I recognize Julius as a regular weekend pie guy. In the summer months, he gravitates towards peach, bypassing the jumble berries and the blueberries, ignoring the key limes and anything plum-my. Fortunately, we’ve enjoyed a bountiful stone fruit season and crates of fresh peaches have been rolling through the bakery doors at least once a week, sometimes more. The odds seemed in our favor that peach season had been extended, until the sweet peaches were a little less sweet and the apple man cometh.
When the apple man arrives, I get that school-bus-rounding-the-corner feeling in the pit of my stomach. Parking an unassuming white truck just past the café tables and chairs fronting the bakery, the man from Lancaster Farms unloads a wooden pallet of fruit. An assortment of early apples, a few stragglers of late peaches, and a case of smooth skinned nectarines are hermetically sealed beneath yards of high density plastic wrap. I’m sad to see more apples than stone fruit, heralding the official end of summer.
All it takes is one honey loaf and an apple cake, and we are shot out of the holiday canon tumbling headfirst into the jaws of seasonal baked goods. No longer will we amuse ourselves selecting cookie cutters that align with fabricated food holidays. Pie shells will aggressively fight for freezer space and Christmas Red will nudge Pumpkin Orange for its rightful place amidst the Ameri-gel food colorings. If you breathe deeply, your nose will tickle with the fresh scent of candy corn followed by an assault of peppermint stick.
In a bakery, there’s nothing gradual about the unfolding of summer into autumn, nothing casual about the segue from Thanksgiving into Christmas. It happens in an instant, one holiday crashing into the next and before you know it, Ryan Seacrest is mouthing the words to “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.
With one holiday behind us and the next one approaching in less than a week, it seems perfectly reasonable to feel a little bit anxious at the sight of the apple man. And from peach pie seeker Julius, his surprise and dismay is understandable, especially when the mercury continues to hover around 80 degrees.
I ask Julius to consider the nectarine. A combination of white peaches and nectarines might bake up a little sweeter, echoing the flavor of summer peaches he's hoping for. “Oh no,” Julius assures me. “No nectarines. Peach. Just peach.” Shaking his salt and pepper head Julius half-apologizes, “I thought peaches were still in season.” I explain that peaches are winding down and point to the apple pies stacked on the front table. Behind me, a woman is engrossed in her phone, agonizing whether to order an apple cake for Tuesday morning or Wednesday afternoon. “It’s the holiday!” she emphasizes into her cellphone. Don’t I know it.
“Tell me what time the pie will be ready, and I’ll come back,” Julius offers.
At four o’clock, Julius returns to pick up his pie. The cello window of the bakery box is cloudy with steam, the pie almost too hot to carry. “No nectarines,” I assure him. “Straight-up peach.”
“This peach pie reminds me of my grandmother,” Julius explains. Gathering up the box, he pauses. “Apples you can get anytime, but peaches…” he trails off, clearly revisiting a food memory. Some days, my job is pretty sweet.