Interlude: Finding an Apple

“The apple trees of yesteryear are slowly disappearing. Many apple varieties common in the U.S. a century ago can no longer be found in today’s orchards and nurseries. But some historic apple trees still survive in abandoned farmsteads and historic orchards throughout the U. S.” –ScienceDaily


Interlude: Finding an Apple

One morning this past spring I arrived on the farm and saw a silver tree standing in the field behind the farmhouse.  I had to get closer and see what was glowing.  As I neared, I realized the brilliance came from a fruit tree covered with apple blossoms.

Mule Springs Farm Apple Tree
Cloud of apple blossoms.

No one has lived at Mule Springs Farm in over fifty years. The house was built in the 1870s, and it’s possible for apple trees to survive more than one hundred years. In fact many “American horticulturalists and historians often refer to the late 19th century as the “golden years of apple growing” when scores of apple and other fruit trees were planted in farmstead and kitchen orchards.”  So the tree and its nearby “barely blooming” neighbor might be pruned and revived to bear fall fruit.

I return to the tree a few weeks later and see lots of little apples, but they are too close together. A friend tells us the best time to prune and thin is in winter or early spring, and we are late, but I’m eager to do something. So, Bruce and I set about picking off every third apple, so each remaining apple is at least a hand’s width away from the other.  The added space allows the remaining apple to grow large and juicy.

Clustered apples before thinning.
Bruce is busy thinning.

But what type of apple do we have? Over 14,000 apple cultivars exist, but only eleven varieties are found in our supermarkets. We know them by names such as Red and Golden Delicious, Gala, and Fuji.

Perhaps ours is one of the 6,654 rare apple varieties listed in W.H. Ragan’s 1804-1904 Nomenclature of the Apple.  Maybe it’s a Winter Banana, a Rome Beauty, Wolf River, or a Black Gilliflower? Looks a bit like a Fall Pippin to me.

A look at our mystery apple.

I hope it’s possible to eat the apple right off the tree, but if not, then maybe it can be sliced and layered with cinnamon, lemon, and sugar into a pie, or its fibers juiced into cider.  Even apple butter is a possibility.  In late September when the apples are ready to twist from the tree we will know: eat, bake, or juice.

Questions for you: If you were marooned on a desert island and the island could grow only one type of fruit- a fruit you would eat every day–what type of fruit would it be?

What is your favorite apple and why?

20 thoughts on “Interlude: Finding an Apple

  1. The photo of the silver tree is so beautiful. I love how you focus in on one aspect of your property and examine it so sensitively. I think apple trees are divine. My favorite apple is the MacIntosh, which is an important native here in New England. It brings the loveliest memories of my childhood during the cool autumn months when we used to go to the local orchard and pick these apples and then eat as many as we could before we even got home! If I were on an island with one fruit, I would like it to be an orange, because I need my Vitamin C every day to feel really good, and also I just love the color orange! 🙂 Take care, Sher, and I look forward to your next! Leese XXOO

    1. Hi Leese- thanks for sharing your favorites and the story. You and I both LOVE orange. I appreciate the feedback. Sher

  2. That’s by far the most blossoms I’ve even seen on one apple tree! What a gorgeous “cloud” shot! Bruce looks very professional, too… It was such a late, cold, rainy spring up here, combined with the harsher-then-usual winter, that my neighbor’s orchard lost most of their crop. My one old tree had maybe twenty blossoms early on, but now I can find only two tiny fruits. The flowers might have blown off before pollination or perhaps the tree only fruits every other year. (?) I’m still contemplating my favorite apple. For now Pink Lady will do. Tart, juicy, not at all mealy, slightly irregularly shaped. It would be even more perfect if the skin were a tiny bit thinner and it popped when bitten into.

    1. Valerie- I had a reader send an email to my private email, and she has several very old trees on her small farmstead. She said the amount of blossoms and fruit on our old tree is extraordinary. I agree, because the bigger apple tree behind it had so few blossoms, I did not even notice it until much later. We will have that tree pruned next year also to see if we can revive it, but the smaller tree is amazing, and I am so excited to see what these apples are like. You and I have similar taste buds, because Pink Lady is definitely one of my favorites. I hope by living in orchard and small farm country that I can taste heirloom apples this fall. Hood River has a huge Harvest Festival and this may be the place to get some unusual apples. It is a shame that main production apples have become such a monoculture. Loved your description of Pink Lady.

