To peel an apple with a small knife is to know it intimately. The curve of its shape sitting in the palm of my hand as I turn it. I quickly learned how to peel back only the first layer of skin; not making many hundreds of small slices, but really peeling till all the table is covered in bright curls like ribbons. This knowledge was not told to me, not read in books, but was instead gained through a sensory exploration of my subject, the matter now being stored in some back compartment of my brain so that, when I pick up another apple, the knowledge will flow through my hands just as blood flows through my veins.
THE RITUAL OF THE APPLES
I sat peeling bucket after bucket, day after day. Three weeks passed. The apples were of two types: one set were rosy cheeked, blushing red on their dappled green faces. Some had freckles. A few had warts, but I loved them just the same. These were crisp, quite petit, and their flesh was stained barely pink. The second group were the color of aspen leaves in early fall: green-almost-yellow. They were sweet smelling, soft fleshed, easily bruised. These were frost-bitten by the snows. We had picked them one dark evening when the snow was barely falling, but they had frozen, stuck fast to the grass they lay in, and now there were bits of grass on the table, in the bucket, and on my hands.
Sometimes we cursed the apples, wishing there were less than forty crates of them. But really it was a pleasant task. We worked by the fireside, and the smell in the room was sweet. They were peeled, cored, then cut into rounds to be dried. I strung some of them along the ceiling like Christmas garlands. It takes just two days to dry them this way, the heat from the fire rising up to hang among the rafters. As I worked I sang.
THE TOAST CEREMONY
At lunch we would stop, pushing aside the huge piles of peelings to lay down plates and cups. Then there came the sounds of Oliver making tea, and out comes the soup from the day before, and out comes the bread for toasting. We toasted our bread on the top of the old fireplace, it being as good as, or better than, any appliance for the same purpose. Thick slices of bread, browned and spread with lashings of butter. Afterwards, being that we had no running water, Oliver would fetch water in the washing up buckets, and we would take turns to wash or cook for the day. Then it was back to the apples.