kolmapäev, oktoober 07, 2009

enam ei ole

Estonian months carry a variety of names. For instance, July or Juuli is also referred to as heinakuu -- "hay month" -- a month where, I guess, you are supposed to make hay.

Oktoober's alter ego is viinakuu -- "vodka month" -- named so because of people's fondness for vodka making. But, if I were printing calendars, I would give it a different name, õunakuu -- "apple month" -- because it's the month when people are busy trying to think of creative ways to get rid of the avalanche of apples in their backyards.

Estonians treat apples more kindly than they treat one another. Harvesting begins not with ascending a ladder to pluck nature's bounty from your personal orchard, but with searching the ground for apples that have dropped over night that might still be good. Good apples are never wasted. Even the bruised ones can be sliced and made into jams or used to sweeten cakes.

Only after you have personally judged the quality of every grounded apple can you move to the trees. Using both methods, we collected about eight bags of fruit two weeks ago, resulting in liters and liters and liters of apple juice. We also have jars and jars and jars of sweet apple jam. But the apples kept coming. Last weekend, I scavenged, picked, and cleaned four more bags of fruit. A group of Estonian guys up in the Tartu neighborhood of Veeriku work morning til night every night making juice for Tartu residents for a fee. For 180 kroons our apples were turned to raw juice overnight. We boiled the juice and packed away even more jars of the stuff for the months to come. But there were still more apples. So this weekend I picked six more bags and brought it to the Veeriku õunavabrik. This time though, I went without my spouse.

The leader of the Veeriku pack is a guy who looks to be in his 50s or 60s. He wears an old sweater, and has a salt and pepper beard and a ruddy face that looks like he's seen too many saunas. He also suffers from south Estonian mud tongue -- that is, he sort of mumbles in a deep voice. Only other Estonians can truly understand the system of grunts and sighs that make up this variety of the language. I manage to make it through most of the conversation. Then he points at my apples and says something about "Antonovka." I figure that he thinks my name is Antonovka -- that I am an Estonian Russian. I do have a noticeable accent.

"No, my name is not Antonovka," I tell him.

"No, no, these apples, are they Antonovka's?" he grunts.

"No, they're our apples, not Antonovka's."

"I know they are your apples. But what kind of apples are they?"

Now, I attended pre-school in the United States, so I know the names of different apples. The big yellow ones are called Yellow Delicious. The big red ones are called Red Delicious. And the tart green ones: Granny Smith. How would I translate 'Granny Smith' into Estonian, I ponder. Vanaema Sepp? But the reality is that none of our apples look like those American apples. They're all a little different.

"Well, some of our apples are red and some are yellow," I tell the Veeriku õunamees. "Those are the kinds of apples we have."

He sighs and takes down my number. I give him Epp's name though. I don't even want to go through the process of spelling out my name or, even worse, being reminded that I share a name with American pop singer Justin Timberlake.

I ask Epp about Mr. Antonovka when I get home. She just laughs, and tells me that Antonovkas are a kind of apple. There is no Mr. Antonovka. My mistake! Later, when I bring my daughter to visit a friend, I discuss the dilemma of Estonia's overproductive apple orchards with her father. Margus is standing at the top of the drive way, twisting the top of a juice press. Beside him is one large wheelbarrow filled with apple pulp, another tub filled with raw juice, and then two more plastic tubs filled with apples.

"I've been drinking apple juice for weeks," he says proudly. "I won't need to buy juice from the store all winter."

I relate my tale to Margus. "I went to get the juice pressed in Veeriku, and the man kept asking me about Antonovka -- I thought he thought it was my name!"

Margus laughs. "There are lots of different kinds of apples in Estonia that you probably don't have in America. Antonovka apples come originally from Russia. They don't taste so great, but they last a long time."

I realize he's right. They probably don't have Vanaema Sepp apples in Estonia. And I haven't seen any Yellow Delicious at the store. I'm still a foreigner in a foreign country. It's like John Travolta's character says in Pulp Fiction. The funniest thing about Europe is the little differences. "I mean they got the same shit over there, we got here," he tells Samuel L. Jackson's character, "but it's just there's a little difference."


Making juice causes logistical headaches. When is the right time to begin boiling? Who will be on straining duty to skim off all the nasty foam that rises to the top? And worst of all, what do we do when we run out of jars?

