Apple Picking in Green Slovenia!
When someone asks you to go apple picking in Green Slovenia, you will not be going to a modern shiny shop to select a plastic device probably costing more than a small orchard.. you will really be going apple picking in Green nature..
But even we were not prepared and surprised about how much fun you can have doing this in Green Slovenia!
Well, our friend and top Slovenian chef, Rihard Basa, gave us a bell (*) and said those very words.. "do you want to come apple picking"?!
So off we tootled to Rihards', with a few baskets in the boot, fully expecting to climb up a ladder, pluck a few "Granny Smith's" from the branches, have a nice chat, maybe try Rihard's latest culinary inventions & then go home..
But this is not how you pick apples in Slovenia.. there was a lot more fun to be had and technique & tradition to be observed..
Every opportunity we get.. we recommend to our visitors to spend at least some time with a local person.. whether it be exploring with a local guide or just chatting with a stranger under a spruce tree in the middle of the forest or half way up a mountain..
In our humble opinion local people are the biggest Slovenian secret for you to discover here and after the first few nervous, embarassing minutes, they really are good fun to be with!
If you can get invited to do anything in Green nature with a local then you really have hit the jackpot.. it can be absolutely anything, it doesn't matter what.. going to look at their garden, trying their schnapps, making hay bales, picking mushrooms in the forest, riding a Lipizzaner, going for a walk, potato picking, wine harvesting.. or on this particular occasion.. apple picking!
So this is how you pick apples in Slovenia!!..
The first wonderful thing that goes completely out of the window is any sense of time when you are invited by a Slovenian to do anything together.. you will almost certainly end up on a random rollercoaster that can whizz around for hours of unexpected fun..
So we arrived at Rihard's to find the famous chef in the thick of it on his driveway, standing in wellies, (rubber boots), with hosepipes going everywhere, huge water filled plastic containers bobbing with apples and another big metal contraption looking like a mini spaceship in the middle of it all..
He jumped into his tractor and off we followed to the edge of the pretty southern Slovenian village where he has one of his many vegetable gardens near a little orchard on the side of a hill, that we hadn't noticed on previous visits..
There were already some blue plastic sheets under the furthest tree and it wasnt long before we realised how Slovenians "do apple picking".. Rihard climbed up the tree and used a massive wooden stick with a fork at the end to give the heavy apple laden branches one hell of a shake..
.. and then what can best be described as a "tsunami" of perfect apples came flying off the tree and rolled down the hill in an "applelanche"!
There was a long, man made river ditch at the bottom of the field, currently empty of water, but now full of apples, so we were given baskets and buckets and off we went to start collecting the apples that had settled there!
We still weren't entirely sure how the process would go, so we dutifully brought our first full buckets to Nadija, Rihard's wife at the "apple picking control centre" by the tractor and out came a big sack that was then filled, tied up and placed in the big scoop container at the rear of the tractor.. aha, now we knew what to do..
All the time while picking, you are catching up on the gossip, chatting and having fun in green nature and saying hi to neighbours as they pop past and stop to check the quality of the apples..
We quickly realised that we had been examining every apple way too carefully to make sure they passed "apple quality control".. (in fact pretty much everything passed), so our speed soon picked up and the bags filled and filled.. not one apple went to waste.
We were so engrossed in our work we hadn't noticed Rihard examining the next tree.. with all the apples on the floor collected, we thought we had got enough to treat a whole herd of Lipizzaners!
We stopped for a short break for the non drivers to try a schnapps and were given our next job reassembling the plastic sheets under the new tree!
Rihard climbed it like a bear and shouted to stand back a bit, so we took a few steps down the hill and when the tree shook, we quickly realised we were way too close this time!
Apples bounced down like cricket balls flying past our ears! There was a rattle like mini thunder as they hit the plastic sheets and rolled down the hill.. wow, this was really a unique experience in nature for us!
Having last climbed a tree 35 years ago, Chris was, of course, perfectly qualified to ignore any safety concerns and climb up that tree with that big stick to loosen the straggling persistent apples.. just too juicy and tempting to leave there!
