Was it after a brief visit to Brook Farm that Emerson turned up his nose and said, “There are only 10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat”?

If you have pear trees you know that the Great Man’s comment is neither original nor profound.

If you were to drop the same observation on a friend in casual conversation, he would know it was past your naptime and go home. You’d best be very famous before you try to pass off platitudes as wisdom.

Had Emerson written a week or two earlier, he might well have said the same thing about the life of a peach or a cherry.

Bring a crisp peach or pear into your kitchen at 8 a.m. and the cook will be making supper in a black cloud of fruit flies. This is something you have to learn in the privacy of your own home. It doesn’t seem to register when you read about fruit in any of the world’s classics.

One of the first things I did when I bought my humble farm from one of Mother’s third cousins was to plant trees: cherries, pears, peaches, plums. At the time I didn’t place any value on the 25 rhubarb plants down by the cellar drainpipe. Back in those days of reckless abandon I even put in a few grapes. And now I wonder if it was worth it just so I could eat half a dozen peaches or pears for one week out of the year. It seems to take forever just to clean up bushels of blowdowns under some of the trees. Cherries are quickly eaten by the turkeys and crows.

The plum trees are long gone. They did well as long as I aggressively trimmed away at some kind of persistent thick black knot. But in a few years they grew old, I cut them down, and now every time Marsha mows the lawn the blades make a banging noise against the stumps.

In past years we have frozen peaches. And we always freeze a lot of applesauce because Marsha has it with her breakfast every morning.

Apples have a much longer season. We have my grandfather’s early Strawberry apples, his late Senators, which will stay hard in an unheated cellar until January, and many in between.

We have these two or three dozen apple trees because I enjoyed grafting and was better at it 50 years ago than I am now.

When I bought the farm there had been no animals grazing on it for many years, so small and large wild apple trees were in every field and even the backyard. My neighbor, Wayne Hilt, dug up 20 small wild apple trees with his backhoe and we planted them, with their huge root systems, in four rows. The Cortlands I put on them for my basic orchard came from Highmore Farm in Monmouth. The rest I grafted right where they were with several kinds of good-looking apples from local farms. Among them were Wolf Rivers and what I have recently been told are Gravensteins.

Fairly recently (20 years ago) I planted two Brock apple trees. They did nothing until one apple dropped on the grass yesterday. Today I ate the half that wasn’t rotten. It was crisp, juicy and not all that sweet.

My wife, Marsha, doesn’t like our apples as much as the apples she gets in the stores. It has a lot to do with cosmetics. She doesn’t like scabs or bruises or worms or misshapen apples that don’t fit nicely into her peeling machine.

Most cooks share her opinions because I can put fresh pears, peaches, apples and tomatoes on my rhubarb stand out near the road and I usually have to throw them all away the next day because no one will take it as a gift. The only thing that will get a car to stop is a fresh bunch of rhubarb, and then, just because they are free, someone might pick up a couple of the tomatoes or summer squash. For reasons I can’t understand, if I put a bunch of rhubarb on the farmstand, very often it will be gone before I can walk up to the house.

Fifty years ago I filled my backyard with fruit trees. Had I read Emerson a bit more closely in my undergrad days, do you think I would have put in more rhubarb?

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:
www.thehumblefarmer.com/MainePrivateRadio.html


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