You'd think the answer to the last question is just to head to the store. There are always more jars, right? This is a capitalist country. There is supply and demand. If the people demand jars, then the stores will order more. Sure, Estonia is on the east coast of the Baltic sea, but it's not the middle of nowhere, is it? Such simple things as jars must be as plentiful as, well, as plentiful as apples in a Tartu backyard.

I am sorry to report that there were no more jars at the Zeppelin shopping center in Tartu. Nor were there any at Eedeni Keskus. The Rimi Hypermarket was also out. And Selver didn't have any either.

Kas teil purke on? (Do you have any more jars?) We asked the sellers.

Enam ei ole. (Not any more) They replied.

Enam ei ole. Enam ei ole. I heard that line so many times. How could it be? This is a city of 100,000 people. There must be jars in it, somewhere. As we found out there are, just not at the stores. After searching around, friends began to volunteer huge bags full of empty containers. Apparently, there are ladies all around town that have jars stashed in their cellars. They have more containers than they can fill with fruit byproducts. And the best part of this social networking experience was that we got all our jars for free, though I did spend 51 kroons to buy 30 jar lids this morning. You see, even after boiling juice by the gallons, there's still one more giant aluminum canister to work through.

"Don't worry," our friend Pille tells me. "If you run out of jars, my neighbor has plenty." Pille spends her weekends in Võrumaa, in the southeastern corner of the country. I am informed that they have enough apple juice down there to swim in.

"How much apple juice do you drink?" I ask.

"I average about a half liter per day," she says.

And maybe I do too. I must confess, when I'm in the mood for something quick, I might just grab a jar of juice, a jar of chunky apple jam, and a spoon. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. But what about 40 apples? Am I adding years to my life?

As I write this, the sunny morning has given way to a gray, windy noon. The only bits of light that catch my eye from the second floor window are the golden orbs that are suspended before me -- the highest-hanging fruit of our personal orchard. It almost makes me sick to look at them. I feel guilty for not making use of every last goddamn apple. But there's only so much juice and jam a family in Tartu can make.

22 kommentaari:

Unknown ütles ...

This year is a crazy apple year indeed. I have a bag of apples here, plus a 3 litre jar. My mother's aunt wants to give even more juice. Luckily we cut down a lot of apple trees in our countryside yard so there won't be much more raw apples. When people go "to the country" in the weekends you don't even have to ask what they will be doing. Chances are they will be making apple juice.

matude ütles ...

Hah, yep, grandparents made 50 litres of apple juice this year.

There are streets where cars just drive over apples and no spare spot of asfalt can be seen. Insane really. :)

Mingus ütles ...

õunad „Granny Smith“

Bea ütles ...

Reminds me of myself delighted to grab some apple from the ground in the dark, not from a shop, while in Sweden for the second month and longing after the East coast of the Baltic sea...
Also... my grandparents' juices, 'apple cheeses', jars, jars, jars from the Panevezys city of 120 000 people, the city full private houses with gardens...

LPR ütles ...

Ah, I enjoy seeing estonia through American eyes. All of the sudden everything looks so entertainingly bizzare.

My aunt lived a year in upstate New York in the nineties and her visage of America through Estonian eyes was equally funny. I recall her wonderment about everyday things like "people wearing rocket man suits and earphones scaring leaves down the street with no rake in sight and then using ride-on vacume machines to suck them into Santa Claus gift-bags".

I love it.

Keep it coming, G.

Unknown ütles ...

You can put the apples to good use by making wine and cider... =P

Justin ütles ...

I think the reason stores run out of some goods is that they don't have automated inventory ordering systems. At large chains in the US, they know roughly how many of an item is on the shelf at each store because the scanner data of what is sold is used. Past history is also used to predict needs to stock up on certain items in anticipation of a sudden surge in demand. I'm not sure why retailers in Estonia haven't at least figured out that bit -- stock up on jars this time of year. They do see to understand it for Jaanipaev and bring in plenty of extra grill-ready meat.

I'm not fond of that Timberlake guy either, but if I mention him, then at least people know how to spell my first name correctly.

LPR ütles ...

I've seen Timberlake doing some really funny bits on Saturday Night Live. He's very talented. Why would anyone hold anything against him? He seems to be a kinda harmless guy girls can take to meet their parents.

LPR ütles ...

