First Drops of Windfall

Hard to believe how early the Gravensteins ripened this year in Sonoma West. Windfall dots our property. The tiny orchard has some production Gravenstein trees, a Roma or two, plus a few Pippins.

I worked on apple farms as a teen, further south, on the Central Coast. We had tractors, hydraulic presses, conveyor belts. Got run over by a tractor one afternoon, pushed deep into the soft, freshly plowed loam. Just sunk down into cool earth beside an apple tree. No harm done, except to the driver’s psyche.

Gathering a mix, I bite into one of the crisp Gravensteins. Firm, sweetness. The last rays of sunset blocked by the shadow of our redwood stand. Pippins mostly still hanging on trees. Their taste and texture recall Golden Delicious from my hometown. Smaller, much more tart.

I washed a bucket of fruit in our kitchen sink. Manganese and sulfur flow out the pipe. Coffee cups rinse blue in the tap. For sixty years these iron pipes have lined themselves with sulfur from our aquifer. We’ve grown accustomed to the taste, albeit filtered now. Our trees love the minerals.

Last year had been a blur, moving in, no time to spend on apples. We barely had a working well pump. Our hens, before the raccoon attacked, enjoyed lots of apple treats. Deer ate the remainder of that windfall. They’ll get plenty this year as well.

The press arrived this afternoon. Torchietti premitutto. Unwinding, dropping a single layer of apple chunks into the canister. Then pressing for the first time.

No much product, though it’s a beautifully clear liquid. The first drops spilled out and I pushed a finger over the spout. Then tasted. Light, sweet, incredibly fresh. The rest dribbled into a mason jar. Like my great-grandfather had done, with apple orchards in High Country, raising cattle out on the Western Slope. Riding horseback, six-shooter in a holster. French cowboys in another era. Now a Wal*Mart sits on what used to be our family’s ranch in Rifle, Colorado.

Put a handful through a Vitamix, then another press. Faster this time. Chugged the jar of fresh cider. My arms are sore already. I’ll let the rest of the bucket sweat first before the next winding.