Friday, October 26, 2007

Apples to Apples

The fine young gents and I went to the corn maze yesterday with their cousins. I've never been to the corn maze before and it was dandy fun. Here's a tip: Wear boots. It's muddy.

And go with a group during the day. All of the school groups are going to the pumpkin patch instead, if you have more than 10 people you get the group rate, and you can see. If you aren't fortunate enough to have a sister who popped out enough kids to nearly get the group rate all on her own, invite friends. (How long do you think until I get a nasty email saying, "What do you mean about popping out kids?" Heh heh.) Paying $12 a head to wander around a corn field bumping into shrieking preteens in the dark doesn't appeal; paying $2.50 each to wander around an empty corn field without having to worry that strangers will see you doing the hokey-pokey to choose your way, or about losing the little ones, priceless. Well, technically not priceless. It cost me $10.

What does this have to do with apples, you ask? Well, nothing. We did buy the apples at the farm stand after we went through the corn maze and looked at the goats, but I could have just said "We went to the farm and bought apples while we were there." This saves me having to write a separate post about the corn maze. I'm lazy, er, efficient that way.

First grade gent is studying pioneers and the Oregon trail for history. Last week we found a fabulous library book, Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains (Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Henderson). Apples to Oregon is a delightful tall tale, the story of how a young girl named Delicious (along with her brothers and sisters) helps her daddy bring an orchard from Iowa to Oregon. Outlandish as only a tall tale can be, it is based on the true story of Henderson Lewelling and his family, who brought apple and other fruit trees to the Willamette Valley and planted the first orchard in Milwaukee, Oregon. The story is a perfect read-aloud, funny and clever, and the illustrations are wonderful.

The apple facts on the back cover of Apples to Oregon prompted a discussion about apple varieties. Fine young gent and I decided that it would be great fun to have an apple-tasting, and since we were at a farm stand yesterday which offered several varieties of apples, we seized the opportunity. The apples we chose were crisp, fresh, local, and cost less than they would have at the grocery store. With the help of their cousins, the boys chose Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Jonathon, Jonagold, and Marlow. Likely none of those varieties were around in pioneer times, but we had to make do with the varieties available.

They were all lovely apples. Jonagold won for best flavor (3 votes), with the aptly named Honeycrisp, honey-sweet and perfectly crisp, a close second (2 votes). Golden Delicious, with its the milder flavor and texture, was the favorite of the youngest gent; middle gent preferred the Jonathon apple. The poor Marlow variety didn't get any votes, but I suspect that may be because it was a bit past its prime, and though it had a nice flavor it just couldn't compete with those other perfectly ripe apples.

What does this have to do with school, you ask? We learned about the first orchard in Oregon and how it got here (history), we read and discussed a new form of writing, the tall tale (literature), fine young gent read the book himself and wrote a book report (reading and writing). He also wrote the apple names (handwriting and spelling), tallied the votes and colored a graph showing our family's apple preferences (math), and we talked about food groups and the nutritional value of apples and other fruits (health). One of my favorite things about homeschooling is the flexibility we have to just follow our noses. The ladies and gents find something that they enjoy or that makes them want to know more, and I find ways to squeeze the larnin' out of it.

Comparing apples to apples: An apple-tasting

You need:
Apples, at least 4-5 different varieties
Paper towels or paper plates upon which to write the names of the apple varieties and to place the apple slices
A knife and cutting board
People to taste the apples
A pencil and paper and/or graph paper if you'd like to record or graph the results

First, choose your apples, approximately one apple of each variety for every 5-7 people. We got about 14-16 slices per apple, depending on the size, so one apple of each variety was more than enough for our family of seven. Try to choose apples that are fresh and at their prime so you get the best flavors.

Next, label the apples. At the fruit stand I didn't write down the names of the apples we'd chosen, thinking I'd remember them when we got home. Ha! I called the kids' cousins. Can you believe that from the suggestions, "Mabel Rose" and "Marley" and "Marigold" I actually remembered that the last variety was called Marlow?
Last, slice, taste, and vote. We wrote our votes right on the paper towels next to the apple names and created the graph later. That way we didn't have to stop to do the math part until we were done with our snack.

All of the apple slices were gone by the end of the afternoon, and loving husband picked up a bag of Jonagolds at the grocery store this afternoon.

Interested in apple varieties? More than you'd ever want to know about apple varieties on the Comprehensive Apple Variety List. Except I can't find "Marlow" on the list, so mow I'm wondering if I've still got the name wrong. Hmmm.....

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