The apple of my eye
Sunday September 23rd 2007, 10:58 pm
Filed under: Life

Let’s see, I put in the new one when our youngest was in I think kindergarten, and he’s now 19…

I once had a tree service guy look at the two ailing apple trees in our yard, not long after we bought this place, and he told me they were simply dying of old age. Dwarf apples live 30-35 years, he said, this house was built in ’55, they’re toast.

Oh. I decided I needed a new one, then, and went looking for what we should replace them with. Since we were talking about eating an awful lot of apples from it for an awful long time to come, they might as well be the best, I figured. I went to specialty shops and organic grocery stores and plain old Safeway, trying out every type of apple I could find.

Now, the best and most memorable apple I ever ate in my life was a Spencer, bought on a very cold autumn day at a small roadstand on Old Route 3 just north of Merrimack, NH, back when we lived in that town. On impulse, I’d ignored the looming naptime, pulled the car over onto their gravel, and hauled my babies out of their carseats and walked shivering through the offerings. Never heard of those, sure, let’s give it a try, throw a whole box in the car and head for home.

The most perfect crunch. The most perfect balance of flavors, much more interesting than just plain sweetness, although, it was plenty sweet. It was what an apple aspires to be. But I’ve never again found a Spencer apple since we moved away.

I learned a lot about fruit trees from our real estate agent as we traipsed through house after house here. That orange trees have to be in just the right location, preferably with the heat of the afternoon sun reflecting off the house right onto the tree, or the fruit wouldn’t get sweet at all, not like in southern California. Apples need so many hours of below freezing in the winter to get a crop, some needing a lot more than others. Citrus dies if the whole tree freezes. The nurseries here market varieties by how well they fit into our microclimate.

The locally-sold apples I liked the best were, at the time, a virtually-unheard of variety, and I was quite pleased with myself at finding both the apple and an actual sapling. A Fuji. I bet you’ve heard of it by now, huh? It’s not rare anymore. That’s what happens when you’re good.

I dug that hole and I planted that tree. But, year after year, no apples. Where were my apples? Why no Fujis? A gardener friend suggested adding iron to the soil. I did that. I hung those AOL discs that kept showing up unwanted in the mail in the branches (hey, anybody got any string to run through this, or, you know, yarn or something, so I can hang this with? Oh, there you go, thanks!) Scare off the birds and squirrels. It worked just a little. And then, as I wrote a few months ago, I discovered that snails were eating the blossoms at night in the spring. They’d never touched the old tree as far as I could tell (one of the two old ones is still standing–the root stock took over when the top died, turning our old Gravenstein into a suddenly-young Golden Delicious), but they loved that Fuji. And only the Fuji.

Oh. Huh. That would account for a lot. I put out eggshells around the trunk to keep them at bay. I figured it was a lost cause, that the squirrels would strip the tree anyway like they did the Golden Delicious, but by golly slugs and snails were one thing I wasn’t going to feed if I didn’t have to.

For the first time. THE first time. There were apples on the Fuji AND they were on the tree long enough to actually start to turn pink and ripe. I picked one yesterday. I cut it up. We ate it. It was sweet, not the usual green-as-all-getout-trying-to-beat-the-squirrels-flavored, picked because there were only three apples left on the whole darn tree by that point and they were darn well going to be eaten by humans, but actually sweet and ready to be enjoyed and with a fair number yet to go for us.

Sometimes the learning is slow, but it’s worth it when you get there.

I wonder if there’ll be any Spencers to be found in Maryland in three weeks?

Fuji apple tree

8 Comments so far
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There’s nothing like the perfect apple on an autumn day! So glad to hear you got one, two, three. . .and more! I currently have a bag of paula reds awaiting inclusion in the pie of our dreams! I love fall!

Comment by Pam Sykes 09.24.07 @ 8:11 am

I love apples. I mean, I’m obsessed with apples. My faves are Winesaps, but Fujis, Mutsus, Cortlands in a pinch, and about a dozen other varieties are good, too. I’m thinking of planting a tree in our front yard, I love them that much.

Gravensteins are good, and I haven’t had a Spencer in ages. One of our local orchards has them, though. Should I figure out how to ship them to you?

Comment by Carina 09.24.07 @ 2:10 pm

Yum. Now I want an apple to eat. I’ve never had a Spencer apple. I’ll have to find out about them sometime.

Comment by Ronni 09.24.07 @ 4:07 pm

Enjoyed your apple story and pictures.
I’ll check for Spencers when we make our annual trek next month to:

In 1942 Kyle Carver grafted and planted 15,000 apple trees by hand in his corn field in Cocke County. Today his orchards have 40,000 apple trees and 126 varieties. They have kept the old varieties and the apples are still picked by hand.

Comment by Toni 09.24.07 @ 5:57 pm

Wow. I’m trying to picture how many people it would take to pick 40,000 apple trees’ worth of apples by hand. That’s a small town! And thank you, Carina, I wish, but given the number of times we’ve approached the California border with its agricultural checkpoint from the Nevada side of the freeway, chowing down quick on all the fruit still left in the car by that point in the trip, I’m afraid I don’t think the state would allow them in.

Comment by AlisonH 09.24.07 @ 8:00 pm

Snails! Maybe THAT’s why we don’t have any pears this year, even though there was a ton of blossoms in February. We have gobs of snails though. Ok, next year I’m gonna try it.

Comment by terri 09.26.07 @ 11:23 am

There was a whole army of them trooping back down the trunk at daybreak when my tree was in blossom, and way fewer blossoms than there’d been a few days earlier.

Comment by AlisonH 09.26.07 @ 11:54 am

Snails and slugs are just disgusting.
My very favorite apple is a Granny Smith, so much so that as toddlers my kids would argue that apples were not red they were green. 🙂

Comment by Sonya 09.26.07 @ 3:38 pm

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