We’ve got a houseguest with us this weekend, a real outdoorsy-type. She’s Bulgarian, and this explains a lot. All of us packed out for the Berkshires to stretch our legs in the hills, and wound up at Tyringham Cobble, a property of the Trustees of Reservations. Notice this link, here. The Trustees are one of my favorite things about living here, and I’m proud, I say proud to be a member. We originally joined in order to get free cross-country skiing at Notchview (some of the best XC trails anywhere, and that includes in Wisconsin) – but then we discovered the Trove of Riches that comes with being a member of this organization. The properties include superb hiking sites, like the one we visited today. They include well-preserved houses, such as Naumkeag and its famous gardens in Stockbridge (yes, Stockbridge of “Sweet Baby James” fame), the William Cullen Bryant homestead, and – one of my all-time favorites – The Old Manse. The Old Manse is the old house of the Emersons (like Ralph Waldo) and was also the first home of Nathanial Hawthorne and his new bride Sophia. You can see where she scratched “Sophia + Nathaniel = Love” (or something along those lines) into the glass windowpane with her wedding ring. I’m sure that the Emersons – who rented the house to the Hawthornes – were entirely thrilled with this little piece of vandalism. The house also has the distinction of having the Old North Bridge (yes, of Shot Heard Round The World fame) in the backyard. It really is in the backyard, too. You stand in the kitchen and look out over the lawn, and there it is, right in the yard, the Old North Bridge. It’s a sobering thought, considering a family standing about in the kitchen watching a battle of any kind, and this sobering thought escalates right into hallucinogenic when you think of standing about in the kitchen watching the Revolutionary War kick off.
The road to our hiking destination took us through an incredibly quaint village, one featuring this structure:
While this is definitely on the fringes of reality, it didn’t look bizarre in this village, which tells you quite a lot about the village. My Bulgarian friend conceived an instant and lasting desire for this structure. I, on the other hand, noticed the vast evidence of numerous horse farms. Including the “Warning: Horses On The Road” sign. I’d do it, too, because the road was that awesome, and the scenery was that awesome, I’d be willing to take Huey The Wonder Horse out into a place like that. I don’t know how he would feel about it, but I would think I had died and gone to heaven.
The hike was superb. It was right up the side of this giant mound, hook up with the Appalachian Trail, crest the rise, and then loop back down. The incline was enough that I certainly knew I was getting a work out. I dealt with it by stopping every 2 minutes to photograph some stunning new vista, eldritch vine, or brightly colored leaf. We started hiking under a steel grey sky that made it feel 5 degrees cooler than it actually was, but by the time we hit the summit, or crest, the sun broke through and chased the clouds off, and gave me plenty of the light I wanted to capture images of this charming valley and village.
At the summit, we encountered a tribe of late-middle-aged New York Jews hiking with their two pugs. All of them, including the pugs, should probably consider Assistive Listening Devices. As with many a band of New York Jews of a certain vintage – and believe me, I have experience on this matter – they hiked through the woods, happily maintaining a high-volume traveling Bicker, and vainly attempting to control their entirely untrained animals with voice commands. As my Bulgarian friend observed, “they seemed to be having a good time, but were critical of the way the trail and mountain were put together.” And that just about sums up these folk. My desire to move out of their Argument Range intermittently conflicted with my desire to stop and photograph the Wonder Of It All…so we ultimately finished the hike with unseen, but certainly not unheard, company.
I noticed on the way up that there were a great many old stone walls – possibly 350 years old, given the vintage of the settlement – that went right up the side of the cobble. This means, I understand, that at some point in the distant past, this property was farmed. Someone cut down the trees and plowed on a jolly stiff incline. The matter of Erosion is a powerfully sobering thought…as is the thought of plowing, with animal assistance, on the same jolly stiff incline, in an era before ibuprofen, cold packs, hot tubs, or orthopedically-correct mattresses. Now, however, it has reverted to hardwood forest.
On the way down, then, we encountered the other part of the farm: the apple orchard. The first sign of this were windfall apples rolling under our feet, at which point we stopped to take note. Actually, my friend stopped, picked up an apple, dusted it off, and started to eat it. Things must be different in Bulgaria. I had some, and it was actually pretty good, a very tart apple, possibly a pippin. Small, hard, and red. If I wind up giving worms to Huey, now, that will serve me right for eating things right off the ground. I won’t say my mother didn’t warn me.
I counted eight different kinds of apples – everything from the tiniest possible red crabapples, to big fat green ones, some fore-runner of the Granny Smith perhaps. All of those apple trees, out there, producing for no one, for centuries. With a great view. It was a…remarkable…experience. There’s nothing to give a person a taste of history like eating crops from plants that were sowed before the United States was a gleam in the eye of our Founding Fathers. I’m sure it happens all the time in Europe, and Bulgaria, but it’s a real novelty for a Texan.
In honor of these ancient apple trees, here is one of my favorite apple pie recipes:
1 2-crust pie shell (make it or buy it, your choice)
3 1/4 pounds tart baking apples (about 8 medium), peeled, cored, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, room temperature
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375°F. Combine apples, dried cranberries, flour, brown sugar, lemon juice, nutmeg and cloves in large bowl. Toss to blend. Fill pie crust, mounding slightly in center. Dot with butter. Top with second crust, drape dough over filling, and trim dough overhang to 1/2 inch. Press top crust and bottom crust together at edge to seal. Fold edge under; crimp edge decoratively. Cut four 2-inch-long slits in top crust to allow steam to escape.
Bake pie 45 minutes. Cover crust edges with foil to prevent overbrowning. Continue to bake pie until crust is golden, apples are tender and juices bubble thickly through slits, about 55 minutes longer. Cool pie on rack. Cut into wedges.