I was never especially fond of apples growing up, as I was part of Generation High Fructose Corn Syrup, whose palettes were warped by chemical sweeteners.
Apples — and most other fruits — never tasted sweet enough to me. I required apple-flavored Jolly Ranchers to satisfy my sugar jones.
But when I got older and cut synthetic sugars from my diet, I began to appreciate fruit — a process that was helped along each year at Rosh Hashanah, when the sweetness of the new year is celebrated not with the Fun Dip or Now & Laters of my youth, but with apples and honey: God’s candy.
At synagogue, I learned to concentrate on the authentic sweetness of an apple, and to be grateful that the natural world creates such marvels. These days, I buy apples in such large volume, I get funny looks at the supermarket checkout.
Fortunately, apples were plentiful at Rodale Institute’s Eighth Annual Organic Apple Festival in Kutztown last weekend.
The 333-acre working farm is part of the sprawl of Rodale ventures — from magazines to online courses to groundbreaking research in organic agriculture — all of which started with the late J.I. Rodale, born Jerome Irving Cohen in 1898 in New York. (He changed his name as a young man to avoid discrimination.) The son of a grocer on the Lower East Side, Rodale moved to rural Pennsylvania in the 1930s to begin what we now know of as the organic food movement.
The apple orchards on the Kutztown farm bear 30 different varieties of scab-resistant apples. Visitors to those orchards were given wooden baskets and long-handled fruit pickers to denude the apple trees of their bounty.
Many of the apples had fallen to the ground, or were simply gone, as people had arrived early to get the best pickings. It was a hot day and, after less than a half-hour of liberating apples from their moorings, my father and I decided we had enough apples for at least one Jewish apple cake, and that would have to suffice.
“Good thing we’re not farm workers who get paid by volume,” I said. “We’d starve.”
No need to starve at the festival, though, where numerous vendor booths were arrayed across from cornfields and silos. There was food — from grass-fed beef burgers to homemade apple dumplings — and wares like naturally dyed alpaca yarn. Inside an old schoolhouse, books related to apple cookery were being sold along with relevant kitchen accouterments and T-shirts with a Warholian image of J.I. Rodale himself.
At one booth, Maria Rodale, CEO of Rodale’s publishing company and J.I.’s granddaughter, happily talked to those who were interested in her latest book, Scratch: Home Cooking for Everyone Made Simple, Fun, and Totally Delicious.
“I don’t think there are any apple recipes in there, though!” she said, laughing.
Children climbed trees while adults listened to an acoustic band play Billy Joel and Neil Young. One woman propped her infant against a pumpkin and tried to move out of the way so he’d be in the photo by himself, but he kept sliding down. The pumpkins were bigger than he was. Next to the pumpkin patch there were rows of cherry tomatoes and peppers and wildflowers and butterflies of many kinds swooped down; one boy caught a large Monarch in his hand.
All in all, it was a lovely day — the perfect rural antidote for Philadelphia-area folks celebrating the fall harvest and the approach of the Jewish new year. It’s a day trip people can take year-round. For more information about visiting, call 610-683-1400 or go to rodaleinstitute.org