They will know us by our fruits By Mary O’Connell

They will know us by our fruits

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Matthew 7:16

My dear husband is a Craigslist expert. He can find anything on Craigslist. I swear if anything happens to me he’ll find a suitable like-new replacement on Craigslist before the week is out. I jest, but it’s one of the things I really love about him. Before I knew Jim, if my dryer went on the fritz, I probably would have headed to the nearest appliance store and bought whatever was on sale. Not only is this expensive, but think of all the old dryers slogging up the landfills as people buy a new crummy replacement every couple of years. Not only does my husband maintain things and make every attempt to repair them, he gives new life to old stuff that others are ready to discard. In his own small way, he is saving the planet. Plus, he loves to tinker. A year or so ago, he bought an old wooden cider press, and it’s been hanging around in the barn for the opportunity to be restored to usefulness. It needed some significant repairs, which were no problem for the master tinkerer, and by this fall it was ready to be tried out.

Our orchard at the farm consists of twenty or so very young fruit trees, with a total harvest this year of four apples (they were delicious!) — years away from the task of producing enough apples to try out the press. So we began to scavenge fruit from wherever we could. A tree in a county park that no one else picked, one along the roadside near the farm, and some windfall apples purchased from a local orchard gave us a good start. More apples were needed.

My husband spotted a tree hanging full of glorious pears on his daily commute from work, and he suggested we knock on the owner’s door and ask if we could pick some to try our hand at pear cider. I was a little nervous about that. The house was a little rundown, and the people were complete strangers to us. I had seen enough horror movies to know that this was just the kind of house where unsuspecting people went to pick pears and were never seen or heard from again.

I suggested we look on, a website where people list their fruit trees they are not going to pick so others can reap the harvest rather than having all the fruit rot on the ground. On the website we saw a listing for several apple trees at a Catholic seminary near Jim’s place of work. The website explained right where the trees were on the property, and said, “If you want to contact the groundskeeper, you can, but it is not necessary.” Perfect! Jim decided he would stop there the next day on his way home from work and see how the apples looked.

The next evening, he drove up the long seminary driveway with his bushel baskets in the back of the car. He immediately spotted an apple tree loaded with sweet, red beauties and could tell from the blemishes and holes that they hadn’t been sprayed….perfect for cider pressing. He began to pick the low-hanging apples and load them into his basket, thinking he could always come back another day with a ladder to get the higher ones. He had almost a full bushel when an angry nun came scurrying out of a building and demanded to know what he was doing there. Stammering as one does when confronted by a hostile nun, he tried to explain the listing on, but she would have none of it, and shooed him away without a chance for conversation. Now, I didn’t get the opportunity to go to Catholic grade school, but my older siblings all did, and their nun stories over the years made this encounter pale in comparison. He was lucky she wasn’t carrying a ruler. Jim had heard enough of the stories to know not to hang around and argue, so he quickly got in his car and drove home.

When he got home and told me the story, I said, “Well, the poor dear obviously doesn’t know the seminary had listed their trees for public picking. No worries; tomorrow morning I’ll simply call and talk to the groundskeeper and get his permission.” Which I did. He curtly explained that the seminary was private property, he didn’t know how that web listing got on there, and no, it was absolutely not okay to pick apples there. I asked him if anyone would be using the apples, and explained that I was calling from a non-profit farm education program that was hosting a cider-making event on Saturday. (I contemplated telling him I was a card-carrying member of a local Catholic parish, but decided that was going overboard.) His tone softened, but he still replied, “No, I’m sorry, we can’t let anyone pick the apples.” I guess they would rather let all the apples rot under the tree than let anyone trespass on their property. It probably has to do with liability. It always does, doesn’t it? Admittedly, the last thing the Catholic Church needs is more people suing them.

With one day to go until cider pressing day and a need for more fruit, Jim ignored my irrational fears and stopped by the home with the pear tree. A bunch of kids were playing out front, and when he explained why he was there, one of them ran to get her grandpa from inside. A slow-moving older fellow came out onto the porch, and Jim began with, “I’m sorry to bother you…” “Oh, you’re not bothering me!” exclaimed the man with a welcoming grin. “Please, do pick our pears,” was the response, and a promise was made for cider in return for pears.

When Jim and I went over that evening to pick pears, we were greeted by the elderly man, his daughter, and his grandchildren. We chatted amiably as we gleaned the fat, juicy pears from the tree. One daughter arrived home from work and never even asked who the complete strangers in her front yard were, but simply said, “Oh, I am so glad somebody is picking those pears!” We heard all about the grandson who was playing football for the local high school team, and it felt like we had known each other for years by the time we loaded our heaping bushel baskets into the car, making plans for a cider reunion.

Cider day finally arrived! Through trial and error, we managed to press almost ten gallons of sweet, delicious nectar of the gods. The apple cider was good, but the cider from those pears was divine – so sweet and inviting, just like the family whose tree they came from. The bible passage, “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” came to mind. The story of the irate nun chasing Jim off seminary property made for delightful conversation while we cut, crushed and pressed the apples, and our resident farmer, Bridget, declared she was going to ferment some of the juice and label it “Angry Nun Hard Cider.”

We learned a few valuable things about the process of cider-making, and my thoughts eventually turned to the next fall. Wouldn’t it be great to have a Cider Pressing Day as a fundraiser for the Paradise Farm education program? Families could come and visit the farm, help make some cider, and taste the sweet results of their work. Almost immediately, I began to think of the “What-if’s.”  What if someone cuts his or her finger while helping chop apples? What if someone samples the unpasteurized cider and becomes ill? Will we be at risk of getting sued?”

I quickly realized that this is the story of fear – the same story that informed the policy of the seminary I was so hasty to judge. “No matter how much good comes from this wonderful community event, there is still a chance something or someone could de-rail it.” It is a thinking that is so prevalent, we see it as normal, as prudent. But what if we choose to instead embrace the story of abundance? What if we refuse to focus our attention on the chance of something going wrong, but on all that can be gained? What if we step into the unknown, like the elderly man with the pear tree, and create an opportunity for goodness? You’re not bothering me — of course, you can pick my fruit.

Is it naïve? Maybe.

Are we asking for trouble? Perhaps.

Will our cider be sweeter? Absolutely.

They will know us by our fruit.