Monday, October 7, 2013

Orchardists in My Bones

Apple Harvest
Fried Apples
Simple Batter
In the Oven
Puff Pancake
Ham in Apple Butter
Breakfast at Elmira Pond
Rain on a metal roof tells me I did good to get the ranch mowed within three days of sunshine. Maybe it was the lure of being out in the full sun, or maybe it was the old DNA of orchardists rummaging about my bones that whispered intuitions to carry out chores in good timing.

Recently I bought a novel called, "The Orchardist," simply for its title. An orchardist is a person engaged in the cultivation of orchards--such as oranges, apples and walnuts. It's a quaint reference, not often used in modern times. But my Bumpa was an orchardist, as was his brother and sister and their father before them.

Bumpa was my great-grandfather, Marcus Bundeson, born in San Benito County, California in 1884. It amazes me that I once played bingo with this man born so long ago. He told me about riding on wagons pulled by horses when he was a child. It captivated my imagination. So does the orchard.

The Bundesons grew apricots in Hollister, California, where I was born. Marcus Bundeson, Sr., my Bumpa's father, came to America from Bodum, Denmark sometime before 1870 when he first turns up in a US Federal Census record, working as a farmer in Watsonville. He was 30 years old by then and living with other immigrants, California being a grand melting pot.

By 1892 the elder Bundeson died of pneumonia, leaving behind a wife (Mette Sanholt who was also born in Denmark), three sons and a daughter. And an apricot orchard. The eldest son, Peter, was only 18-years old when his father died. He too, died young at the age of 43 when his eldest son contracted the Spanish Flu while working the shipyards in San Fransisco. The city, in its questionable wisdom, sought to keep influenza death counts low by sending home any out-of-city workers who got ill. In doing so, Peter got the flu from his son and both died in Hollister in 1917.

That left the three remaining siblings to run the orchard. Christina and her brother Peter never married. Perhaps it was apricots that won their hearts and filled their lives. Bumpa, married though, my great-grandmother, Mayme Ferraira. In 1940 they are listed in the US Federal Census record as "orchardists." In the newspaper account of their son's tragic car accident, they are referenced as "prominent Hollister orchardists."

The next generation did not carry on the family tradition. Blossoms would continue to kiss the apricot trees of Hollister, but my family watched from afar. My mother tells childhood stories of stealing apricots and eating them green until her tummy hurt, perhaps answering the orchardsists call in her own bones.

So, I suppose, plucking three apples from my tree felt familiar in an old family way. I've destined each apple to a meal--one will be sliced and paired with cheddar cheese; another chopped for dinner with brats, potatoes, apples and dill seed; and another baked into a "puff pancake."

And here is another genealogical coincidence--the puff pancake. It is one made in the oven, very simple. First, fry the apple slices in butter, cinnamon and brown sugar (and then follow up with frying the ham in the apple butter). Next,  pour a batter of three eggs, 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of milk over the apples in a pie dish to bake it at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. The coincidence is that this recipe has always had a "familiar" feel to it though it comes from my husband's family. Turns out, it's Danish.

On a hunch, I dug out my wedding gift, a cookbook called, "Vi Koger med de Danske." It means, cook with the Danes. And in it, an exact match for the puff pancake recipe. Like my orchardists DNA, my recipe has a Danish heritage too.

What a perfect end to summer on Elmira Pond. Something old, something new.

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