This was the essay I read for the reading at our Pressed Apples party a couple weekends ago. I’ve edited it a bit from the version I read at the party.
When I go apple picking with my parents, I come home empty-handed. This is not the plan. The plan, which we discuss in detail for a week, is to take a foliage filled drive to one of the farms in Massachusetts, pick apples, and bring them home, heavy and red and sweet. The week before we go, I mull over what to make, clicking through recipes on epicurious.com: applesauce, apple pancakes, apple pie, and offer these suggestions like taste tests to my parents. They never commit to one dessert over another. My parents were born and raised in India and don’t look forward to tasting fall the way most Americans do, in cinnamon heavy foods. But when relatives from abroad visit us and it happens to be fall, apple picking and pies populate our conversations.
Twice this year we went on fruitless picking expeditions. The first time was a Saturday in late September with Nani, my maternal grandmother, who was visiting from Bombay. She had never seen apples on trees and we wanted to show her how they hung like edible Christmas ornaments in between leaves, foreshadowing the holiday that we don’t celebrate. When we got to the farm, however, pumpkins, inflated and orange and strewn across an open field, distracted Nani. “These are pumpkins? ” she said, “so big?” She was absorbed by their brightness, their sturdiness. But our plan was to pick the less startling fruit, apples- fruit we could hold instead of hug. When my parents saw that the smallest bag for picking was half a pound, they hesitated. “What will we do with so many apples? We can’t eat them all. ” So we spent the afternoon wandering bagless through the rows of trees and sneaking bites into fruit we secretly picked. I licked the tart juice off of an apple’s white insides and held my grandmother’s hand as we walked across bumpy fields.
The thing is, my parents have never been fond of eating apples. They say the fruit makes them feel bloated and so apples are an infrequent item in our house, unlike the mangoes and papayas and oranges that they slice each night after dinner.
Our second time apple picking this year was on an October Saturday, with my paternal grandmother, Dadi. She came from Bombay a few days after my Nani left to go back home. Again, apple talk was in the air. My Dadi and I made plans: we would bake a simple apple tart and decorate it with candied ginger. This time, my parents bought the picking bag as soon as we reached the farm and we walked up the hill, towards the apple trees. Suddenly, my Dadi stopped walking. “You all go,” she said. “I’ll just wait in the car, it’s very cold.” “No, no,” said my parents, “We don’t even like apples that much. We just wanted to show you how they were picked. We’ve done this before. We know how to pick the apples.” So we turned around and returned our empty bag, because the chilly Massachusetts air had invaded my grandmother’s Bombay bones.
For me, apples are the fall, a fruit and season to celebrate before slipping into a tedious winter. I have spent lazy afternoons picnicking on farms with my friends, pairing apples with cheese and bread and pumpkin butter and the sun. I like to bake my fresh picked fruit into pies, laced with cinnamon and sweetness. But for my parents, driving to the apple farm has different meaning. To them, these trips are a chance to show their parents a piece of America, a slice of their lives here. But the truth is that my parents much prefer cinnamon and cloves in channa daals instead of in apple pies. And after a tour of an apple farm, they like to go home and peel plump oranges.