    1. Valerie-I also love Rainier Cherries. Bruce prefers the sweet Bings, but Bings almost border on too sweet for me. What are custard cherries, I haven’t heard of them.

  3. How exciting to find an apple tree! My favourite apples are Braeburn – a little tart, and very juicy. I’m very fond of stewed apple, cooked with LOTS of cinnamon. Or else a baked apple, cored, and with sultanas and a dab of butter . I’m not fond of apple pie though, never have been. In this part of the world they tend to be doughy and heavy.

    1. Alison- oh my –sultanas- are those like bananas/plantains at all? Fun to hear what you enjoy–everyone has such different tastes. Great fun.

    1. Is a paw-paw and mango similar in taste, or is the mango sweeter? I’ve never tasted paw-paw, but think of it as more sour. Is that so, or…? It is so hard to get good mangoes or papayas here that I guess I hadn’t even considered those fruits Alison. You are fortunate indeed if you can get fresh mangoes. Is South Africa much of an apple grower?

  4. I’m still thinking about which fruit I would eat everyday…

    My favorite “old” apple is a MacIntosh – crisp, thin-skinned that is good for eating. My favorite “new” apple is the Jazz – not sure why, just like it.

    1. Deb- I have never even heard of Jazz. I will look for it. As far as the island goes– I would choose an apple, but an island covered with 100 varieties. I can see exploring to find each special place where a different type of apple would grow. Plus, if you could cook, there is a lot you could do with apples. Of all the fruits apple is my favorite- with apricot coming in second.

  5. Persimmons!!!
    We have a northern spy apple that was an old tree in 1926 when Stephen’s folks moved in here at Seabeck, his favorite, crisp and tart. Gravenstien is my favorite: crisp & sweet/tart!
    What fun you are having, thanks for sharing!!!

    1. I assume Peri – you enjoy the sweet persimmons. LOL Bruce remembers persimmons as being very sour, but he must be recalling a sour version, because the persimmons we got in our organic box in Ketchikan were always wonderful. My first try at persimmons.

      1926 that is an old apple. 🙂 Sher

  6. What a wonderful experience the two of you are embarking on and to find this beautiful apple tree!! The tree looks alot like the apple tree that was in my backyard in Pleasant Hill, Oregon when I was a child. Tart little green apples, made very good pies and good just to eat by themselves, maybe pippin? I miss Oregon so much! I miss that deep green of the grass and fir trees. Also the Oregon coastline I feel is the the most picturesque! Thank you for sharing this project with us! Sorry I missed the rainy picnic, everyone looks very happy in the photo. Im glad it was good day for all that attended 🙂

    1. Hi Mary- great to hear from you. I had a huge surprise regarding this apple tree when Bruce and I went to look at it yesterday…. It’s a shock really–and tonight I am going back WITH my camera, and I will post a note with photos soon.
      A pippin is a good guess and one I hadn’t thought of. …smiles , Sher

      1. Oh! I just realized i didnt add what my favorite fruit was.. I do love those little green apples from long ago..but..if I could only have one it would have to be a juicy peach! Do you remember the book James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl?? I read that book when I was about 13 and I have always craved peaches in the summertime! It was summer when I read that book and I coulndt get enough peaches that summer!! The way the writer describes the peach in the book is literally mouth watering! 🙂

      2. Peaches–yes! I am so hoping to get some that are grown on farms in The Dalles. I will have to miss this week’s farmer’s market though; I pray next weekend I will luck out.

      3. Mmmmm…farmers market!! I miss all of that!!! I love Ketchikan but there are so many things that are missing here!! Like easy to grow all kinds of vegetable gardens!! Fresh tomatoes, havent had a fresh tomato from a garden in I have no idea, years!!

      4. I know…tomatoes and corn…two staples from the farms down south. At least rhubarb grows well there. 🙂 And ferns…moss, well, and primroses. We can’t grow those moisture loving beauties in hot Oregon.

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