The stick was both surprisingly effective at dislodging the apples and heavy at the same time, but everything within reach was wiggled off the tree and not one apple was left on the ground.. we had so many full sacks of apples by now and this was why the tractor was necessary..
Back at Basa Base our apple education continued as the sacks were poured into a huge plastic continer to be washed and then loaded into a menacing looking shredder that could turn your tie into a bow tie in just a gust of wind..
The pulp was then scooped into a big jug and poured into that big metal space machine thingy where the water was switched on and somehow the purest apple juice you could wish to see was gushing out of a hosepipe into another container!
Amazingly we had been so focussed on not letting our hosts down and doing a good job, we hadn't even eaten one of the apples, but now was the time to try the apple nectar and wow, on a hot early autumn day this was a very special natural taste indeed!
After each cycle, Rihard opened the big metal juicer to clean out the squeezed peel and it was only then that we realised how the entire process worked.. there was a big flexible inflatable water bottle inside the machine and this filled with water and expanded, so it totally squeezed the juice out of the mushed apples.. very clever and very simple..
We asked Rihard what happens with this waste apple mush and he said it amounts to about 20% of what we picked and he usually puts it in the forest for the wild animlas to eat.. deer and wild pigs.. so nothing goes to waste!
Today we were making delicious apple juice, but apples are also distilled here to make cider and apple brandy (schnapps) and if you keep it for about 3 years you can get the most amazing apple vinegar!
Rihard is also currently researching a method he heard about from Italy where the waste apple is made into eco flour and used in baking cakes and pastries!
It was very thirsty work so we drank a lot of apple juice and later on Rihard got the tractor out to take us on a ride up through the village to the middle of the forest where he has another vegetable garden..
You could offer us any ride at Disney and we would still choose a go on the back of Rihard's tractor, which can be quickly personalised with a foam cushion to sit on and absorb some of the judders!
There were still plenty of late summer vegetables to dig up in his garden and we enjoyed the views high above the Bistrica plains to Croatia as we bounced back down the hill on the tractor adventure, waving wildly at villagers!
What a fantastic day we had.. it was completely different to what we might have expected and we rounded it all off by stopping at an old converted petrol station on the outskirts of the town (don't be scared, but the town is called illirska Bistrica) to get some really fab ice cream.. it is made by a family with a long tradition in the town and they used to have a classic ice cream parlour in the town centre for years.. somehow this has come to an end, but we were delighted to get a few delicious scoops at their new location..
We consider it our duty to try as much ice cream around Slovenia as possible.. and we only know of one other place that can match the quality of the ice cream here in Bistrica, (in Vipava Old Town).. it is really that good here on the way to Opetija and Rijeka over the Croatian border!
Some of our luckiest guests also find the time to go visit and hang out with Rihard for a fantastic afternoon out.. maybe help him pick some vegetables or go on a hike with him and he usually ends the day cooking up a little something in his kitchen for guests to try!
We are pretty sure that if we had stayed in corporate Britain, we might well be driving from traffic jam to traffic jam in a nice BMW and picking our apples from a supermarket shelf, but wowsers.. we would have been totally oblivious to some of the simple delights of Green nature you can experience here in little old Slovenia..
Imagine climbing a tree that just had to be climbed and shaking apples down in your 51st year, then helping to make pure apple juice from them and gulping it down..
All this in the same particular year in which we E biked 60km up and over a mountain to get from the Lodge to the Vipava wine valley.. climbed up a waterfall on our hands and knees.. walked over a perilous bridge that leads to a tower.. hiked to a mountain plateau covered in magical black ponds and mini pine trees and E Biked up another mountain to see 3 Alps in one panorama..
Of course you can also swim in the warm mediterranean sea or crystal clear lakes here, try unique wines in hidden valleys and explore caves & gorges and waterfalls.. and we did all that too!
And if you are really, really lucky.. you might get to go apple picking!!
Yep.. we just wouldn't have done any or all that if we hadn't moved to Green Slovenia.. but you too can do all this here for a couple of weeks a year as well.. it is up to you.. why not give it a go and get back to Green nature for memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life!
* to give someone a bell = to phone someone in Cockney rhyming slang.. (Alexander Graham Bell.. inventor of the phone).. toodlepip!