I have a favorite orchard.

Some people have a favorite beach, or a favorite store at the mall, or a favorite vacation spot. I have a favorite orchard.

It is a small orchard nestled on a hillside in Mount Vernon. When I first started picking apples there, the deeply quiet hillside sported a wonderful view, now obscured by as the apple trees. The orchard is tidy, with the lanes between the trees covered in bright green mowed grass.

Fruit does not litter the ground, smelling of rot and luring bees. Originally, the orchard had only a few kinds of trees: Macs, Cortlands and Red and Yellow Delicious.

The orchard was owned by Manley Damren, whose name I didn’t know until I read the account of his tragic death in the newspaper.

I knew who he was, though, as a member of my community. He was the husband of the Mount Vernon postmistress and the father of my children’s kindergarten teacher.

Damren’s orchard was peaceful and magical. It was surrounded by woods. He had a high fence around it, really high, so high it was hard to pitch a partially eaten apple up and over it.

I often would eat an apple, sometimes wanting to taste a new variety, which he added as time went on, or just because there were so many apples all around me. But I couldn’t leave a core in his tidy orchard.

I loved Damren’s orchard because it was beautifully simple. When he was open for picking, we would see a white sign with bright red letters saying “Pick Your Own Apples Today.” A couple more signs, and we would be at the grassy entrance to his orchard.

No real road, the kind made with deep layers of gravel and pavement, led to the place, but we would see where his tractor and truck had worn the grass down to dirt. We followed those tracks and ended up at a shady parking area.

Damren, always wearing a flannel shirt and suspenders, would be leaning against the doorway of his apple shed. Every time I saw him he greeted me cordially, and I would ask him what was good for picking. I also would sometimes talk with him about other things.

Damren sometimes offered other farm products he had produced. Last year, it was 20-pound bags of potatoes.

My sister, who also loves his orchard and who makes a trip to Maine from Massachusetts every year to pick there, thought his Pontiac Reds were amazing.

One year, he had a 5-pound jar of honey, and I still keep the jar because it seems special after being full of honey.

He used to press his own cider, but when regulations got stiffer, he sent his apples to a commercial press. He kept his cider in a cooler, the kind picnickers use. His cider had no preservatives; it was rich, sweet and cold.

The cider was the most commercial thing at his orchard.

Other than that, it was just him in his little stand and the apples and any vegetables he happened to be offering. There were no trinkets to buy, no fancy baked products.

Damren charged fair prices for his produce, even in the face of the growing buy-local movement, where some growers charge prices higher than supermarket prices, thereby making their produce the produce of the well-to-do.

I extrapolated from Damren’s fair prices that he must be a fair man. This added to my deep appreciation for his orchard as a peaceful place.

Damren weighed my apples on an old weighted scale, always rounded down in my favor.

When I was young, small stores in the New York area had displays of fruits and vegetables. The grocer would weigh our fruit on a scale, and my father told me that the reputable ones would round down in our favor. So I suppose Damren evoked nostalgia in me.

I picked numerous times every season. One year, I brought a co-worker, and Damren was leaving the orchard as we were driving in. He turned around, and graciously let us pick while he waited. It was dinner time.

I’m known for my pies, but it’s the fruit that makes a great pie.

A perfect fall day is one where there’s enough time to run over to the orchard, pick a big bag — or two — of apples, slice some of them up and pop a pie in the oven.

The oven warms the house, and the pie fills the air with its smell. I think pie made with just-picked fruit tastes of fresh air and sunshine.

That magical quality, the deep peace, the beautiful fruit trees, the quiet, those were all fostered by Damren. He worked with the land and the trees and that little piece of the world, and created a place of deep beauty.

The beauty also was created by the feeling that I had entered a place where the world was fair.

Last year, my sister asked him what his favorite apple was.

“Oh, I’d have to say it’s the Mac” he replied.

My sister told me that the other day she bought a couple of Macs at a farmers’ market in Massachusetts, and she and her husband ate them in tribute to the man in Maine who had the beautiful orchard.

Sarah McSorley lives in Mount Vernon with two sons and three dogs. She prepares meals with as many fresh foods as possible. She has worked in Augusta as a proofreader and editor for 15 years.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: