I used to think it would be great to have my own apple orchard, but I didn’t have room for an entire orchard, so I settled for four dwarf apple trees. They are nothing like the giant apple trees that I remember from childhood, trees with apples so green, hard, and bitter that a bite or two could turn your mouth inside out and give you a stomach ache for a week.
We planted four different varieties. I can’t even remember what they were except that one was Jonathan, in honor of my grandson, and one was Granny Smith. I studied the Stark Bro’s catalog all winter figuring out which trees cross-pollinate best and mature at different times so they would not all produce at the same time but stretch out over the entire apple season.
As it turned out, the pollination problem didn’t really matter as the trees died one by one until only one tree was left, thank goodness. I say thank goodness because the volume of apples produced by the one tree is way more than any ordinary suburban homeowner can deal with. Apple trees produce more apples than the tree can support, and half of them fall off still green. The birds peck some of the remainders, the rabbits and squirrels eat a few, but there are bushels left to deal with.
You can only eat so many apples: fried apples, apple pies, apple cobblers, apple dumplings, apple fritters, and everything else apple. I don’t have a freezer and I am sick of apples. I bought an apple cookbook, but I really had not intended to spend the rest of my life making apple sauce when I planted apple trees. I only wanted a few for eating. If I knew then what I know now, I would have planted a weeping willow.
The tree does not understand that it is not supposed to produce apples without another tree to cross-pollinate with. I suspect it of fooling around with the crab apple tree. I was surprised to learn that you cannot plant an apple seed and expect to get the same sort of tree as the tree the seed came from. Each tree produced from seed is different from the parent, probably due to the unknown pollinator.
Most apples from seeds are small and bitter, like the ones I remember from youth. A few by chance have desirable characteristics and those are cloned (actually, grafted) to produce an apple like the original tree. So, all apples of the same variety are clones and clones of clones. Apples are one of the oldest fruits, if not the oldest, in existence. That’s a lot of cloning.
There are many hundreds of varieties, but the number is dwindling as older varieties fall out of favor and only a few supermarket favorites remain. Soon there will be only five varieties left, experts say. I can only think of a few apples that can be purchased in the grocery: Red and Yellow Delicious, Fuji, Gala, and the green and slightly tart Granny Smith, my personal favorite. Red Delicious is what most people think of when they think apple. Unfortunately, home-grown apples do not grow large, red and shiny with wax on them like the ones in the store.
All those trees that Johnny Appleseed planted probably produced mostly culls and small green apples only fit for making hard apple cider. Apple cider was the alcoholic drink of choice in early times since it was fairly easy to make. Prohibition caused apples to be eaten fresh and gave them the healthy apple-pie image that they have today.
I guess I should count my blessings instead of my apples and be thankful for the bounty, even if there is a bit too much of it.
Copyright 2013 Sheila Moss