Thursday, October 18, 2007

I'll Be With You in Apple-Tasting Time

Everyone has their favorite time of year. I just peeked at my sister's blog to discover that her's is autumn. Joe's might be too, for this is when things cool off and life slows down...welcome to the world of having a pint and a game of cribbage without a lot of guilt that one should be out preparing the garden or working on some home improvement project. In the damp days of fall, we tend to move indoors. This is especially true in Portland, where October heralds the first of our nine and a half damp months. Leaves turn colors, drop and are pulverized, turning to applesauce on the road. Not exactly pleasant.

But last weekend wasn't bad at all. On Sunday, I got an itch to go do something I hadn't before--taste apples at the Apple Festival. Each October, Portland Nursery holds an apple and pear tasting in one of it's large covered areas. It's a big deal--there's live music from an eclectic variety of good local bands, face and pumpkin painting for the kids, cider pressing and cooking demos and a scarecrow contest. Oh, and tons, literally tons, of apples and pears for sale.

I arrived at about 11:00 or so, Joaquin sleeping soundly in the front pack. Joe would grab a shower and meet us later--he'd been out running and felt it was the sociable thing to do. While waiting for my fella, I found myself enamored with all the blooming chrysanthemums and getting that glow I feel every time I go to the Nursery. I must confess, there are days when I go and walk around there just to look at the plants and smell the herbs and flowers, even when I don't have a penny in my pocket. I just love the place. I meandered in to a covered area where vendors were sampling their wares: honey, chestnuts, preserves. I tried a unique 'apple mustard' that was quite zippy and exceptional, then sat down on a hay bale and watched a demo on poaching pears. There was a lot of peeling involved, but the delicious result of these poached bosc pears (cooked in a spiced red wine and cider solution) topped with a creme anglais sauce made me think I might actually attempt this sometime in the future. When Joaquin is, say, a few years older.

Joe arrived and we got into line to taste the apples. If you plan on coming to this event and don't like to wait in a line, arriving earlier is definitely better. There had been no line when I had first walked past; forty minutes later we had a good 10 minute wait. Families were out in full force and everyone seemed in good spirits, so the time passed quickly. And then it was our turn to grab a toothpick and sample some apples. The sheer variety of offerings was impressive:44 apples, 9 pears and 4 asian pears. Names as familiar as Gala, Granny Smith and Red Delicious juxtoposed with exotics like Mutsu, Splendour, Winter Banana, and the decadent-sounding Ambrosia. Let the tasting begin!

Despite it's Nectar of the Gods name, the Ambrosia, while good, was overshadowed by some regally named selections. Joe liked the Empire variety with its straight-ahead pure "appleness" (my wording, not his) and the dark-skinned King Davids were one of my favorite, perfect for pairing with cheese and a good hearty beer on a cool evening in front of the fire. Cox's Orange Pippin, Swiss Gourmet and Rubinette, the former hailing from England and the latter two from Switzerland, were all favorites for their sweet-tart flavor and crisp texture, juicy as an apple should be. And while I'm not much for green apples, the Ginger Golden was a shameless flirt of an apple, sweet-tart with just a bit of spice. Other notables were the Jonagold, Jonathan and Northern Spy, all fairly common names but still some of the cream of the crop. Sadly, my absolute mouthwatering favorite, the Honeycrisp, was available for sample but not for sale. You can only know how tragic this situation was if you've ever had one of these amazing apples. They remind one of a reisling wine, sweet with a bit of zing and oh-so-juicy! Amongst the pears (some of which seemed a bit less ripe than one would hope) the Cascades were the big stand-out, our palate preferring the local taste of the ruby fruit.

On our way out, we voted for our favorite scarecrows. The PeeWee Herman with it's cloth-sewn abstract looking face was very original and Joe's favorite. I took quite a shine to the hay-bale spider hanging from the rafters. It was impressive to see how the locals really turn out for this event, from the high-school face painting volunteers painting children's faces to the adults cutting up hundreds of apples and those at the weighing stations, measuring bags full of goodies headed for pantries, cellars and apple crisps. We loaded up with King Davids, spicy Galers and a token Ginger Golden before walking home, Joaquin still sleeping.

Never mind that he missed the whole thing. I'm sure we'll be back as soon as he can hold a toothpick and say "mmmmm". Fall may not be my favorite season--I'm not sure I have one, but the apples sure make it a sweet one.

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