It was the kind of fall morning that Michigan does best: mist rising off the bay, sun just up over the horizon, leaves on the cusp of their burning beauty.
The day promised sunshine, warmth, and apples. Lots of apples.
My friend Bill Sherman has been telling me about his family business, and invited me to come out and take a look. It’s a business that grows bountiful, beautiful Michigan produce, cooks it all up, and supplies grocery stores (many, many) with products like jars of very delicious applesauce that the shops label and sell themselves. Here the grower and maker of the applesauce is like a supportive spouse, one doing heavy lifting but quietly, intelligently, while the other one faces the crowd.
Not unlike my excursion into the glory of Michigan cherries in Leelanau, this adventure took me into the heart of some of the most fertile of our lands, out along Lake Charlevoix and then down the coast of Grand Traverse Bay. The land is peninsula-like all over the place here, with inland lakes and arms of the lakes on every side, making everything grow like crazy.
To get there, we started by crossing the south arm of Lake Charlevoix by ferry, at Ironton. I nearly jumped out of my seat with the thrill of it when I saw we’d be driving onto the ferry. Bill was amused; simple pleasures. Our ferries in Michigan are a treasure, a total treat every time I encounter them (like crossing over to Drummond Island last fall). The Ironton Ferry is captained by Bob, who told me that the peninsula I was admiring is Hemingway Point, named by and for Ernest’s uncle.
Bob also told me about the Ironton ferry’s former longstanding captain, whose claim to fame was going the farthest anyone ever had without leaving home. He lived just there on one side of the crossing, and went back and forth so many times that he traversed a lot of ground, but stayed home.
That old captain got me thinking about home, of course, about coming back home as I have, and about the ground that one can cover when one feels, and is, truly at home.
The business of family business, a pleasantly recurring theme Up North, also sent my mind racing. It’s just always nice to see families who can stay at it for years and then generations without doing each other in, and while they’re at it employing lots of local people and making their mothers proud (Bill and his brothers keep the family home that their parents built on the farmland here. “Mom was proud of us,” Bill said. He and his three brothers ate lunch at her house a few times a week, hearty Midwestern meals. Growing millions of pounds of produce every year makes a son hungry). The whole thing made me want to round up the Abood five and their families and set up shop together, all of us, deep in the heart of Northern Michigan while Mom makes us lunch.
Our drive took us into the apple orchards where beautiful green Mutsu apples are being hand-picked every day right now. Then we went farther up the road to pick the darlings of the apple world, the Honeycrisps, for me to take home. And what darlings they were…the crispest, juiciest, most delicious and comforting apple I have ever eaten came down from a tree that day by my own hand. I can only imagine that the perfection of what I ate had to do with how fresh it was, how fertile the soil and bright the sun, how generous that terroir.
Bill told me to pick as many as I could, and he helped me pick them too by the armful. We tumbled them all on the backseat of his car.
You’ve got to have enough for your mother too, he said, going back for more. And that I did.