Thompson: Getting to the core of East County’s apple history

You’d think Johnny Appleseed, himself, went through here.

Charles H. Fattig, curator and vice president at McCleary Museum, gave me enough material to write a small book about apples in this area. You’d think Johnny Appleseed, himself, went through here.

The trees came from many sources, including the town’s founding father, Henry McCleary. He bought many trees and handed them out for planting. Of course, Eastern Washington has the perfect climate for growing the perfect apple.

Fattig recounts one story that happened in 1954. The door factory went on strike for quite some time. Several of the men thought driving east of the mountains to help with the apple harvest would gain them some much needed cash. Now, these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill men. These are door factory workers. Strong, hardy men who are not afraid of hard work. They cut their teeth on hard work.

As Fattig remembers, Mary James enjoyed telling the tale while her husband, Bob, stood by with an amused look on his face. Or was it embarrassment?

It seems the men were not used to climbing up a ladder to pick a few apples, then down and move the ladder and up again to pick a few more. Up and down, up and down. It was exhausting work. They soon learned how utterly taxing working in an orchard can be. As luck would have it, one of the men sprained his ankle and was eagerly escorted back to McCleary with a carload of his co-workers, all anxious to do the right thing and get the injured man home.

Four years earlier, there was a statewide emergency. Too many apples, not enough pickers. The Aberdeen Daily World, at the suggestion of the Chamber of Commerce, gave reporter M. Allan May “the day off” to go help pick apples in Wenatchee. May was one of 4 people to help grower Alan G. May (no relation) harvest his crop.

To say Alan G. May was anxious and delighted with the offer of help would be an understatement. When M. Allen May told him he had no experience at apple picking the orchard owner was quoted as saying, “I don’t care if you’re handless and rheumatic. You can come out and bite them off.” When May the volunteer got there, he was shown the proper way to pick an apple. You do not yank it off (or bite them off). That would pull out the stem, ruining the apple, or pull off the branch with next year’s bud on it. You must hold the stem and twist just the right amount of pressure. M. Allen May picked 47 boxes of Monitor apples in one day. Crates of apples were selling for 12 cents a box at the time. His wages for this work was dependent on the boxes he filled. The first hour he earned a little less than a dollar. By the end of the long, sore day in 1950, he was earning $1.75 an hour.

Count yourself among the fortunate if you have ever had the pleasure of making apple cider. The smell and taste of fresh apple cider cannot be duplicated with the store-bought stuff. Don’t get me wrong — the store-bought stuff is heavenly if that’s the way you have to get it.

In 1947, Frank Birindelli donated 30 sacks of apples to the McCleary Boy Scouts so they could make 60 gallons of cider for their Halloween party. Another 30 sacks of apples were sold by the Scouts to pay for their basketball uniforms. The success of the Halloween party assured plans for the community-wide Christmas program that year.

How many ways can you think of to use an apple? Eat it fresh or make apple butter, apple sauce, apple pie all the way to apple zucchini muffins — there are hundreds of delicious ways to use this universally loved fruit.

The Elma Chronicle, dated October 15, 1925, ran a story telling of Hugh Fleming raising beautiful Jonathans on his property in Elma. It told of a “freak” tree of Fleming’s that grew five different kinds of apples. Today we call that grafting or hybrid.

Linda Thompson can be reached at mccleary.