The fruit fly hadn't crossed my mind. Had I guessed at Sunny California's ultimate nemesis, I'd have said the plum curculio. One may indeed wonder why anybody in Maine would ponder the insect problem in the Golden State, and I can explain that. Here in Maine we observe stated holidays, and we also make a ceremony on the occasion of the season's first apple pie. With our family, we favored the Gravenstein. There are earlier apples and there are other apples, but the first Gravensteins to ready themselves for the sacrifice deserve special respect. On the day in mind, many years ago now, my cook had prepared two such beautiful pies as ever hatched, and had gone on some errand to leave me to extricate them from the oven when ready. There is a big secret about cooking some things that I have never known the accredited experts to suggest - the efficacy of a declining fire. Recipes say to heat the oven to such-and-such, and then let 'er rip. No. Some things like to be eased off, and a Gravenstein pie that is unwisely baked will juice itself all over the place, and that is why oven-cleaner stock pays dividends. Let the oven be heated to seven times what it is wont to be heated, and then let the fire go out. Bake the little rascals on the dequantitation and let serenity prevail.
Done to perfection and steaming like old 98 on a downgrade, the pies were just on the shelf when two automobiles came into the yard and people descended. They were visitors from California, touring Maine, and they looked in my door to cry, ''Oh, look - PIES!'' As we chatted, my cook came home and with characteristic hospitality she suggested hot apple pie and farm cream, so there went my pies. The Californians left with the usual ''. . . if you're ever out our way . . .'' and I went down to the Gravenstein tree for some more apples.
A little less than a year later I had a letter from one of these people. It went, ''We've told our friends here about your wonderful apple pies, and they don't believe us. Please ship us a bushel of your Maine apples so we can prove we don't lie.''
Aha! The bushel of prime Maine Gravensteins that I gave to Railway Express never reached Calfornia. Came the little post card telling me apples cannot enter California on account of plum curculio. I had a choice: (1) abandon the shipment; (2) readdress to another state; (3) pay return charges. I did nothing - because apples were then about 35 cents a barrel. But I spoke to our Maine Commissioner of Agriculture about this, asking him if he knew California had such a law. ''Oh, yes,'' he said.
I asked him if plum curculios ride around a good deal on Gravenstein apples, and he laughed. He said, ''The law is to protect the California orchardists. Nobody in his right mind would buy a California apple if he could get anything else, so they just outlaw anything else. The plum curculio is the excuse.''
''Then,'' I said, ''why don't we enact a reciprocity law?''
''If we did that, we'd be no better than them, would we?'' Fine old duffer. He was the one who tried to lick the European corn borer.
At one time almost all the tinned sweetcorn used in the country was grown in Maine. We had a corn belt up the middle of the state, and almost every town had its ''cornshop.'' There had always been an endemic borer that went for the tassels and stocks, but all at once we had the threat of an invasion by the European corn borer, which hatches in the silky whorls and chews away at the kernels. Saying, ''. . . this is the worser of the two weevils,'' our commissioner asked for funds to set up a quarantine. For years we had uniformed inspectors at all border points taking sweetcorn away from traffic, hoping thus to prevent the boogie from bankrupting the Maine corn growers. There isn't a cornshop in Maine today, not because the borer got in anyway - which he did - but because Mid-west packers and Gresham's Law tapered us off. Market growers spray and home gardeners drop mineral oil on the whorls, and we've learned to live with the European corn borer. We did as much, here in Maine, with the bronze beetle, the sawfly, the spruce budworm, the Colorado potato bug, and now we're tackling the gypsy moth. Someday, they say, the insects will take everything over.
Awhile back we had a severe winter that frosted out many Maine apple trees, Baldwins and Gravensteins in particular. I haven't seen a Gravenstein since then , so our traditional ceremonial feast is reduced to lesser varieties. But we make out. I've never seen a plum curculio; wonder what it is?