Bisbee’s orchard was up the road, a mile or more around the pond. Late in the summer, a low-flying plane would swing through to spray the apples. That meant we needed to rub them or wash well before we ate one.

Uncle Scottie would come stay in the fall to pick with Mom. He was Mom’s younger brother and in between college and jobs. Mom and Dad welcomed the extra help around the house. One year, they decided to replace the floor in the kitchen with Uncle Scottie’s help. We were left with a few planks to teeter across the floor to the refrigerator. It was a good drop to the basement, which we could see quite well through the spaces in the floor. No one took the plunge although I’m sure there were a few close calls.

For extra income while we were growing up, Mom picked apples. It was a seasonal job and one she enjoyed. It was the only season we had to go to the baby sitter before we were old enough for school. Legend, if you want to call it that, is that Mom tumbled out of a tree when she was pregnant with Em. Apple-picking ladders are pretty narrow. No injuries appeared, they were both just a bit shaken up. Em and I were born in January almost two years apart, so Mom was five or six months along with each of us with the picking bucket strapped around her neck and going for the reddest fruit on the tree.

Oh, those Cortlands

When we were older, we lived for the fresh Cortlands she would save us out of her stash. Cortlands are one of the largest and sweetest of all the apples grown in the orchard. At one point, I remember having quite a taste for Golden Delicious too. When I taste them today, I’m not sure what I was thinking. They are soft and mealy without a lot of flavor. It was quite a feat when you think about our mom trying to fill the bushel buckets as fast as she could go with a large belly full of baby. The pickers were paid by the bushel picked, and Mom and Scottie made a point of marking on the calendar every day how many apples they’d picked.

Needless to say we had a lot of apples while they were in season, and applesauce through most of the winter. One breakfast tradition was applesauce on toast and, when we had it, crispy bacon on top. Mom called it “pigs on a raft.” Applesauce was canned, along with pears from the orchard. Bisbee’s would sell peaches at the farm store, and Mom canned a couple bushel of them, too. In the middle of winter, the canned fruits were the perfect dessert along with a warm molasses cookie when the fresh-picked fruit season had long passed us by.

Mom’s multitasking

Mom also made good use of her wood cook stove. On colder days, when the stove was going to heat the house, Mom would also dry apples while waiting for bread to rise. She would slice the apples the same as she might for a pie and line them up side by side on cookie sheets. It was a careful process of drying them to preserve them for later. She’d place them in the warmer slot under the big oven, leave them for a bit and then flip them over to dry both sides. She might also have tarts or a pie baking in the main oven and a pot boiling on the stove for applesauce.

The aroma of the season was more than any scented candle of today. If we were hovering about, the crispy apples would be eaten as soon as they were out of the oven. Mom would try to pack them into canning jars before we got to all of them. Usually we’d hear, “You’re gonna give yourself a bellyache if you keep eating them.” We still ate as many as we could stuff in our mouth.

Jane and other women in town worked at the apple-packing shop over in Buckfield. The Bisbees, as well as Abbott’s in North Paris, and other local orchards transported the apples to the shop in trucks stacked with apple bins. In the winter, Jane would often give us an extra bag of McIntosh apples she’d brought home to take to Mom. We’d have fresh pie in January or just some fresh fruit to eat. Mom was famous for making tarts too, a way to stretch the dough into more.

Jane had an award-winning dumpling recipe that Mom often made for us. It was included in a Sumner cookbook many years ago. The apples are chopped real fine and a heavenly sugar and cinnamon syrup cooks through them and the dumplings.

It is the most perfect dessert hot out of the oven with vanilla ice cream. Mom used to make this with whole wheat flour, as she did most flour-based goodies we ate around the house. The dumplings were always good for dessert but also a healthy breakfast. I never warmed them then, just ate them right out of the pan. With spoon in hand, I could pick at the pan of leftovers, one delicious bite after another until half the pan had disappeared. I still eat them that way today when I bake them for myself.

Hannah Hinckley is a writer, veterinary technician, whitewater guide and Pampered Chef kitchen consultant. She lives in Winthrop and may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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