Monday, August 8, 2011

Memory Monday: The Summer of Pies

Once upon a time, a long time ago, we had a house. It was an old house, but we had only just bought it, so to us it was new. We still live in that house.

The house had a yard. This was B.A. - Before the Addition - so the yard was of a decent size, though not large. As we saw it, it was ready to be turned into a veritable Garden of Eden and be filled with vegetables, flowers, and fruit. Our horticultural ambitions knew no limit.

In addition to carving out and building some raised beds, we planted a few fruit trees. Well, it was a few at first. But early success made us (overly) confident, and we started to add. One apple tree became two, then a peach tree joined them, then two cherry trees took up posts on either side of a vegetable bed, and finally a stick posing as a pear tree was planted to fill a small patch of unused land. By that time there was already a flourishing raspberry patch as well as a small boysenberry patch and a couple of blueberry bushes.

Our yard at the beginning of summer: 
A cherry tree is at the left, next to boysenberry vines; the peach tree is at the right

Our yard at the end of the summer: 
Next to the peach tree you can see the newly planted pear tree, 
covered in netting as protection against the Great Cicada Invasion

Much to our surprise, the trees (well, all but the pear tree) started to bear fruit pretty quickly. The cherries were the first to ripen, first a few, then many more, and had to be checked each day. The peaches followed, and they were delicious. My husband thought he was in heaven when the Empire applies were ready to pick.

We reveled in the joy of being able to go out into the yard, pick a piece of fruit, and eat it the same day.

But we could not keep up with the trees. Soon there was more than we - and our friends and coworkers - could eat.

Time to start baking pies.

Fresh pies at first. But soon we - and our friends and coworkers - could not keep up with the pies, either.

I don’t do canning, so I started to put the pie fillings in Tupperware containers and freeze them. Soon we had to buy more Tupperware containers. Each container could hold enough filling to make one deep-dish pie plus another regular-sized pie or several tarts.

Weekends were filled with picking fruit, cooking and freezing fruit, and making pie crusts. Cherries in particular took hours and hours of work.

At some point we lost the battle to keep up with the peach tree. Fruit became overly ripe, fell, rotted. Cicadas, having gotten drunk on the rotting fruit, would dive-bomb us. Peach clean-up was not a pleasant chore.

Finally fruit production started to abate. We felt like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice after the Sorcerer arrives. Even so, we had a freezer filled with 12 Tupperware containers - peach, apple, and cherry pie fillings and even an entire container of raspberry pie filling.

We ate pies up through Thanksgiving. They were delicious, so the effort seemed almost worth it.

The next summer, the worm appeared in the apple. Well, not in the apple exactly. It appeared in the peaches. And the cherries. And it was not actually a worm, it was the caterpillar of the codling moth. I was not going to make pies with worms in them, and without going all out, it is difficult to completely prevent infestation, so this seriously reduced pie production. But we still had to get rid of the fruit.

Within a few years, the peach and pear trees and blueberry bushes were sacrificed when we built the addition to our house. The cherry trees became weaker and less productive and eventually died.

The apple trees endured. We even had our deck built with a cut-off corner so that we did not have to get rid of the First Apple Tree. But I started to cast a critical eye on the second apple tree - it was in the middle of the remaining yard, taking up space and sunlight, and did not bear as profusely or reliably as the first apple tree.

“I think we need to cut the second apple tree down.” My husband, the great Pitier of Plants and Trees, was horrified. So we did nothing for another couple of years.

Then one day I came home to find that he had had the apple tree, or at least all of it but the bottom part of the trunk, cut down.

But it was not the second apple tree. It was the First. I went into shock. My husband explained that the branches the First Apple Tree extended too far over the deck and kept scratching up against the house, and we would always have to be cutting it back.

The idea of cutting down the second apple tree did not die right away; after the addition, yard space was at a premium, and by this time a silver maple had made sunny yard space even rarer. And the shade seemed to affect the quality of the apples borne by the second apple tree: they went from apples you could eat fresh to apples you could only use in pies to misshapen little things that were good for nothing except squirrel and insect food.

A few years ago, we decided to add bird feeders to our back yard. The first two we fastened onto the deck railing. But we wanted more. Over time we added a finch feeder, suet feeders, and a peanut feeder - and we put all of them on the Second Apple Tree.

For whatever stayed our hands from cutting down the Second Apple Tree, I am grateful. The birds love it. Those who are not at the feeders often use it as a waiting area. As our cats will tell you, it’s the best show in town.

First Apple Tree
(now serving as a squirrel and bird perch)

Second Apple Tree with bird feeders

Some guests:

Downy woodpecker


Yellow finch


  1. You've reminded me of so many things - my European grandmother's yard that was far more garden than yard, my first love's yard with the cherry tree that had to be harvested each year (I'm not such a fan of cherry pies any longer), my own efforts at gardens and bird havens.

    Thank you! Delightful way to spend my coffee break.

  2. Oohh, vegetable gardens and fruit trees and those berries. This is the stuff my dreams are made of. This is the first year we have not had a vegetable garden. We are redoing it and looking forward to having one next year. Thank you for a very enjoyable post.

  3. Love this post.

    It was so neat to read about - and be able to see - the transformation of your own piece of nature.

  4. Love this. Gardens are like life, contantly changing. Some years are better than others. The key is to be willing to accept the change and work with it. Sometimes that's easier said than done. Sounds like you've figured out what works for you.

    P.S. If you happen to come across some of that pie filling in your freezer, let's just say I could probably put it to good use. ;)

  5. Carol - Thank you!

    Susan - I think a lot of recent immigrants & early generations have those "more garden that yard" yards - my husband's grandfather certainly did.

    Michelle - Good luck with your vegetable garden! We have a few tomato plants this year (first time in a while) and they are doing well after initially suffering bottom rot during the awful weather.

    Dee - Strange thing is that it was one of those transformations that sort of snuck up on us!

    Cynthia - I do miss the ability to just open the freezer and say, "Hmm, will it be peach, apple, cherry, or raspberry this week?" And the opportunity to make raspberry pies doesn't come around often!