Sunday, October 25, 2009

Washington Apples

Just outside of Leavenworth is the Wenatchee Valley. I suppose technically the town of Leavenworth is within the Wenatchee Valley but somehow it manages to stand on its own, laying claim to a more mountainous identity than fecund farm land. That’s OK with me. A two minute drive around the corner and I am thrust deep into ample hillsides richly covered in sweeping orchards. Swaths of delicious fruit trees and lush grape vines cover hillsides that look down into a wide sparkling river cutting through the valley floor.
As far as the eye can see there are fields upon fields of trees and vines. Seemingly random impromptu fruit stands appear along the road side with upturned fruit crates for tables and simple awnings for a roof. Magic marker signs of cardboard announce the enticing farmer’s market prices and the variety is almost too wide to choose from. Samples of delicious fruit are handed out like free candy at a birthday party.

There are makeshift shelves lined with homemade jellies and jams. Recipes for pies and sauces compete for space on wooden tables covered with red checkerboard cloth. There are no green aprons or pristine white smocks of the conglomerate grocery here. There is just some member of the family who came in from the orchard that day to man the fruit stand.
The worn weathered hands of farmers hold out sugary slices of their hard work. They offer easy conversation and helpful information about their product. When I take a sample from their hand I know that this is the result of years of hard work and dedication. I can smell the soil on their skin and see the shimmering sun in their eyes. The satisfaction on my face as that sweet juicy fruit hits my tongue is their reward, their pride and joy. I am happy to pay them. In the performance of this simple transaction there is the completion of a circle that is often broken by the glare of florescent lights and plastic bags.

The markets and impromptu stands each have their own personality. Some are simply upturned crates with cardboard boxes and a lawn chair. Others have vinyl awnings hung over jarred treats and long wooden tables. While still others offer colorful banners beside dried corn stalks and hay bales complete with petting zoos and miniature cow trains for the kiddies delight. I love them all. We often ask if we can collect fallen apples for the horses back home and they always give us some bags just before asking if we’d like a box instead. I am so grateful that I live close enough to visit and soak all of this in.
I have been waxing poetic on the glories of fruit fresh off the tree and all things farmy but have left out one important element of the area and that would be the Applets and Cotlets Capital. What this means I have no idea. They make some kind of fruit based candies here and apparently they are quite famous for it. I don’t understand it. I don’t care for the candies so I don’t go. I just wanted to mention that these guys seem to know their Applets and Cotlets stuff and have really made a name for themselves since the early 1900s. The town of Cashmere is where you can find Liberty Orchards and take a factory tour of the Applet/Cotlet production. It looks pretty cool and I know a lot of people really love these candies. If you like this sort of confection, you couldn’t find a better place to visit. I just wanted to make sure that my personal preference for um, chocolate didn’t short change any of you fruit candy loving peeps out there. Just keeping it real folks.

There is a little stand that we frequent because they are one of the select few that grow the Cameo apple. This is my favorite apple. It is sweet, crisp and bright in flavor. It is in general an all around perfect eating apple. During this season we took a few trips over to the orchards and stopped at this particular stand for some of those Cameo apples. The farmer there is a sweet gracious man who is always eager to offer fresh fruit slices and tips for the best apple sauce combinations. On this last visit the gentleman was not at his stand. There was no one to be seen anywhere around. Just the highway and the dirt lot with fruit trees going off into the distance. Cue crickets. We had come a long way for some Cameos and Boscs so we were reluctant to leave without them. Then we noticed the cash box on the table. Sitting there simple and alone was an unassuming little silver box with a slit in the top. The man’s cash box. It wasn’t bolted down. The fruit wasn’t locked in Lucite boxes. It was just sitting out there in wooden crates with plastic bags hanging from the side. A sign hung on the wall with price per pound written in black marker. We smiled and began filling our bags. We weighed and reweighed our bounty on the old metal scales and then counted out our money. We folded the bills neatly and slipped them into the little slot that represented so much.

For many this kind of trust is a common affair but I come from a world of mistrust and suspicion in which the worst is assumed and “get them before they get you” is the code of the day. While I have never been able to assimilate this defensive attitude I often worried that I was hopelessly outnumbered and desperately na├»ve. I don’t consider this a gift of trust toward myself or even others so much as I see it as a gift of hope for the world I live in. It is an act of faith in the better nature of man and for that I am truly grateful.

