Here, a group of farmers and hired boxers sort spoiled fruit from good, boxing up what they can. So much (too much) was winter softened, barely sellable... but still sweet. One man handed us two apples as we walked by and we ate them with appreciative sounds. They really were pretty good.
At one time, the apples that were grown in the Brajčino valley were sent all over the balkans, from Ljubljana to Zagreb. They were prized for their flavor and their hardiness, and the cider brandy made from the fruit was famous in Macedonia.
"When I was little," a woman we spoke with said, "the trees were huge - bigger than any other apple trees, bigger than these little ones they plant today." The woman, named Milka, was back in Brajčino after years living in Sweden - she, like almost everyone else in the village, had left as soon as she got a chance.
It's not quite accurate - the older residents of Brajčino grow enough fruit to sell and make a living - but her point about the size of the orchards is true enough. In the high, sloping soil there's not much room for big operations and thousands of trees. The orchards are small collections of a few hundred apples, following old terraced land down the stream, spilling out around the village and creeping a little ways up the valley towards the snowline. One of the main problems that the villagers have is preserving their harvest - because there's no large-scale refrigeration infrastructure, they're forced to sell most of their apples in season, at rock-bottom prices. If they save some fruit, it's liable to go bad, like the crates the man was dumping into the stream.
The workers toasted us as we passed by with our bags. I stopped for a few quick pictures and one young Roma man laughed and shouted "facebook." The sun was shining, everyone was in a good mood except the owner of the barn. He walked from bucket to bucket, looking at the fruit that had been cast aside and grumbling.