They Weren't Always Picking Crabapples On This Land

When you're in charge of picking crabapples for the family, lest not let the family pigs get in the way.

Today’s story about picking crabapples gave me a little chuckle, though you might not laugh at the punch line if you’re vegetarian.

“Crabby About Apples,” comes from Alma Barkman, who has fond memories (and not-so-fond memories) of climbing up her family’s apple trees to pick bushels of “sour mutants” also known as crabapples.

See, the apple trees on her land are generations old, and are no longer producing big juicy red apples anymore. Instead, they’re tiny sour little crabapples, and she’s not a big fan of them. Or at least she wasn’t at eight years old when this story takes place.

Personally, I’d find plenty to do with crabapples! You can make jelly, juice, butter, crabapple sauce, and even homemade pectin! But as an 8-year-old, she didn’t care that much. Though I totally understand her feelings on the matter, because I’ve never been the sole kid of the family to be hoisted up into a tree as the official crabapple top-branch picker.

“One thing about kids. They don’t mind falling.”

“And if they do, their bones heal real fast.”

But this story isn’t just about picking crabapples or being the sour apple-picking guru of the family, it’s about the time she does actually fall while picking crabapples. Don’t worry, she’s fine, but I can’t say everyone involved ended up OK. Read the full story to see what happened next, and don’t say I didn’t warn you!

More Stories About Animals in the Garden

This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that turn gardening stories into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope this story does for you as well. Enjoy!

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Crabby About Apples

With darned good reason!

By Alma Barkman

Every Fall in my part of Winnipeg, Manitoba, people peddle—by which I mean, try to give away—surplus crabapples. Judging by the zeal with which the bulging bags are foisted upon the unsuspecting, you would think they are zucchini that grow on trees!

At an early point in history, I suspect our well-meaning forefathers each planted an apple tree or two as a precaution against starvation. When those same forefathers got a taste of our long Canadian Winters, they planted entire orchards!

Back then the trees may have produced big, juicy apples. Alas, that was long ago. The apple trees regressed, cursing future generations with miserable, sour mutants know as crabapples.

The worst of it is that the trees have very long lives. They can withstand cold and heat and drought and disease—even lightning and rabbits—better than any other trees I have ever known.

No matter what, every Fall they produce an exasperating amount of crabapples.

As with every other tree, the most fruit seems to always be at the top of the tree. This has given countless small children an extra chore: shinny up the apple tree and shake down the harvest.

Many years ago, I was the youngest and most agile in our family, so everyone expected me to climb our big old crabapple tree and pick the fruit nobody else could reach. I wasn’t too fond of heights, but at least when I was clinging to a thin little branch already heavily laden with fruit, I could hear bits of encouragement filtering up through the leaves.

“One thing about kids. They don’t mind falling.”

“And if they do, their bones heal real fast.”

The year I was about 8, I had an idea. I asked Dad if he would load an empty gasoline barrel into the two-wheel trailer and haul it down to the orchard with the tractor. If he would just park it under the apple tree, I could then climb into the trailer, scramble up onto the gasoline barrel, and pick crabapples in comfort.

I was not finished picking when Dad decided he needed the tractor. So he unhooked the trailer, propped the hitch on a block of wood, and drove away, forgetting to close the orchard gate.

In no time at all, I was surrounded by our young and delighted herd of hogs. That wasn’t too bad, really—as long as they rooted around on the ground and I stayed up on the gasoline barrel. But then one fine fat hog decided to scratch himself on the trailer hitch. He rubbed so vigorously he knocked the hitch off the block of wood—and down came Alma, barrel and all.

The next thing I knew I was on the ground, surrounded by 15 hogs, all crunching my crabapples and poking me with curious wet snouts, apple juice dribbling down their jowls.

I hobbled up to the house and tearfully told my story. Feeling every inch the martyr, I even borrowed phrases from my Sunday school lesson, the one about the herd of swine possessed by demons.

And you know what happened?

Everybody laughed.

That was it. I promised right then and there that I would somehow get even with those stupid pigs.

And so I have.

From that day to this, I always eat applesauce with my pork chops—with very smug satisfaction.

By Alma Barkman, published originally in 2020, in GreenPrints Issue #123. Illustrated by Tim Foley

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Do you have a similar story about picking crabapples that this reminds you of that you’d like to share? Leave a comment!


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