By MICHELLE SCHMIDTPULLMAN – The warm October day was perfect for apple picking.
And that’s why I was apprehensive; perfect is a terrible setting in which to introduce children, especially our own. None of us had ever been apple picking before, and I was quick to envision the idyllic orchard scene marred by “Mo-om, he took my apple” and “Can we go yet?” And there would likely be spilled bags and scraped knees.
It deserved a fair shot, though, and my kids wanted to do it, so we loaded up the car and headed to the Washington State University R.B. Tukey Orchard, located near the airport in Pullman. The orchard is up the hill from the sales shop situated near the entrance.
Once we were out of the car and got our collective exuberance under control, we headed over to a small structure that looked official and were greeted by Cameron Burt, who was heading up the you-pick operation. I was immediately asked to sign a waiver (Perhaps he’d heard the aforementioned exuberance and quickly wanted to transfer liability?) and Burt explained how you-pick works.
“Head down this row marked with a ribbon and when you find an apple that looks good, pick it and take a bite. If you like it, pick more and if you don’t, keep walking until you find one that you do like.”
Free samples. That is all my kids heard.
I doubt this is standard orchard protocol; we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The kids didn’t even wait for tips on how to tell when an apple is ripe or what qualities might be desirable in selecting an apple to pick (hence our current collection of small, unripe apples). They tore down the row of trees – grouped by red delicious, golden delicious and Rome varieties. We stopped at a golden delicious tree and shared an apple. It was an instant hit, so we picked more. We got some Romes too; the red delicious didn’t win any fans.
We quickly filled our bags – the orchard has bags and boxes available for those who don’t bring them – and that’s when I realized that kids and apple picking are an amicable combination. Apples are a large and fairly sturdy fruit that is forgiving when not picked at peak of ripeness.
In about 20 to 30 minutes, we had picked more apples than we reasonably could use, given our cold-storage and pie-consumption limitations. Burt weighed our 26 pounds of apples and we drove back down the hill to the sales shed to pay for them.
The verdict? My fears were unwarranted. Picking apples with kids is quick, easy and fairly fail-proof – so much so that we all want to do it again. Plus, apples picked right off the tree taste incomparably better than ones selected off a grocery store pile, with or without the fond memories of picking.
If you go:
What: WSU Tukey Orchard Apple U-pick
When: Noon to 6 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 1
Where: WSU Tukey Orchard at 1182 N.E. Airport Road in Pullman
Cost: 75 cents/ pound for you-pick apples, $1 to $1.35/pound for already picked apples and pears. See horticulture.wsu.edu/orchard/ for more information.
What: Bishops’ Orchard Apple U-pick
When: 5:15 p.m. to dusk Thursdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 19
Where: Garfield — turn west on Spokane Street off State Route 27, turn right onto Seventh Street and left onto Adams Street to the orchard.
Cost: 50 cents/pound for you-pick apples. See www.bishop-orchard.com for more information.
You-pick do’s and don’ts
WHEN YOU-PICKING, DO:
Bring your camera. If your camera skills and children’s behavior are as unpredictable as mine, you probably won’t get any Christmas-card worthy shots, but at least you’ll have special memories of yelling at your children to hold still and smile.
Swing by Ferdinand’s for some cheese on your way home. There’s a reason that Cougar Gold-en Delicious goes together so nicely; crisp, sweet-tart apples and sharp cheddar are a perfect match.
Ask questions. Workers at the shop and orchard can provide information on picking good apples, what to do with them and more.
Try something new. The you-pick apple varieties are tasty, but standard. The sales shed has a wide selection of apples that you won’t find in grocery stores; try a few and perhaps you’ll find a new favorite.
WHEN YOU-PICKING, DON’T:
Worry about picking unripe apples. Burt explains that unripe apples sweeten up over time. Eat the ripe ones while you’re waiting for the others to catch up.
Store your apples at room temperature. To maintain flavor and quality, apples need to be stored at cold temperatures; Burt suggested a cooler basement room if fridge space is not available.
Wear flip-flops. Dress for the occasion; most orchards have sticks and grass and rotten apples lying around, not to mention cooler temperatures.