Mama Madison: Apple picking at Eplegaarden in Fitchburg

Fall. So many traditions to look forward to: back-to-school shopping, weekly college football picks, my sister's High Holiday kugel (savory, never sweet) and my family's annual apple picking adventure to Eplegaarden in Fitchburg.

If you haven't yet been there, it is a pick-your-own orchard just south of Madison with a distinctly Old World feel. Signs are in faux Norwegian, giving instructions in things such as "selv plukking." The farm is also home to Harold Potterson's Haunted House , a uniquely unscary, grass roots attraction featuring "da little cuzzin of da famess vizard from Yolly ole England."

I challenge anyone to find a more smile-inducing slice of Americana (Norwegicana?) than this place, an ode to the time before Trader Joe's supplied our fruit. And if you have little ones, it is a manageable size. Overall, I don't think we cover more terrain on an excursion through through the orchard than I do on an average trip to Woodman's.

On a recent Sunday, my extended family made our annual pilgrimage to the shrine of the unwaxed apple. Plukking is even more fun in a big group, and having my pre-school aged nephews along provides added delight. There is no more picturesque and wholesome image than watching a two-year-old, entranced as Eve, pulling a live apple off a tree.

Wholesome does not always equate with quiet in my family, though. I repeatedly break the pastoral peace, needing to remind everyone in my posse, kids and adults alike, that the yellow crime scene tape around certain rows of fruit is there for a reason. And there are always the inevitable battles over what varieties to bring home. Do you waste some of your precious bag "real estate "on galas, a grocery store strain, no matter how fresh they may be? Or should the goal be to hunt down exotic (and perhaps endangered) species like Zestar and Northern Spy -- names I've never even heard of.

And please don't get me started on the Bubba Gump issue I encounter when we get home (remember shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo…?). What in heaven's name am I going to do with 20 pounds of apples? I doubt apple etouffee is very good.

But we don't let any of these hiccups get in the way of our tradition. In some ways it is these little tensions that make us family, give us our roots. Strains of Fiddler on the Roof are now running through my head (must be the kugel). I guess it doesn't matter if you are Tevye or Ole and Lena -- the song remains the same. A little grounding is what helps us keep our balance in an increasingly complicated world.

L'Chaim/Skal, y'all. I'm off to find something to make for dinner -- with apples.

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