I've seen Timberlake doing some really funny bits on Saturday Night Live. He's very talented. Why would anyone hold anything against him? He seems to be a kinda harmless guy girls can take to meet their parents.

Sharon ütles ...

He's very, very annoying.

Sharon ütles ...

I was wondering about the cider thing, too. I understand it also helps you keep the juice for longer (albeit in a format you probably don't want to give to your children).

There's a really good book of apple cake recipes you can get from Apollo if you want to move beyond jam.

Õunakoogid by Virkus and Kang. I think it's one of those magazine spin-off things that are always eerily popular.

Doris ütles ...

you can also dry your apples. Slice them relatively thin and leave them (on a newspaper, apple stains are horrible to get out of cloth) on an airy/sunny/warm place to dry. Awesome snacks for the winter :)

Kristopher ütles ...

Timberlake's cameos in the digital shorts are totally funny.

The shorts are the only worth watching on SNL and they're available online, so he redeems himself by mere association with the project.

Pierce Bacchus ütles ...

...or, even worse, being reminded that I share a name with American pop singer Justin Timberlake.

Could be worse. I was named after an alcoholic surgeon from the TV show M*A*S*H.

viimneliivlane ütles ...

About those apples and finding jars to conserve them in, my democratic spirit hones in to say that this was also a bumper year for cucumbers and we need all the jars we can garner up to pickle them. Please keep things in perspective. For pickling cucumbers you need two different sizes of jars - a small one to open now and then for everyday use and a larger one for opening for special occasions like big parties. Apples are far more adaptable. You can make applesauce and store it in jars in any size jar. The important thing is not to overcook apples. Beyond that I don’t have any suggestions because I have yet to try to make apple wine. (This was also an overwhelming year for red and black currants which make great homemade wine – picking berries is a detail-oriented task that pales picking apples).

I have apple trees from I believe three different epochs – those planted by my great-grandfather that no local people can tell me the names of, those clearly planted during the ‘talu’ period prewar which are already identifiable, and those I have planted myself because I know what they taste like and whether they are summer, autumn, or winter apples. Most of these apples fall to the ground and I see the deer coming around to enjoy the bounty of the fallen apples. They say deer get a buzz from the half-fermented apples. The bountiful apples don’t bother me anywhere near as much as the wild boar who have been digging up the ground around the apple trees, moving closer to the house each year – they don’t seem to get much satisfaction from apples so I’m left wondering whether we are nearing a balance in nature or not.
Right there with you guy!

...Vello ütles ...

I wonder how many different varieties of apples there are around the world. I recently read that, a century ago, in our little corner of southwest BC, Canada, there were over a 110 different varieties grown.

With commercialization that number has gone down drastically, with growers trying to produce the most popular varieties.

I never really liked the Vanaema Sepp. I guess the best hunting is in the backyards of old abandoned farmyards.

Pierce Bacchus ütles ...

I am fed lots of apples. I can never tell the difference the way my wife can. To me, they all just have black spots and are never as sweet as I hope they will be.

Kristopher ütles ...

I vote for Kuldrenett. Not indigenous, but a true classic.

Unknown ütles ...

I have a bag full of kuldrenett.

LPR ütles ...

"Valge Klaar" is the food of Gods.

Sharon ütles ...

There are different projects all over the world to try to rediscover and reclaim "heritage" apple varieties.

Of the commercially available apples in my neck of the globe, I maintain you can't go past "Pink Lady" - although, they're only worth eating in Tasmania, where they're fresh. Anywhere else in the country and you're dealing with months-old fruit that isn't quite the same.

Does a country the size of Estonia have the same fruit production woes that other countries have? We have our fruit picked when still green, gas ripened, sent by truck halfway across the country so the capital cities can have first pick, and then whatever's left is sent back to us.

It can take months for us to get dodgy tomatoes that were grown locally. Please, do not talk to me about food miles. It just makes me want to cry.

Anonüümne ütles ...

The bag of "Vanaema Sepp" that I got at the supermarket this morning was only trucked about 600km (assuming they came the short route) from the US into Canada. My oranges have a stickers that say Australia - world travellers, but they still taste good.

You can hammer nails with some of the avocados sold here. I wouldn't touch one until I ate a freshly-picked ripe one in Mexico.

I think the answer is to travel to different places in the world and enjoy the home-grown (over)abundance you find there.