PS. For those of you who are local: Stockings Garden and Nursery is just outside of Monroe but they get their produce from the Wenatchee Valley. I like their display and they sell Cameo apples.


  1. This is a fantastic post, LeSan! I always marvel at apple trees, seeing as how we can not grow them here. Well, Dorset and Anna and maybe Granny Smith, but not really big time apple growing. We do have our share of vinyards now, and more being put in all the time.

    When did you add the music? I like it.

  2. LeSan, This tour of Washington State is great. You must have realy enjoyed thie trip.

    Have a wonderfull day,

  3. That was a glorious tour round all the stalls - I could practically taste and smell all the fruit on offer(drool!)..... so much so that I'm going to have to go make some lunch now before going back into the garden! :)

  4. What a lovely story about the man who trusts enough to let you do the right thing. We need so much more of that in this old world.
    Thanks for sharing that.

  5. My father runs a fruit/veg. stand in Utah sort of like these. It has had the cash box stolen twice. But only in 15 years, which is pretty good.
    I loved all of your photos, and enjoyed your write up as well. You have access to some delicious fruit there!

  6. What a beautiful place! I can almost smell the apples. We harvested apples back in the summer.

  7. What a fun post! I enjoyed the story of your day, your thoughts and your photos.

    What you said about trust and the man's money box reminded me of Friday, when we had a different class come in to the swimming area, and the special needs student I work with in the pool had his ipod communication device that his parents just paid hundreds of dollars for stolen by some students who didn't swim. It upsets me that they took something they knew wasn't theirs.

  8. We might have to venture out to Stockings Garden, not all that far from where we are. I just love what you said about that farmer and him leaving his cashbox out and it being like a gift of hope.
    Beautiful pictures of beautiful places. (I always replay Pachelbel meets U2 when I visit your blog.)

  9. My stomach literally started growling when I saw those perfect apples. I wish we had apple orchards near Austin, but the closest are some three hours away, so we have yet to go. We do have some peach orchards about 1.5 hours away, and we love those. There's also a strawberry farm, but I always miss the window to visit it.

  10. Janie~ Thanks Janie! I love the way apple trees look, especially when they really age. I love stumbling onto some old piece of property that has an ancient fruit orchard.
    You’re too funny! The music has always been on here. When did you get your new hearing aid? LOL ;-) I had the music thing down on the very bottom of the page but just recently moved it to the top so people could more quickly turn it off if they didn’t like it. Maybe that’s why you didn’t notice it.

    John/JWLW~ I am glad you took the time to come along on the tour. I do love this area and I sort of wallow in it I suppose. Heheh
    Garden well my friend!

    Nutty Gnome~ Ah my gnomey friend I wish you could have sampled those fruits. They are so fresh and delicious. Speaking of drool… you should see the neighbor horses during apple season. Tucker is a lunatic about those apples and drools just like one.

    Patchwork~ I am glad you could appreciate what I was trying to say about him and the trust. We do seem to need to set a higher standard of opportunity to be our better selves.

    Rosey~ That sounds pretty interesting about your father running a fruit stand. Did you ever work in it yourself? A theft of that kind only twice in 15 years are pretty darn good percentages. I am very glad you liked this post. Thank you for taking the time to say so.

    Azplantlady~ I don’t remember ever really seeing much in the way of apple trees when I lived in AZ but I do remember the orange groves. They smelled so heavenly in bloom. Are people still painting the trunks white?

    Sue~ I am sorry to hear about that story of the boy’s Ipod being stolen. I know that is all too common an event. That is what makes little episodes like this man’s trust stand out in such shining contrast. I appreciate your comment and complement on this post. It always means so much to me to hear that.

    Catherine~ Stockings Garden always does a nice job of decorating in that cute farm style. They are just west of Monroe Water Gardens as a matter of fact…where you can find Parrots feather for your pond. The people at Monroe Water are the nicest I have ever met. One of the gals there frequently tosses free plants into my bag whenever we go. I bring her lattes. Heheh
    I also love that Pachelbel tune and I marvel at how they transition into U2. I am however always amused to hear my husband in here reading my blog with the speakers turned up loud.

    Meredith~ I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of your stomach actually growling. I must have hit you just before lunch. LOL A three hour drive does sound a bit far just for some fruity trees but the peaches sound pretty nice. We have all kinds of Upick berry fields here but we never make the window either. At least someone’s picking them I suppose.