Spooky Spy Fest

Pink Delight photo by Karen Mouat

It’s apple fest season again. Thought I’d pull this one out of the archives in celebration. Apple festivals abound at this time of year. There’s a great one  at Apple Luscious Organic Orchard on Salt Spring Island in early October. And the Richmond Fruit Tree Project just had one at Terra Nova Sharing Farm. UBC Botanical Garden has theirs this coming weekend October 16 and 17th. If you’ve never been, it is well worth it. This year UBC Farm will join in the fun, offering tours of their own Heritage Apple Orchard. Oh and Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!

So it’s Halloween and I should be writing about composting pumpkins, but something very spooky happened recently and I feel compelled to write about it. It all started when a friend read my Tarot cards as a birthday gift. She began the reading with a little psychic preamble.

“I’m getting an initial,” she said. “B. Yes definitely a B. And wait, then a D. B. K.”

“I have no idea. Sounds more like an acronym,” I said dubiously.

“Wait, I’m getting more. A first name. Bea? Belle? Bella? A family member perhaps?” she asked. “An aunt, do you have an Aunt Belle?”

“No, not that I know of,” I said, skeptically.

“Well, I could be off by a letter or two. Or it could be an alias or a code name. Maybe it will become clearer as we read the cards,” she said, undeterred.

Here’s what I learned in the reading. That I would very soon be involved in some sort of Northern Spy ring with members of my family, quite possibly a long lost Aunt Belle. And perhaps a rubinesque relative and another one from Creston. Oh, and I was going to eat Chinook with Yoko Ono playing in the background. That seemed highly unlikely given I had been a vegetarian for a couple of decades, so eating salmon was out of the question, as was listening to Yoko Ono “music” anywhere.

Finally, she predicted that I would be having dinner with my family around a table dressed with a red-checkered cloth. Well, my entire family was coming in for the weekend to celebrate my birthday. I had planned several activities to keep them from just sitting around eating and telling the same old stories over and over again.

Pink Pearmain photo by Ron Watts

“We’re going to the UBC Apple Festival,” I announced cheerily the morning after they arrived.

“An apple festival? Why would we want to go to an apple festival?” said my smart-mouthed brother. “When we want an apple, we walk out our back door and pick one. Every day’s an apple festival in the Okanagan Valley.”

“Yeah, it’s a little like hauling coals to Newcastle,” said my dad who hauled coal on his back for thirty cents an hour back in the day.

“It’s my birthday, we’re going,” I said quickly to keep him from telling the coal story. “It will be a nice family outing. We’ll get some fresh air and exercise.” They didn’t bite.

“They have apple pie there,” I said. Mom and Dad smacked their lips.

“Well, it won’t be as good as mom’s apple pie,” my brother said, vying for the inheritance.

“They have candy apples too.” I saw the glint in my brother’s eye. The promise of food, even the sickly sweet always works with my family.

So off we went to the UBC Botanical Garden for the annual event. My mom and I headed over to the information booths as my brother and father stood at the apple pie stand having the great debate over which is better atop a slice – ice cream or cheddar cheese.

“It’s nice to walk a little,” said Mom. “I used to walk so much when I was young.”

“Look, it’s the Fruit Tree Project.” I quickly distracted her before I heard how she used to walk seven miles to and from school on an irrigation flume.

“Let’s go talk to them,” I said dragging her over.

Pink Delight photo by Karen Mouat

“We connect people who have excess fruit from their backyard fruit trees with those who have the time and energy to harvest it,” said the young woman at the booth. Sixty volunteers picked 3,300 pounds of fruit this year from thirty-eight trees. They harvested apples, pears, plums, grapes, Asian pears and even the most delightful kiwi grapes (tiny kiwi, with the taste of a kiwi and the texture of a grape, yum!). Most of the harvested fruit is donated to community organizations and individuals in need. They also offer canning and pruning workshops.

There are fruit tree projects and gleaning groups across Canada and the United States now. The Okanagan Gleaners Society has been salvaging crops from farmers fields since 1984, and turning them into soup mixes. They also process and dry apples. The food is sent to the needy around the world.

After our visit with the fruit tree people, we hurried over to the tasting tent to sample the many heritage apple varieties. And you’ll never guess who we ran into around the ring of tables: the infamous Dutch Belle de Boskoop – code name B.D.B.K.; the shady Northern Spy; a rather russeted and rubinesque Rubinette; and Yoko, a Japanese introduction. I came home with a bag of the crispy Crestons and the speckled Chinook.

Small Hansons Red Flesh crab (left); Hidden Rose (right) photo by Harry Burton

That night we wound up having my birthday dinner at Nick’s Spaghetti House, the place with the big bibs and red-checkered tablecloths. My aunt and uncle came too. It was all just as my clairvoyant friend had predicted. How do you like them apples?

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