Apples? Don't get Steve Weber started. Especially about those honey crisps.
"Everytime you take a bite you get a mouthful of juice. I hate the damned things," said the owner of Weber's Cider Mill Farm in Parkville.
Behind this paradox is a simple fact — honey crisps are the most popular eating apple, but the hardest to grow because they suck calcium out of the soil.
"You've got to have them because that's what everyone wants. But they're nothing but trouble — a big pain," Weber said.
Apples are on his mind right now because this is the peak of the season. His strawberries and blueberries are a distant memory and peaches have had their late summer run.
This is the time for apples on his farm, which is a bustling attraction in late October with pumpkins to pick, hay bales to climb, animals to pet and scarecrows to stuff. Children are everywhere.
And, everyone wants apples and apple cider. Weber's offers, at different times, 19 varieties of apples. Some come from other growers — his galas are from New Zealand — but Weber's has its own fruit trees at PeachBerry Farm in Glen Arm, where you can also pick your own.
Apple growing is fraught with intrigue, Weber said, what with patents and licensing for individual strains. He said he was once accused of growing apples that he had no right to grow.
Then, there are "club varieties." These are new strains developed by growers who join an exclusive club. He said he paid $1,000 to get in a club developing evercrisps.
"This is going to be a great apple," he said.
Weber said he offers four different kinds of apple cider, including a white, late season "Christmas cider" that looks almost as pale as milk and goes for $7.49 a gallon.
Discussion of cider inevitably leads to a recounting of the history of Weber's, which was founded in 1908 by Steve Weber's grandparents, Jacob and Wilhomena Weber. The farm peaked at about 100 acres, but as land was sold off (including the campus of Pine Grove Middle School) it drew down to the current 14 acres on the Weber's home farm.
It was in 1947 that the family bought a Runkle's Co. Cider Mill from a New Jersey farmer and began to press the farm's apples into cider. Today's cider comes from that same mill, although it is currently stored in steel tanks instead of wooden barrels.
When operating, the cider mill presses out 300 gallons an hour, usually in batches of 1,000 gallons.
Steve Weber and his wife Jo-Ann have run the farm and its grocery store, barns and fields since 1971. He has four children and two grandchildren and they turn up among the work force.
It is noticeable that the work force — sorting vegetables, manning registers, serving ice cream, keeping an eye on the children — is mostly teenagers.
Weber said his payroll is currently about 80, about two-thirds teenagers. He said word has long been out at Loch Raven and Parkville high schools that Weber's is a rewarding part-time job.
"Now, your high school boys will come to work here because the high school girls work here. We've even had marriages," Weber said. "They are talented, smart and agreeable. They come from families that want their children to know the value of work."
Will Korzi, 17, a senior at Loch Raven High, took time out from sorting fruit to say he applied for the job "because a lot of my friends said it was a good experience."
Any perks? "The cider slushie they give us on our way home," he said.
How about meeting girls? He answered with just a smile.
Sarah Byrne, 15, a Pine Grove Middle School grad now attending Notre Dame Prep, was making sure children headed into the barn had the required wrist band. She described her job as a "floater" who stepped in where needed.
She said she grew up within walking distance of Weber's. "I came to a lot of birthday parties here," she said.
Weber's also employs a handful of seasonal workers who hail from Chihuahua, Mexico. "These guys know fruit," Weber said.
Weber likes to wander around greeting customers. A woman with a foreign accent has a huge pumpkin in her cart and wants to know what it will cost. "You'll have to weigh it first," he said, but then called over a clerk and instructed her to give the woman the employee discount.
Only five miles north of the Baltimore line, the Weber's farm started out growing produce that was delivered to markets in the city. Now, the city comes to Weber's. They even come far from Baltimore.
Connie Hicks of Fallston brought her visiting relatives from Tennessee to check out Weber's. While the grownups checked out the produce, Weber was snapping a ring cutter down on apples and handing out slices to their children.