November 30, 2010

a coffee break at the orchard

Dear Friends,

Is it just me or am I turning this little food blog of mine into Letters from an Apple Orchard or what?  Apologies for the absence of other topics (or regular posting in general), but as I have kept saying that our fuji apples were almost ready for picking, I thought I'd write about it (or at least bits of it) now that we have actually picked (most of) them.

We started off on a sunny, unusually warm day over one late November weekend...

We had a few of our friends and families over to help us.  Some picked fruits as others collected them, and yet others sorted them.  It may sound simple, but the tasks can (and are) often daunting when there are only two elderly folks that do all the work between them.

They have a relatively small acreage in this area full of apple orchards, but they still have a lot of work to do to take care of their trees, and indeed a lot of fruits to pick even after all the extensive thinning.

Other than having lunch at about noon, it's an all-day work on the field until dark, but we'd take a short break in mid afternoon to sit down, and that's where some of us apple pickers (including myself) would play our other roles: coffee servers!

All set?

Fire it up!

One of us brought this strange-looking thing (a type of pellet cooker, I was told).   "I wanted to have freshly brewed coffee out here!" he explained, and set up his brand-new cooker as we all curiously looked (and helped). 

As soon as the fire was up, the cooker got really warm and we all sat around it and waited for the kettle of water to boil, snacking on apples off the tree and sipping some hot tea that we'd  brought in a thermos. (And oh, we had some hand-made oyaki someone had given us, too! Lots of food...)

It was an unusually warm day for this upland town, but it was still around 50F and the wind was chilly.  And once the sun started going down and putting the fields in the shade, the temperatures seemed to drop sharply, making the warmth the cooker provided even more welcoming.

Now water's ready...

(... and he brought the kettle, portable coffee maker and beans, too.  And I, a grinder, mugs, and milk and sugar.   Did we come here to work, or to take a break between the work?  Considering how little I did the actual work myself, I had to wonder...)

And here was my bit of contribution to our coffee-break-at-the-orchard experience: brownies.  Slightly overbaked - okay, burnt - I know, but they were reasonably soft and light (but not gooey or crumbly as they were meant to be easy to snack on by hand in the field), and decently good with some sweetened chestnuts in them.  Worked nice with coffee, for sure.

Freshly-brewed coffee and home-baked cakes were nice, sure, but there was something immensely satisfying about all of us gathering around the fire (cooker) between the hard work in the chilly field.

We sat there, eating and drinking and chatting for half an hour or so, then got to our feet back to work, still warm from the fire and coffee.

The sun was now really sinking and it was getting darker by the minute.  Some farmers have lamps in their orchards and would continue working even after dark, but we don't have them and we'd have to stop before it is completely dark.

So when the sun was almost gone and the white moon was shining in the purple sky, we wrapped up for the day, packing up and cleaning up a bit. 

Then we headed off to a local onsen (hot springs), washing away the day's sweat and dust, nursing the sore muscle, and soaked in the hot water to refresh the mind and body before eating dinner together.   We drank a bit, too, but didn't party too hard or too late in the evening - we had another day out at work on the following day, see.

This was how a day of picking apples at the family orchard went like.   It is (and was) certainly a big day for commercial apple growers, but not the last day of work for them; they'd still have to painstakingly re-sort all the fruits according to the size and grades and packing them for shipping, which by itself is quite a daunting work, even for small farmers with a relatively small amount of produce to handle.  But in some years when they can't find anyone to help them, they'd have to spend days and weeks to go through all the trees before getting to sorting and packing.

So I know a few helpers really do mean a lot to them at the orchard, and sharing something little to drink and eat with them between the work is a lot more fun than it would be when there are only two of them (or one, even).  So thanks to the friends and families who came over to help us this year (and those who have had previously, too).   Our work this year isn't done yet, but we're hoping for good fruits next year, too. 

- lots of love, cx


Boulder Locavore said...

Beautiful post! The photographs, the story...I felt like I was there. As I sit in very cold Colorado with wintery wind howling and shaking the house I can dream of being in the apple orchard and drinking the delicious looking coffee.....Thank you! Gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! And finishing the day in an onsen must have been so fantastic. Thanks for posting this!

Skye said...

It looks like a rather idyllic life! Especially with the fresh coffee and brownies.
I've done a fair share of fruit picking, and I have to say I enjoy it thoroughly, though it's hard work... but that just makes the break more satisfying.
Lovely pictures as usual! I do miss Nagano but I miss it less when I can visit it vicariously. Thanks!

retro sweets said...

Yay! Another picture perfect apple post! Never mind if the brownies are burnt, just scrape the burnt part and NOM! Oh how I wish i could get to relax like this some other time.....

Sigrid said...

ooohhh.... less then a year ago, on a rainy morning, the postman knocked on the door of my little kyoto-home, I couldn't even understand what he said but he handed me a box with loads of interesting things in it ;-) including a bunch of the very same beautifully red fuji apples. I loved them then and I still do now. The pics of their 'orchard home' are great... thanks for making me think of this sweet memories again ;-) xxs

Sigrid said...

well, actually, thanks for having caused these sweet memories in the first place :-))

Winnie said...

What a marvellous post. Makes me remember what it was like when I worked in the family restaurant, when we'd gather at the end of a busy night for a meal - it is what i miss about that life.
There is nothing like an honest day's hard work and the comraderie that it brings.
such beautiful photos and your post allowed me to escape this office and daydream! Thank you!

katalog firm said...

great post and beautiful shots,will be back

chika said...

hi - thanks all for your sweet comments!

Boulder Locavore - oh i bet it was/is really cold there! i miss boulder. (and thank you for your mention on your blog! sorry i don't get to pick it up though..)

Skye & retro sweets - haha you know it's mostly hard work, but that's precisely what makes it nice to sit down and have a drink.. :)

Sigrid - you know i was thinking about you and A, who both ended up eating lots of apples from there earlier this year in kyoto, and both of you now far away... wish i could send you a box of properly fresh apples! xo

Deena said...

That looks like a fun day... who would thought that even just a simple coffee break could make a whole day better? I love your article and you just reminded me that I want a coffee break (lol).