Autumn fruits attract visitors to local farms year after year.
by Anne Pyburn Craig
It’s hard to imagine two characters more wildly different than Stingy Jack and Johnny Appleseed. For starters, John Chapman was an actual person, while Stingy Jack—although the people he’s based on may be legion—is the antihero in an old Irish legend. But leaving that annoying little question of actual existence aside, there’s still plenty of material for contrast.
John Chapman was a nomadic Gospel preacher who never married, lived simply, got along with Native Americans and animals, and is best remembered as an orchardist who taught a lot of people how to cultivate apples—many of which, as some historians point out, were probably used to make hard cider and applejack.
Stingy Jack, the story goes, was perpetually figuring out ways to slick the Devil out of drinks, money, and his mean-spirited soul; when he died, God decreed he wasn’t heaven material, and he ended up roaming the earth with a lantern and lending his name to carved pumpkins everywhere.
What these two Johns do have in common is that, to borrow a phrase, it’s by their fruits that we know them—although the phrase “American as apple pie” is a bit ironic, since pumpkins are indigenous and apples were first cultivated in places like Iraq (before it was Iraq) and Kazakhstan.
But no matter. Colorful, durable, and fun, the pumpkin and the apple have emerged side-by-side to shared glory as iconic fall fruits. People travel for miles for the privilege of picking them. Bloomberg’s Businessweek has announced that “Pumpkin Officially Trumps Apple As Fall’s Signature Flavor,” but that’s kinda like announcing a winner of cats versus dogs—some folks like one, others the other, and a great many people just enjoy both. (And apples are leading on another front; the largest pumpkin pie weighed 3,699 pounds, whereas the world record apple pie weighed over 34,000.)
Both are extremely nutritious and have inspired hundreds of recipes and uses—do a quick Google search for “pumpkins and apples” and you’ll find a great many ways to combine the two. Both have odd reputations—the apple has been implicated, probably unfairly, in mankind’s fall from grace, and at least one pumpkin fan-site finds it important to note that the myth of their value in cold-fusion experiments has been debunked.
But aside from bringing the threat of eternal damnation into the world and powering spacecraft, there’s not much you can’t do with pumpkins and apples. Hundreds of recipes entice us past the basic pies into soups, salads, beverages, and chips. Pumpkins, of course, are a craft staple in autumn—you can do anything from plan out and carve landscapes and portraits into them or simply take a half-inch drill to them and create a lantern full of holes. Apples, for their part, make amazing shrunken heads.
And there’s a whole lot that pumpkins and apples do for us, in terms of open space and economics. New York produces about 30,000 bushels of apples every year on 51,097 acres, with the eastern and western Hudson Valley accounting for two of the six major regions; about 17,500 people’s jobs are directly dependent on this. Pumpkins, some 50,000 tons of them valued at about $25 million dollars, are produced by 1,400 commercial growers on about 7,000 acres.
Then there’s the priceless aspect. Probably no other crops have brought so many non-farmers, urbanites and suburbanites, and young kids into direct, hands-on contact with farming. Every family trip to a U-Pick farm creates indelible, happy memories; even slick young city sophisticates plan weekends around this homespun pleasure.
If you’re lucky enough to live up here, you can’t drive very far without running smack into an apple orchard or a pumpkin patch adding its sweet round splashes of color to the landscape. Park your car and go see. Get lost in a corn maze. Breathe deep. And when you lift your mug of cider, spare a thought for Stingy Jack and Johnny Appleseed—they sure started something.