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What Are You Harvesting This Ozarks Autumn?

Alan Levine

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. You know, it’s a funny thing, but even though I always know this little talk is coming I’m never sure what it is I’ll talk about until I sit down to do it. I may have plans for a talk. But I never know for sure.

For instance, here it is October, I was all set to wax eloquently on the joys of life in the late garden, and how there is more than one official harvest season in the long, lazy Ozarks fall. And I had a few things to say about where the holiday Lammas got its name. But all that fell apart when I had a sudden fit of apples.

To understand how this happened, it would be helpful to know that through a series of mishaps, I missed out on a great number of opportunities to acquire good, healthy, get-you-through-the-wintertime summer fruits. I mean sure, apples have always been my mainstay, but where would I be without, for instance, strawberries, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, dewberries, peaches, pears, etc.

You can probably figure by now that I like my summer fruits, in great profusion and diversity. But this year, just like in that dreadful year a few years back when a late and deadly freeze wiped out the entire fruit harvest, my timing was off and I was left almost totally without. Now to be fair, I have to admit that there was one kind soul, or probably two - since his wife and he are a team and they’re both aware of my fruit jones - who took pity on me and brought by a sacked up bushel or more of pears, just so I’d have some to put up.

The trouble was - and thanks be to George and Patty -those were some kind of domestic pear, a Seckel maybe, small and with a blush on the side – and I ate ‘em. Nearly all of ‘em. Sarah, who works for me, took some home to can but she ate hers too. I ended up with a meager seven jars of canned pears, and no pear honey. After missing out on the strawberries and blueberries, and having accidentally torched my tame blackberry canes when I was burning off the garden in spring, and then I failed to track down any peaches at all, well, my behavior concerning those pears was profligate at best. In a season where the chances to stock up on summer fruits had dwindled so terribly. And did I tell you I was suffering a summer cold when the wild plums came in, and I didn’t get a single one?

The land around my little home out here on Burnham prairie is ideal for fruit orchards, and Burnham was once famous for its peaches. But I am renting now, and apples take two to three years to bear. It’s just not practical.

Well, speaking of apples. I was sitting in my reading chair, moping, a few nights back, thinking about the unhappy void in my otherwise full and happy larder, when I suddenly remembered the name of an orchard owner I’d known of many years ago, when they advertised in the West Plains Quill, where I spent my newshound years. It was a name I hadn’t heard for a long time, and I’d assumed they’d retired or otherwise had stopped orcharding, since I’d not seen any ads. I sat up in my chair and said “Poppitz,’ and startled the dog. It’s habits like these that make me glad I live alone. There’s just generally less to explain. But I went to the phone book, ascertained there was still a Poppitz living near Willow Springs, and wrote down the number. Next morning I called and at mid-afternoon I got a return call. 

“Of course we have apples, Marideth,” she intoned, and gave me directions to the orchard. I went, and ended up with a half-bushel of a Golden Delicious hybrid called Mutsu and two bushels of windfall Stayman Winesaps, one of the all-time best applesauce apples ever grown. We chatted a bit, and I told her of my season long fruit deficit, and she said, “We had peaches. You should have come by.”

I told her I thought they’d retired, since I didn’t see any advertising.

“We have all the customers we need. We don’t need to advertise. I’ll put you on the list, and call you next year when they come in.”

I felt very cozy about that. It felt like being included in the tribe. I sighed and said I was grateful to at least have some sauce apples. And the Goldens would be good, too, but I confessed as an eating apple, I really preferred Jonathans. Although Jonagold was a close second.

“Well,” she said, “you know Frank Coleman has some Jonagolds, I’m almost sure. He lives over by Hutton Valley.”

“So do I,” I said. And after hastily penning a check to pay for my wine saps, I headed east toward home, but with a little jog out of the way, out past Hutton Valley to see what Frank Coleman had. He had Jonagolds, and I bought a half-bushel. Then I asked about some rather large, unusual apples he’d just brought in. They looked dusty and had a distinctive rosy blush.

“They’re called Splendor, and they’re from New Zealand. I don’t think anyone else in Missouri has them,” he said.

“Well they sound special,” I said, probably sounding sarcastic. Instead of answering, he handed me one and I took a bite.

“How much?” I said. And he told me, and I took another bite and ordered another half bushel. Now I have 4 bushels of 4 different apples. While he was packing them up, he mentioned that another customer had been by that day and had taken several bushels home with her. He thought it was funny, because she’d originally come after pears.

“You have pears?” I stammered. He did. So I came home with four bushels of apples and a half bushel of pears, this time a lovely little variety called Magness. Now these ones are going into jars, by golly, along with a great mess of winesap applesauce and possibly some apple butter, as I work through the consequences of my major apple fit.

I did mention I live alone, didn’t I? So just picture me, if you will, out here on the prairie east of the old antique peach orchard town of Burnham, peeling apples under a waxing moon for a very long time, and smiling big apple smiles. If you were to swing by, I might share with you an apple or two. Those dusty rose New Zealanders are pretty tasty. The pears, of course, they’re all mine.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills, asking, what are you harvesting in this Ozarks autumn?