elusive winesap led me to the Erie Orchards north of Toledo on a lovely, sunny day this week. They have several winesap trees, but don t pick them for their store.

I was told that they still grow winesaps because the owner likes them, and I was welcome to pick some at standard prices.

Still thinking of my tree-climbing childhood, I did what every height-fearing apple lover would do. I asked my wife to come along. Just in case there was any climbing to be done.

Imagine my surprise when I saw 6- to 8-foot trees, puny in comparison to the ones in my memories, dripping with fully developed apples.

The choicest apples were picked quickly and with ease. Several, in fact, had to be picked from a bending position.

I don t recall winesap apples ever tasting as good.

And running wasn t part of the picking process.



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