Saturday, 31 October 2009

Picking Cheongsong’s (Andeok’s) FAMOUS Apples

I wanted to bite into one…just one. I could just shine it on my shirt, and take a bite


This weekend was the big one. Aunt Kimchi was having her fall apple harvest, and she had already started picking apples yesterday. Her friends and family had come from Pohang City and Daegu City (over an hour’s drive away) just to help her and her son harvest all of their hard work.

Cheongsong’s apples (including Andeok’s) aren’t just famous in Cheongsong, but they’re famous ALL OVER Korea. Apple farmers take pride knowing that their apples are the BEST in the entire country.

We had waited for this moment for weeks now. Not just the arrival of Corey and Ilana (the Andong English Teachers), but getting down and dirty with those apple trees.

At 11:30am this morning, Corey and Ilana arrived on the bus from Andong. After giving them a nice tour of the town (it didn’t take very long…we basically showed them the one main road and Andeok Middle-High School), we ate some homey grilled cheese sandwiches with ketchup, barbecue sauce, and Sriracha chili sauce (from Andeok?...of course not…we purchased these sauces about an hour away from Andeok). We filled our tummies with our wholesome lunch and headed off towards Aunt Kimchi’s orchard. We could tell that our landlord, Aunt Kimchi, was the apple queen in this area of the Cheongsong region. Her trees had about 3-4 baskets worth of apples in each, tripling or quadrupling the number of apples compared to the 1 basket worth of apples from neighbouring orchards.

A group of warm friendly smiles greeted us as we made our way passed the entrance. Aunt Kimchi gave us a quick snack of delicious apples and Korean honey pears, and taught us the technique to picking the apples properly. In order to have a good apple with the stem still attached, she said, “Grab and flick.” We were to grab hold of the apples, flick our wrists gently in an upwards motion, and make sure that the stem was still intact with the top of the apple. Then we were to place the apple gently in the basket to ensure that there was no bruising possible. Then she tossed us our grey, rainbow-speckled work gloves. Time for the hard labour to begin.

We were first given 1/4 of the orchard to start with…it was a lot of trees (thank-goodness we didn’t have to pick the ones at the very top…they had a ladder for those). She must’ve trusted us a lot (…however she did place us pretty far away from the other workers…hmm…). We were naturals. Pros. Aunt Kimchi and her family were quite impressed with how many apples we had picked, and how we were plowing through the responsibility given to us. Let’s just forget all of our “Oops” as each of us would drop an apple and scold one another afterwards. It was a danger zone with apples hidden under rows and rows of laid-out garbage bags, and rotting, dirty pools of water, soaking through our shoes. Corey and Ken would carry 2-3 baskets of apples at one time, clearly trying to impress the old ajummas who were sorting and snipping the apples we were bringing them. The huge pile in front of them held thousands of apples, all picked by us and the workers in just one day.

As a break, Aunt Kimchi’s sister surprised us with ramyun (or ramen) noodles. She then served out sweet potato ddeok (rice cakes), yams, spiced cinnamon ginseng juice, and some apples. It was hard to resist with everyone looking upon us as we ate (clearly, they were impressed with our insensitivity to the spicy ramyun). They also poked fun at the scrapes on Ken’s forehead (a large protruding branch from one of the tree trunks got Ken right in the noggin…he was even bleeding a little). All of the workers ate, had their juice, and were ready to continue on.

There were some very old ajummas who were picking apples and wow, they were pros. They were carrying the baskets of apples against their chests instead of leaving them on the ground, and carried them still as they were reaching their full capacity.

At 5:30pm, Corey, Ilana, Ken and I retired. Although we made a difference to Aunt Kimchi’s orchard, it was nothing compared to the work everyone else did the day before and for the following two days. The remaining apples would have to go through a careful selection process. They would have to be picked, inspected, have their stems snipped, and be kept in a huge pile for a day or two (to keep reddening, getting an even more vibrant colour). Then they would be further sorted by quality, colour, and size (some to be sold as fresh apples, and others to be pressed into apple cider). Futhermore, the apples would have to be lugged over to the massive fridge (large enough to keep several farms’ apples), to be stored for up to five months. During that time, certain ones would be transported all over Korea (thus, Cheongsong’s fame and glory) and others would be pressed into packets of warm pure apple cider, unspiced, unsugared, but perfectly sweet,

Aunt Kimchi couldn’t let us leave without compensation for the work we did. As much as we tried to shake it off, she was persistent. She is the apple queen, after all. What did she give us? Apples, obviously. Two, just-picked-today-or-yesterday bushels of apples, ready to be pushed in our dinky little fridge.

We immediately had to cook down a bushel of apples. Our fridge just couldn’t handle 80 apples, unless Ken and I had planned to eat apples everyday for the next month (we actually another bushel’s worth of apples already in the fridge from my students in Andeok and Hyeonseo). So, with vanilla, cinnamon, and brown sugar at hand, the apples were diced to oblivion, and spiced to perfection so that they could fit into our fridge. Ten to twelve apples could be brought down to a saucy one litre of sweet goodness, just by cooking them.

What a great day. We got to experience our first apple harvest and dove into the heart Cheongsong’s ever-so-famous apples.

- Jess


  1. Odette and I would love to have all those apples and store up on the apple crisp, apple sauce, jelly, etc..

  2. If we could, we'd send you a bushel of the freshest apples you've ever tasted. We do complain about how much we have, but we'll definitely miss them when we leave...