It took me a while to make myself stop and check out the runty little apples and pint-sized pears that Future Fruit was offering from a card table at the Dane Count Farmers’ Market. I knew I shouldn’t turn my nose up at organic fruit just because it wasn’t as attractive as its sprayed and dusted competitors.
Once I bit into a Cox’s Orange Pippin, I was an instant convert. For a while, we got big apples from one vendor and the little ones from Ellen, but taste tests clearly said that bigger is not better, and I have crossed completely over to heritage apples.
So of course when we decided to start our “orchard,” I turned to Weston’s Antique Apple Orchard . I went to their grafting workshop, (see my post Making a Brand New Antique Orchard) and brought home three taped together twigs on which we have placed our hopes for cider, sauce and crunchy bites of the kind of flavor growers developed before they cared which fruit could be shipped halfway round the world and still look (if not taste) like an apple.
We planted our twigs April 26, mulched them in cozily and wrapped them protectively with wire fencing and waited.
Every time we’ve been out to the land this spring, our first stop was to check on the bluebird box, and from there it was a beeline to the three little twigs to see if their leaf buds were responding.
We were instructed to keep pinching off any buds that formed on the root stock and watch the upper buds for signs that the cambium of two separate strains of apple had melded and life was flowing up and down in the magical way trees do it.
Finally this Monday – 6 long weeks later — we found buds on two of our three treelets. The Cox’s Orange Pippen has yet to open its leaf buds, but maybe it will be leafing out when we look tomorrow.
In the meantime, leaves are unfurling (fueled by the roots of their new semi-dwarf trunks) on both the Black Gilliflower and the Prairie Spy. These are fine specimens!
Black Gilliflower is a very old variety, dating back to the 1700s and hailing from Connecticut. It may be a renaming of an old southern apple called Crow’s Egg. It’s called black because it turns a deep shade of red. Inside it is greenish-white. Weston’s catalog says that this apple has a pear-like flavor and conical shape. It is supposed to be peculiarly aromatic. I have seen its flavor described as balanced, and mild with notes of sweet corn and grass at adamapples.
It is considered an aromatic apple and will ripen late. I am warned that it will become dry when overripe, so I plan to make a lot of cider and sauce before it does. Weston says it makes a good drying apple. I’d like to try drying some and channel those 18th-century farm women who first picked this variety as something worth saving.
Prairie Spy is practically modern by comparison, though it was bred before I was born by University of Minnesota researchers. They have been breeding apples suited to cold winters and hot dry summers for almost a century. The much-loved Honeycrisp is one of their creations.
Prairie Spy is a vigorous, productive and long-lived tree which bears medium size fruit with cream colored, tart firm flesh covered by a rosy red blush on a green background. I haven’t yet bitten into a Prairie
spy, but I am told it is crisp and juicy with excellent flavor that develops and improves with storage. The fruit can keep till spring. The trees bear very young, so this may be our first taste from our little orchard.
Apples it seems can be so much more than “delicious.”