GRANDVIEW, WA – Sue’s daughter, Rhonda, kept assuring us that the time would come when we would smell the grapes. I don’t remember smelling the cherries when they ripened or the apples and peaches. I guess they were overpowered by the outdoorsy fragrance permeating from the goats in the back of the house, and the dairy farm across the road from us.
However, the air tonight has been captured by the grapes. My niece said that when we started having warm days with really cold nights, the grapes would enter their final stage of ripening. In three weeks, harvesting will begin, and Kay and I plan to be there to witness it.
Three weeks ago, Curt (Rhonda’s husband) took us to watch hops being harvested. The experience changed me. I find myself more open to weird stuff. My nephew-in-law told me that there are three methods for harvesting hops. I think the third one involves goats and machetes.
We recently witnessed two techniques. The first involved a meticulous process involving a tractor clipping the vines at the base, and a huge strange-looking vehicle following behind to cut the rope holding the tops of the 16 foot vines and passing them along to two workers standing in the back of a flatbed truck. Then it was off to the factory where the vines were hooked and drawn through a tall, narrow entrance.
In some cases, what happens on the other side of the vine entrance is a secret. There are apparently different ways to enhance the taste and aroma of hops. Both require a massive amount of enhancing. The taste of the flowery fruit is bitter as all get out, and the smell is off-putting. Yet, smart people know how to ferment them so they will taste nutty, peachy, smokey, frosty, flaky... Whatever adjective goes best with taste. (And by the way, “Off-putting” is this week’s favorite word.)
The second harvesting method involved a single behemoth of a machine that cliped, pulled, de-flowered and then shreded the vines, throwing the chopped up stuff back to the soil. It then belched out the hops parts into a truck. Hops looks like a small flowery cone.
Apple picking came next. One of the apple orchards behind our house has been picked. No machines involved here. It took pickers, step ladders, canvas bags and wooden crates. By the way, the term “picker” has taken on a new meaning for me. I don’t care if its peaches, cherries, apples, plums or an angel’s kiss in spring, it takes a talented person to pick fruit and vegetables.
I don’t have space to go into detail here, but, as mentioned in a previous article, I’ve never possessed the stamina and dexterity to be a picker of produce. It’s just hard to believe how fast these men and women can pick, while in the same movement culling the bad stuff. They get paid by the box, and they can pick for hours without missing a step. Watching these experts work will give you a sense of humility each time you visit the produce section of the grocery store.
Speaking of cows, did you know that the dairy farmer across the street sold his house, feed lot, tractors, trucks, barns, cows and milking station? The whole lot, stock and milk can. The family that bought his place didn’t want his cows. For whatever reason they preferred Jerseys over Holsteins. The Holsteins were shipped off one night, and the Jerseys showed up a couple of nights later. The cows get milked three times a day, so they’ve gotta move ‘em at night… and move ‘em fast,
I’ve come to prefer the Jerseys, because they seem to smell less worse. Possibly because the new owner keeps them in a stockyard on the far side of the farm. Closer to Bill’s Berry Farm, located next door to the dairy. Bill’s Berry raises peaches, plums, pumpkins, apples, grapes, corn and berries of all denominations.
They also make a mean donut. Apple cider has been the featured donut for the last couple of weeks. Bill and Julie make cake donuts that are as soft as your typical glazed donut, and they taste like the fruit of the week. I’ve had blueberry, apple cider and peach. My girth now appears somewhat larger than when I arrived here.
A weekend or two back, Bill’s BF had its special fall festival. There was bbq, music, fruit picking, and apple slinging. Contestants would put an apple in a bucket strapped to two huge elastic bands; back up several steps and then let go. The target was one of several huge signs out in a field. I think the prize was a bag of donuts. The time I was there, no one came close to scoring a hit. I’m pretty sure I could’ve done it, but I don’t like standing in lines. Apparently, bad apple slingers have patience galore.
At some point after the grape harvest, Bill’s Berry Farm is going to have another festival that will include a corn maze. I’ve talked Kay into entering the maze with me. I’m told that each year they have people who need rescuing from that thing. Not me. I’ve always been good with corn.
At the moment I’m feeling good with grapes. Soon as I can, I’ll let you know about the harvesting process. Curt’s sister said that I could help with her vineyard. She’s handpicking it. This experience will join my on-going list of embarrassing moments. My latest involved me trying to keep the goats out of the garage. – Maybe next time.