The internet is awesome for one thing: random browsing of random things. This concept of random browsing is why I love libraries and bookstores. You wander down a stack of organized knowledge and reach up to pull out someone else’s thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts are incredibly boring. Mostly those thoughts are incredibly stimulating and intriguing.
I do realize that vast and unnumbered hours of my life have been devoted to being a written-word voyeur. Staring at glorious white pages stamped with black letters organized into a (mostly) coherent stream from the inside of someone else’s brain. It is intensely magical. The written word is as close to telepathy as we have ever managed to get. But I digress from my chosen topic of the day.
In my random browsing today, I came across this story called The Fear of Apples by Marta Pelrine-Bacon. This short-story is an enjoyable modern spin on the “bad” apples often found in fairy tales. It also reminded me of my own fear of apples. Not a true phobic-fear as told in the short story – but still a fear.
I do remember eating raw apples when I was really young. The taste of apples is connected with happy late-summer days out in the country-side. The smell of apples usually takes me back to memories of wandering open fields and climbing apple trees. Memories of crab-apples stockpiled and ready for the ‘Apple Wars’ that my brothers and I would have in the hedges and ditches around the old farm.
My fear of apples began when I was 6-years-old. It was mid-September. Bright sunny, the warmth of the morning tinged with fresh smells of autumn building on the wind. Sumac on the edge of turning into blazing red markers. The buzz of bees and wasps madly looking for the last sweet taste of summer before frost ended their frenzy.
Tractor diesel smells puffed past us in random clouds of black smoke tickling our noses with petrochemical dust. Us boys clung hard to the sides of the hay-wagon as it bounced across the alfalfa fields, past the leaning stacks of bales, over the hand-made railroad-tie bridge my father had built that summer, and into the remains of the abandoned farm next door. That parcel of land was almost 200-acres of open fields, woodlots, fence-rows and ponds. Mostly, it was a Mother Nature re-naturalization project well on its way back to a wild state.
Beside being a wonderful playground for the imagination of boys, it was a free pick your own fruit paradise. In the spring the sweetest wild strawberries covered the sandy grounds where the old barn had once stood. We would pick wild strawberries by the hat-full, usually eating one for every berry saved for Mother’s jam making. Old currant and gooseberry bushes marked the edge of what had been the vegetable garden. Elderberry bushes marked where the old driveway led back to the gravel concession road.
Wild fruit grew all along the fence rows. There were raspberries and blackberries in patches so needle-sharp and thick we would wear our old winter coats to push into the middle and find every sweet fruit. Also all along those fence rows were fruit trees – bountiful with apples and pears and old-fashioned plums. The carefully nurtured delights of an abandoned dream, now all ours for the picking.
On that particular early autumn day we were heading to pick the apple harvest. Some I now recognize as Northern Spy, Macintosh, and Orange Pippin apples. Then there were these delightful golden yellow eating apples which I have never seen since – their flesh soft and sweet and quick to bruise. And various trees with hard green winter apples that made the best pies and apple sauce you could ever desire.
The smell of apples that day was overwhelming. The fruit ripe and ready to fall to the ground. My task, being the little brother, was to scavenge the ground for freshly fallen fruit. Apples that appeared unblemished and firm went into one bushel for storage in the cold cellar. Apples that had minor blemishes went into another bushel for immediate use as apple-sauce and apple-cider. Finally, apples that were well beyond hope went into the throw at my brothers pile.
My brothers and father were up the tree with sacks picking the best fruit from the trees. Of course my brothers were throwing the poorer fruit in my direction – hence my need for the piles of throwing apples. The battle of throwing rotten fruit adding an additional danger level since rotting autumn apples attract wasps to the splatter.
I don’t remember how many bushels we picked – I just know it didn’t take long. We headed out mid-morning when the sun had dried the autumn dew, and headed back home for lunch with more bushels than I could count. Or more likely – cared to count!
As we clung to the side-rails of wagon, I reached down into a bushel and picked out a promising green and red apple that seemed healthy and unblemished. It’s skin gleaming in the noon sun. I did the check for holes that indicated maggots or worms, and finding none, then bit into the firm flesh.
This was an apple with a hard gritty crunch and a sharp acid taste. The feel of my teeth sinking into the flesh was like hard nails on a chalkboard. It sent a chill of goosebumps on goosebumps up and down my spine. The flavour was intensely unpleasant to my child taste-buds. And then there inside the promising white flesh, was the blackened oozing trail of worms feasting on the seeds and inner core. The eggs having been laid in the bottom were the flower had once bloomed – and so hiding their wriggling doorway into the apple.
The combination of texture, sound, taste and the graphic visual of the wriggling mass of worms made me retch. I threw that apple into the bushes passing by, and spat out the vile fruit that was in my mouth. My brothers found this all very entertaining, and started helpfully offering fruit from the “use now” bushels with obvious blemishes and possible worms inside. I have never eaten a raw apple since that day. Ick.
My reaction to fresh apples was so strong I could not even peel or cut apples for many many years. The smallest sound of a knife slicing through firm apples will bring back the intensity of that moment. Even hearing someone delightful crunching down on a crisp fresh apple would send chills down my spine and raise the hairs on my arms.
Many years ago I had agreed to give a young lady a lift to another city, when my lovely passenger started eating a crunchy apple. I actually had to pull over and make her eat the apple outside the car – it was causing me that much distraction. She was very annoyed by my reaction and chewed her apple all the louder telling me how delightful it was to eat. She never did call me again – and that was fine by me!
I never had any problems eating cooked apples. Apple-pie. Apple-sauce. Apple-juice and cider. Baked Apples are a delicious weakness. I even cook with apples now – but the process is one of personal torture. Every cut, every peel, every moment of handling the raw flesh of apples heightening my senses and putting me on edge. Do not try and joke with me while I am preparing apples for an apple pie – it may take a tragic turn!
A slight irony is that I do apparently make a wonderful apple-pie, and the apple-sauce I make is also well above average. This means that I will get requests for making apple-pie and apple-sauce from people that have tasted my culinary efforts with apples.
Strange how one small moment in a combination of events can leave such a deep and lasting impression that it shapes the other moments in our lives. No matter how logical or rational we might be in the other aspects of our life – we all are shaped by moments of small consequences that leave indelible marks in their wake.
Yet, I must note that if I ever do make you an apple pie – or anything that involves preparing fresh raw apples – I must really like you. It takes an incredible effort on my part to start peeling that first apple, and I only get through it by thinking how much you are going to enjoy the end result!