I grew up wandering in the woods with my dog. There were ancient apple trees on the edges of the forests around our home—overgrown from years of neglect since being planted by ‘settlers’ (as we called them) decades before. I loved the apples they yielded. Those small, hard, sour orbs—suspended much too high for us to reach from the ground. My brothers and I climbed the trees and ate the apples, our faces all puckered up. Even my dog, who usually wouldn’t give fruit a second sniff, would take a few bites out of my hand. There was a certain ritual about it: eating sour apples, fresh from the tree, in the woods, on a walk. We had lots of apples in Northern Michigan. Autumn was our abundant apple season; but those ‘wild apples’—no two alike—were my favorite.
My first fall of college, in southern Illinois, I was utterly disappointed to find nothing besides Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples piled up in the campus dinning hall. They all looked and tasted the same: waxy on the outside, filmy on the inside. Sort of stale. I almost stopped loving apples that year. And I certainly didn’t realize then how long it would take me to return home—that is to live on the Northern Michigan land during autumn again.
Four college years, seven city years, and two little girls later, my husband and I returned to our home county. Eleven long years without wild autumn apples. And so you can imagine my delight when I discovered, after we settled into our new house, an apple tree on the edge of our woods. Further investigation revealed another tree, and then a whole grove of trees down the hill. It was July and the thick branches, just beyond my reach, were loaded with apples, a promising green.
Was this land that we now live on once an orchard? And who planted these trees? No one knows for sure. And the not knowing is part of our love for this place. Wild apples are just one of the secrets hiding deep within in the woods and meadows here. Just the beginning of our discoveries on this land.
When summer turned into early fall, we took our girls on a walk to gather wild apples. Apples! Their favorite fruit! But alas, it may be a few years before they are strong enough to climb up the trees and develop a taste for the sour beauties I so cherish. To my dismay, our little ones didn’t enjoy them fresh off the trees. However, we did fill a basket to take home, and after a messy hour in the kitchen, I won the girls over with applesauce.
We cut them up, skins and all, and put them in a pot with a cup or so of water and a few shakes of spice. After the apples had boiled and simmered, the girls took turns mashing them into sauce. It was a simple, gratifying cooking project. Warm and cinnamony, our wild apple sauce was the perfect way for our children to fall in love with wild apples.
Zane Kathryne Schwaiger lives in on a Northern Michigan hill with her husband and two daughters. She blogs about the things she loves at her space.