Every once in a while, I’ll meet a back to the lander who harkens back to the 1970′s and will share stories about the good ol’ days with me. They tell tales of honey bee colonies that needed no care other than harvesting the honey a couple of times a year, and orchards so carefree and full of plums, peaches and other goodies that all they had to do was take a bother to take break from shaking their tambourines in order to harvest the fruit and turn it into jam, brandy or whatever else suited them.
I don’t know if things were really that good back then, or if they are just yanking my chain, but my experiences with organic fruit growing in North Carolina do not jive with their recollections.
When I look at my orchard, I spy a sea of cedar apple rust, a smattering of fire blight and brown rot that is legion. Insects, squirrels and my very own chickens try to make off with what the bacteria and fungi haven’t already claimed.
But, reminiscent of the parable about the Buddhist monk savoring berries while he is dangling precariously from the edge of a cliff, any fruit that manages to make it into my mouth tastes especially sweet.
So far this year, I have enjoyed strawberries that escaped both frost damage and relentless browsing by deer. The pounds of cherries that we pitted and froze were a bountiful and delicious reminder that all of our fruit growing is not doomed to failure (only a little bit of brown rot on some of the fruit).
And, the sweetest victory so far this season: a few velvety Spring Satin plumcots. I ate them while standing under the trees canopy, closing my eyes so that I wouldn’t look up at the brown-rotted brethren of the fruit that I was ingesting.
I try to savor every piece of fruit that I get from the orchards and fields, and do my best to not dwell on the masses of rotted “mummy” fruit that I am going to have to harvest and dispose of. In an interview with NPR, William Alexander, author of “The $64 Tomato” made a statement that I agree with: “it’s not about what it actually costs to eat this piece of fruit. It’s really about lifestyle. And the garden really for us was a kind of family member, for better or for worse.”
I could (and do!)have worse family members than my beloved brown rotted trees. I’m living the dream, but being careful to not bite into any bugs while I do it.