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Author Topic: Let's save a wonderful gift of nature: APPLES!  (Read 630 times)


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Let's save a wonderful gift of nature: APPLES!
« on: July 21, 2013, 01:06:41 PM »


Why Your Supermarket Only Sells 5 Kinds of Apples
And one man's quest to bring hundreds more back

—By Rowan Jacobsen
 | March/April 2013 Issue

John Bunker Séan Alonzo Harris

Every fall at Maine's Common Ground Country Fair, the Lollapalooza of sustainable agriculture, John Bunker sets out a display of eccentric apples. Last September, once again, they covered every possible size, shape, and color in the wide world of appleness. There was a gnarled little yellow thing called a Westfield Seek-No-Further; a purplish plum impostor called a Black Oxford; a massive, red-streaked Wolf River; and one of Thomas Jefferson's go-to fruits, the Esopus Spitzenburg. Bunker is known in Maine as "The Apple Whisperer," or simply "The Apple Guy," and, after laboring for years in semi-obscurity, he has never been in more demand. Through the catalog of Fedco Trees, a mail-order company he founded in Maine 30 years ago, Bunker has sown the seeds of a grassroots apple revolution.

All weekend long, I watched people gravitate to what Bunker ("Bunk" to his friends, a category that seems to include half the population of Maine) calls "the vibrational pull" of a table laden with bright apples.
"Baldwin!" said a tiny old man with white hair and intermittent teeth, pointing to a brick-red apple that was one of America's most important until the frigid winter of 1933-34 knocked it into obscurity. "That's the best!"


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From left to right: Rolfe, Wolf River, Yellow Bellflower, Rhode Island Greening, Blue Pearmain, Kavanagh Séan Alonzo Harris

The usual argument for preserving agricultural biodiversity is that monocrops are at risk for monolithic wipeouts from pests and disease. And, indeed, some of the old apples have genes for resistance to apple scab and other scourges of the modern orchard that are proving useful. (Apples require more pesticides than any other crop, and it's exceedingly difficult to grow modern apple varieties organically.) But don't discount romance. The world is just a little bit more delightful when we get to experience apples with hundreds of different personalities.

Skinny maples had colonized the land behind the house, but at regular intervals between them, in an orderly grid, he could make out the dark bulk of ancient revenants. It was an old orchard of about 30 trees. Most were dead. Some had gradually lain down on the ground and were now melting back into the earth.

The Ghost, it turned out, was a Snow, the name misremembered. A bright red Canadian apple cultivated by French settlers in the 1600s, the Snow is fairly common, though it's best known as the mother of the McIntosh. It is named for its snow-white flesh. "Or ghost-white," Bunk mused. He
identified a brown, fuzzy Roxbury Russet, the oldest apple variety in America, also not an unusual find. He didn't feel particularly disappointed; most leads go nowhere.

Then, along the back edge of the old orchard, he came upon a gnarled tree that was at least 150 years old. It held no fruit, but on the ground beneath it lay two dozen golden apples. Bunk picked up one and turned it over in his hand. It was round and firm, with prominent russet dots and a splash of russet around the stem. He knew instantly that he'd never before seen this apple, and, with a thrill, he also instantly wondered whether he had just found the Blake at last. Very few truly yellow apples were grown in Maine 150 years ago. But was the flesh "fine, firm, crisp, subacid"? He bit into the apple. Check, check, check, check. It would take a lot more detective work to prove this was a Blake, and he would have to return next fall to get some fruit in better condition, but he had a strong hunch that this ghost of the Great American Agricultural Revolution was a ghost no more.

Apple Detective Groups Around the Country

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Apple images in slideshow from The Apples of New York, Volume 1 and Volume 2 and U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705

Rowan Jacobsen has written for the New York Times, Newsweek, Harper’s, Outside, Eating Well, Forbes, Popular Science, and others, and his work has been anthologized in The Best American Science and Nature Writing and Best Food Writing collections.


Awesome Vintage Apple Art: 9 Fruits You Won't Find at Your Supermarket
The unusual history of a definitive guide to American apples.

—By Sarah Zhang
| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 9:14 AM PDT


Let's go and save them!
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