Once on the road, the rough start is only a blip of the one hour drive to Indiana to the best apple picking orchard in the midwest...or so my daughter says. As we pull into acres of parking and lines of cars, I realize I'm on a mid westerner's fall pilgrimage. Every one is here from Illinois and Indiana: young, old, millennials, a group of Vietnamese aunties who cluck and smile at the cute baby in my arms.
This I am sure, is the all-American experience: corn maze, pumpkin patch, animal farm, a tractor ride to orchards with 35 varieties of apples. Picking those apples is part of the $5 per person fee.
I am amazed by the varieties I have never seen nor eaten, but a successful harvest is somewhat determined by one's apple IQ. We seem to have wondered into a stretch of Cortland apples, yet the expectation of a juicy, sweet, fresh off the branch bite is a grave disappointment. Are they not ripe or just a bad tasting apple? Clearly another row of apples haven't reached their peak sweetness. The Honey Crisp apple rows are picked clean.
The sun is emerging from behind a kind cloud cover and the midwest humidity sends trails of sweat down my back. Excitement gives way to feelings of I'm done. It reminds me of noon in Disneyland-when every other child is crying and anticipation has parted for hunger and tired. It's time for lunch. But the Disneyland tram, or rather the tractor pulled wagons are momentarily stalled. A tractor engine is on fire. We are hardly delayed because the next wagon arrives.
A short lunch and a walk through the big market lined with bins full of pumkin donut packages, chedder popcorn, side carts selling pie, ice cream and other specialty foods. An old beekeeper stands behind a cart giving out honey samples. Never pass up a chance to speak bee, my subconscious whispers.
"How many hives do you have?" I ask.
A real beekeeper. I almost blush when I tell him I only have one.
"How do you handle mites?" I ask. Varroa mites are a recent invasion and hive devastation to American beehives.
"Well, I use a somewhat illegal combination that works real well. It's part what we used to dip the hogs in, a little mineral oil, I rag it and put it in the hive for two weeks. After I remove the supers. You know, I think the bees are getting weaker."
Not what I want to hear.
"If I could, I'd get out of beekeeping."
"But we need you."
He smiles because he knows it's true.
In the late afternoon, we've had enough of our all American experience. We buy some honey suckers, blue popcorn, three pieces of pie: caramel apple, blueberry and sweet cream. We go for the chedder popcorn, a rack of pumpkin and apple spice donuts for tomorrow's Sunday school class. We pay for our orchard picked apples and grab a bag of Honey Crisp apples-$14.99.
When the customers in front of us, with a cart full of big pumpkins, hear the cashier say, "That will be $131. dollars, the father is shocked. The mother and daughter respond, "It's a good thing this is only once a year."