Friday, January 2, 2015


Before Chris and I married we spent extended amounts of time at Carkeek Park in North Seattle.  It is a large green space with an amazing range of ecosystems.   Beach, swamp land, forest, a creek that served as an annual salmon run all surrounding a center of traditional city park with playgrounds and picnic areas.

We spent most of our time in the forested area.  The creek ran through it and occasionally we would see a salmon trying to make it back up to the place of its birth.  There was an understory of giant ferns and rhoderdendrons, their trumpet like flowers standing out in the shade of vine maples and giant evergreens.  There were also blackberries.  They were huge, thick thorny canes seeming to reach ten feet and higher to reach the elusive rays of sunshine.  in the late summer we spent time picking, our arms and hands scraped and bloody from the sharp thorns.  After a few times we brought clippers and cut the older fruitless canes to get at the juicy purple fruit. 

Later tired and hot we relaxed in a grassy orchard in the center of the forest.

The sign pronounced it to be Pipers orchard, established 1889.  We had no idea what kind of apples they were.  We just called the small hard fruits cooking apples.  They became applesauce, rose hip jelly (the hips also picked from the wild roses in the park)  mixed with the blackberries they became bumbleberry jam.  Hand pies of apples or blackberries sets in our lunch boxes at work.
It was a beautiful place.  We got married in the orchard.  Picnic blankets covering the grass, or guests eating in the warm sunshine.

During this time there were only 7 kinds of apples that I knew of.  Red delicious, Golden delicious, Granny Smith, Breaburn, Gala, Fuji and cooking apples.  Then I started reading about farming in general and tree fruit in particular.  I discovered there were thousands of kinds of apples - Cox's Orange Pippin (1830 England), Winter Banana (1876 Indiana), Northern Spy (1800 New York) and Gravenstein.  

Where were all these apples?  Books claimed many were extinct, even more in danger of becoming so.  In its quest for perfect and consistently sized fruit, the agribusinesses of the early 20th century had nearly wiped out any type of fruit and vegetable that did not meet its specific criteria. 
In the late nineties, an article in Organic Gardening magazine led me to a catalog - Trees of Antiquity.  Here I learned that the russet enjoyed by the fictional Anne Shirley was an apple with a natural brown netlike covering on the skin, not a potato like I had assumed in my youth.  Here were nearly 200 apples I'd never heard of.  Most intriguing was the Pink Pearl (1944 California), these apples were to have green skin and pink flesh, but $50 for a tree was more than I was willing to spend.

I forgot about apple varieties for a number of years after that until 2 yr old bareroot trees showed up nearly 10 years later at Costco.  There was the typical varieties, Honeycrisps (1991 Minnesota) and McIntosh (1811 Canada)  But also Wolf River (1875 Wisconsin) and Wealthy (1868 Minnesota).  
Then this last few years I found the Cox's Orange Pippin (1830 England) and Arkansas Black (mid 1800's Arkansas) at the local natural food market.

Then there was today.
I found Cortland apples at the local grocery chain (1898 New York) but also the long elusive Pink Pearl.  I never thought I would see this apple commercially.  Not with so many new patented trees (Jazz, SweeTango, Zestar) 

This speaks to me.  It says that if apple (or melon, or carrot)  that has been carefully curated for generations there is a reason.  And a decidedly better reason than uniform and perfect looking fruit.  Those of us who realize this, that understand that a new variety is not necessarily a better variety and put our money where or mouth is have made a difference.

And the old apple orchard where we got married?  Turns out these cooking apples once given the care fruit trees need have names.  Names like Wealthy, Golden Russet (early 1800's New York) Tolman sweet (1700's Massachusetts).  Maybe I will see these soon in my local grocery store. 

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