Written by Dale Suderman Tuesday, 19 December 2006 18:00"Oh, you shouldn't have," my Chicago friends said when I presented them with Kansas hedge apples as Christmas gifts.
This year I was determined to give gifts that were American made, organic and meaningful. And the green, softball-sized fruit of the Osage Orange tree seemed the perfect token of my appreciation.
In part I was inspired by seeing hedge apples for sale at three for a dollar in a Missouri antique mall while driving to Kansas. I realized I could harvest them for free at my brother's farm.
(Too late for this year but I discovered you can order six "organic" hedge apples for $18.95-including shipping and handling-via the Internet.)
So on Thanksgiving Day, my great-nephew Chase let me ride on the back of the four-wheeler. We set out to pick the greenest and cleanest hedge apples.
I made a little presentation speech as I handed these precious jewels from the earth to friends-just to make the unwrapped gift seem a little more personal.
For my New Age friends, I presented hedge apples as an organic orb representative of the green earth.
For African-American friends, I presented them as Kwanzaa Apples-a new part of this very recent tradition of celebrating the post-Christmas season as an ethnic holiday
For Jewish friends, these were titled as Hanukah Apples-a less-known part of their tradition of dreidels and lighting eight candles. They seemed perplexed at this unknown tradition, but I reminded them that some traditions were more obscure than others.
For the interior decorator types, I reminded them they could go to the Martha Stewart Web site and find decorating tips for using hedge apples to make wonderful dried flowers. Otherwise, merely placing them in a crystal bowl on an end table makes a wonderfully festive accent piece.
For the backyard gardeners, I gave both the gift and tips on how to allow the hedge apple to decay and to pluck out the seeds to start an impenetrable fence in their backyards.
"Chicago is a bit north of their regular growing area, but I think if you cover them in winter they will mature," I added helpfully.
For my European friends, I pointed out this was the fruit of the Bois d'arc as the French explorers first titled Osage Orange trees-a bridge between the old world and the new.
The expatriate Kansans were the most touched. I had taken the trouble to bring them a gift from the homeland.
Most of my friends seemed grateful. They seemed to know they had received a unique gift carefully selected for them.
Alas, some of my friends have a candor that veers toward rudeness.
Apparently hedge apples are too heavy to hang on Christmas trees, as I had suggested. The result was complaints of broken branches and even a toppled tree.
My lawyer friend at work picked it up and said, "Why are you giving me what looks like an extremely distressed orange?"
(I suspect her years as a divorce lawyer has made her far too distrusting and too reality based.)
Some friends were upset that hedge apples were inedible. I was tempted to suggest they could be used as a flavoring for soups and stews-just to see how this would work out-but my own sense of legal liability precluded me from this experiment.
Others pointed out that hedge apples left as desk ornaments tend to rot rather rapidly. (Next year we will see if a coat of clear varnish will help to preserve them.)
One friend said, "Listen, you try to give me a hedge apple and you might as well put a lump of coal in my stocking. I dang near broke my ankle on those suckers when I used to run cross country at Bethel College."
(Needless to say, some friends are not worthy of even being on next year's Christmas list.)
Perhaps there is some tie between hedge apples and the deepest meaning of Christmas. In this season the humble become magnificent, the obscure are remembered and being of good cheer and being of good humor are not too far apart.
Wishing one and all a Merry Christmas.
You can contact the writer at Suderman@aol.com.