My father-in-law is a quiet man who primarily only speaks when asked a question. But give him a sip of cider and he tells of the September day he hung like a monkey from an apple tree and then fell like a bird learning to fly.
And, he teases that I am at fault. I, on the other hand, blame the incident on an unstable ladder and weak tree branch. But regardless of the true circumstances, the event botched my attempt to blend my apple-picking traditions with my in-laws’.
I married into a family of similar, down-home traditions, such as homemade ice cream and hand-pressed apple cider. So one fall when the apples became difficult to reach, even from a 6-foot stepladder, I offered some seemingly helpful advice from my family’s experience.
“We shake the branch to drop the apples from the tree. They get mashed up anyway.”
My father-in-law, a few rungs high on the stepladder, accepted the advice, grabbed a branch and shook. Apples and a few leaves fell, but so did the ladder from underneath him.
“I’m OK,” he said, hanging with arms extended from the tree and legs dangling four feet above the ground. Suddenly, the branch snapped as if a Sunday comic writer were penning the scene. He fell back first onto the stepladder.
My father-in-law laughed, which relieved the immediate horror that my advice had broken his back or paralyzed him. However, the stepladder needed to be replaced, and the apple tree received an unexpected pruning.
To my credit, we did get the apples.
In every September that Mother Nature produces a healthy apple crop, the family gathers to pick wagons and bushel baskets of apples in the backyard. Within a day’s time, we wash, grind and squeeze the apple pulp with the hand-powered cider press. The result: exhausted crank’ers ready to take a swig of the 15 to 20 gallons of cider stored in recycled milk jugs.
We enjoy home-pressed apple cider all during the fall and winter. In fact, I own enough mulling spices and tall cinnamon stirring sticks to last the next three cider seasons.
The warmth and fragrance of hot, spiced cider accentuates the season and tastes delicious with lightly glazed stovetop popcorn. The 30 minutes of enjoyment seems especially heavenly in our two-toddler household’s post-bedtime silence. A silence inevitably broken with the story of how I unintentionally attempted to paralyze my father-in-law.