Sunday, October 14, 2007

A pick-your-own adventure

There may come a time in your life when your significant other decides that you need to buy a wheelbarrow’s worth of apples, and that you should spend a weekend afternoon picking these apples yourself. Never mind that, ordinarily, you eat about an apple a month, and that the grocery store very nearby tends to stock plenty of exotic fruits, often including the rare and elusive apple itself.

If you have any sense at all, you will agree to this plan enthusiastically, because you learned long ago that maintaining marital harmony regularly involves the subjugation of logic.

This is how my wife Kara and I ended up heading out to the country last weekend on an apple-picking expedition, from which only one of us returned. Okay, that’s not entirely true. We both returned, but our cash didn’t.

Apple picking sounded like such a peaceful thing to do. I pictured a quiet country orchard with birds chirping overhead as a farmer in a straw hat greeted us with a friendly wave from his rocking chair. The countryside would be bucolic, also, because that’s how countrysides have to be described, even though bucolic to me sounds more like a breed of plow animal or something babies catch.

As we pulled into the dusty driveway, instead of a farmer, we were greeted by a parking lot attendant in an orange reflector vest waving at us with air-traffic-controller glowsticks. This place was like Six Flags Apple Adventure. As we made our way around the cars and wandered up to the front gate, we saw a huge snaking line stretching back from a multi-windowed ticket booth. Before entering the orchard, you had to buy a general admission ticket.

“Dude, there’s a cover charge?” I asked.

Cover charges give me hives. I can think of lots of things I’d rather do with my money than pay a cover charge, like running it through a food processor or donating it to pediatric Botox research.

One Saturday night at Penn State many years back, my buddy Derek and I waited in line for half an hour to get into a crowded bar. When we finally got to the front of the line, the bouncer announced that there was a five-dollar cover. In the Land of the Poor College Student, cover charges were rarely more than a couple of bucks.

Derek looked at the bouncer incredulously.

“Who’s playing in there, the Beatles?” he asked.

The Beatles weren’t playing at the orchard that day, but it did have a band, a corn maze, a petting zoo, a theme park, a haunted house and, as an afterthought, apples. After forking over the cover charge, we proceeded with the throngs to the bag-purchasing hut, where we paid twelve bucks for an empty bag. That felt kind of strange. Usually, when you pay twelve dollars for a plastic bag, it has twelve dollars worth of stuff in it.

Once we got away from the crowds and strolled among the apple trees, though, I began to understand why apple picking attracts so many people. It’s just pleasant to wander through the orchard, tasting the different kinds of apples and trying not to think about the fact that you had, just moments ago, been petting a donkey with the same hands that you were now eating out of.

On the way home, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some ingredients to make apple crisp. As we walked through the produce aisle, it didn’t escape my notice that the store had a giant display of pre-bagged apples for ninety-nine cents a bag. Sure, apples may have been a tenth of the cost at the grocery store, but you didn’t have to earn those apples. You only truly appreciate your produce when you’ve paid for the privilege of picking it.

You can run Mike Todd through your cider press at


  1. Out of pointless curiosity, what are Kara and your heights?

  2. I am firmly against picking food of any kind... this stems (hee, no pun intended) from The Great Blueberry Fire Ant Debacle of 2007 and the many, many times I was stung on the feet and legs.

  3. Anonymous -- Are you the bouncer at the roller coaster? Foghorn Leghorn says we're both tall enough to ride.

    Melodyann -- Dang, dude. I hope you made some nice fire ant cobbler.

  4. I feel like such a loser now.... I ahve a nine yr old and I've never taken her apple picking for the reasons you stated. I took her strawberry picking one time. As I am picking and fighting off the 1 million mosquitos biting every square inch of my skin.... I turn to look at my duaghter and she's sitting there in the middle of the strawberry row, picking and shoveling them into her face as fast as her little toddler hands could.

  5. Hmm, does this mean I should forgo a trip to the pumpkin patch? And here I always thought it would be such a good idea.

  6. I took my kids alot when they were little.

    Around here it was pretty much like you imagined it might be. (This was before every farm in sight started getting developed.) We rode a wagon out to the trees where we were given a bushel basket and ladder. I think it cost about 10 bucks to fill it.

    I did feel a bit guilty because Clint kept taking a single bite out of the best looking apples. I couldn't get him to finish one because he always was seeing one he liked better.

    I could never break him of that habit. He is still doing it but now it's girls instead of apples.

  7. we are so deprived. No apple orchards, no strawberry patches, no pumpkin patches. We have to get everything from the grocery store. Although I do have to buy about 20lbs of sugar and 50lbs of apples so that I can make about 4 dozen jars of apple butter. hehehehe

    I told the father if he bought the jars I would make it and he could give it away to his friends and co workers for christmas. this is gonna be our big "give away" thing for christmas too. Co workers, teachers, whatever.

  8. Dang! I got behind in my comment answering. What a lazy ass I am. You are all very cool and I'd write more here, but nobody is ever going to look at this anyway. Rock on.

  9. We have a beautiful orchard near the quiet little town I live in. It only costs a very small percentage of the kids' college funds and the disinfectant post goat licking is free. After a few years of this "tradition" I decided my children can get the exact same experience if I chuck an apple at them from the grocery store.(Ok, yeah, I could just hand it to them, but where is the fun in that?) While they munch... I take them for a spin down a dirt road right after the manure has been spread on whatever it is that is in season. Where I come from it is almost always corn. The final touch? Let the dog lick them while I bleat in the background. These are the days of our lives...