“Let’s do something,” my wife said. “Something” has a broad range of options, but we were out of apples, so what I offered was fairly straightforward. “Let’s drive out to that place and get some apples,” I said. Best I could do under pressure.
“That place?” Mrs. G. replied.
I was drawing a blank on the name of the farm market, but she knew where I meant, so in keeping with an upstate New York tradition that has gone on since there has been an autumn, we went out to the farm market.
Once we got to the market, Mrs. G. and I went in two different directions almost immediately upon leaving the car, since my goal was apples and hers was tea towels and preserves. While she was wandering around inside the store, I was drifting through the barn and the adjacent grounds taking pictures. When we hooked up about thirty minutes later, she asked if I had gotten the apples—specifically, Snapdragon apples.
“No, not yet. I don’t see them anywhere,” I said. “Let me ask the mom.”
This particular farm market has been around for generations, and as far as I can tell, an old woman, her daughter, and various generational offspring currently run the farm. They do a remarkable job, and have carved out a unique niche in an area that is top-heavy with farm markets. We take this sort of thing seriously around here, and it’s next to impossible to drive five minutes in any direction without seeing a variety of businesses selling their harvest and assorted autumnal gear. Each has their own specialty ranging from simple roadside stands to sprawling autumnal amusement parks that include bouncy houses, petting zoos, haunted hayrides, regular hayrides, three-story corn stalk teepees, and corn mazes. If there are kids or grandkids in the picture, these can be fun, but I prefer the simple, folksy nature of the place where we went, plus they had the specific apples that I craved.
Mom Sr. was running the cash register, taking the cash from folks who were buying all manner of apples along with pears, prunes, berries and assorted country accessories. If somebody wanted to use a credit card, she had to leave her post and go backstage, because that’s where the phone is located. If someone were using the phone, it would be cash only—or wait until the phone call was completed. This is clearly a 14.4 modem operation stuck in a fiber optic world, yet doing extraordinarily well.
“Hi, where would I find the Snapdragon apples?” I asked. For a half-second, the brakes screeched and time froze.
Mom Sr. instantly dropped her shoulders, and shot me the fisheye to end all fisheyes. Old woman fisheye. The worst kind. She then sized me up and asked in a guarded whisper, “How did you know about the Snapdragons?”
“Um, well, I bought some here last year,” I said quietly, hoping that the other customers didn’t hear me talking about this clandestine apple, but the noise of several free-range children took care of that. “Check with my daughter out in the barn. We might have some down there,” she said. As I was leaving, a frenetic toddler had run face first into a glass pie case, nearly dropping the pilfered apple on which he was gnawing. The child’s mother was a card-carrying member of that maternal group who cannot tell their children to stop behaving like rabid coyotes, so she did nothing. Wait, that’s wrong. I think she was updating her Facebook status. “Anderson-James ran into a pie case. SMH.” Luckily Mom Sr. was on point to politely discipline both child and parent.
I left the main store and walked down a pumpkin-lined path towards the large barn, went inside, and saw the daughter clearing away a tray of empty cider glasses. They use the barn for weddings, luncheons, and whatever other downhome, country themed events one can think of, in addition to storing dozens of bushel baskets of apples.
“Hi. Your mom sent me down for some Snapdragons,” I said.
She looked around the large, open space, waiting for the cider couple to walk outside before she lifted the tablecloth on a nearby display. Underneath the table, hidden from view, was a pair of two-quart till baskets that were brimming with Snapdragon apples.
“We had a Snapdragon event yesterday,” she said. “The woman who developed the apple came by for a talk. These are actually a week or so early, so if you stop back in a week for some more, they’ll be sweeter.”
I’ll be honest here—I love apples, but there are very few that I can tell by looks alone. If they didn’t have the little UPC sticker on them, I’d be lost in most cases. Here, where nothing has stickers and the fruit is left to its natural, waxy dullness, I can’t tell a Gala from a Honeycrisp from a Macintosh. Nailing the exact timing of apple ripeness is so far beyond apple identification for me, it would be easier to explain algebra to a chipmunk.
She asked how many I wanted, and I said however many would fit in a small, square basket. As it works out, she managed to fit six carefully balanced apples in the basket, which would be enough for a few days.
We talked for a bit about apple sizes, and I learned a little about tree pruning and how it relates to fruit size, knowledge of which I’ll never have any practical usage. She also told me that her pickers use their palms to pick the fruit and then place it in baskets. They do this rather than grabbing at the apples with their fingers and tossing them in a sack. Doing it her way means the fruit doesn’t get bruised. That seemed a bit much to ask of an apple picker, but the fruit doesn’t lie. These were some fine apples. I went back upstairs and met up with Mrs. G., who had her hands full with some urn-shaped jars of preserves. We piled everything on the counter and paid for our items.
The market was swamped that day, full of people trying to get their annual dosage of autumn, and everyone had their arms loaded with something. I found what I had come for, and as we drove home, I thought about these farm markets and how they work hard all year, hoping for a payoff in the short months before the snow flies. At least that was my take, but after talking with the daughter of the woman whose family has been nurturing this farm for close to two hundred years, this was a passion; an apple farming passion, and something such as that isn’t easy to come by these days.
Our first batch of Snapdragons is gone, each one being eaten by me with a slab of bold cheddar. They probably could have been a little sweeter, but they were still very good. As for the preserves—one jar down, two to go, so a big thumbs up on those.
Oh, and one point of clarification: The apples to which I’ve been referring are technically called Snapdragon® apples, but it took me a while to figure out how to make that little ® symbol, so now that I know this, expect it to pop up mo®e often.