“There is no fruit, in temperate climes, so universally esteemed and so extensively cultivated, nor is there any which is so closely identified with the social habits of the human species, as the apple”. ~ Robert Hogg, British Pomology, 1851
The Apple, Malus domestica, is a member of the Rose family. Walk up to a tree and look at and feel the rough, flaky gray bark; notice the stocky alternate branching system. This is how you will identify the tree in any season. Observe the oval, toothed leaves which are greener on the top than bottom and usually hairy (at least on one side). The buds are gray and fuzzy. Both the flowers and the seeds inside the fruit, form a five-pointed star. Most cultivated apple tree leaves, unlike their ancestor, do not turn red or yellow in the fall, but persist in maintaining their green color. They simply don’t want to give up summer. Though, keep an eye on the leaves in the fall; some cultivars’ individual leaves do turn yellow. Perhaps it’s a sign of adapting to its “new” home, finally, after all these years.
Avalon’s etymology is from Common Celtic abal, “apple.” The name has also been considered to be of Welsh, Old Cornish or Old Breton origin – aball or avallen, which also means “apple tree.” So this Isle of Apples persists.
There is evidence that apples grew wild in Britain in the Neolithic period but it was the Romans who first introduced varieties with sweeter and greater taste. The earliest known mention of apples in England was by King Alfred in about 885 AD in his English translation of “Gregory’s Pastoral Care”. According to English Apples and Pears, “the primary factor responsible for the outstanding taste of English Apples has been our climate. The absence of extreme temperatures but adequate rainfall allows our apples to grow relatively slowly and to develop their full flavour potential.” So, why not a whole island dedicated to the cultivation of this tasty fruit? That is the magic of the Apple – its ability to adapt. It has made itself a fruit humans would not want to be without. And when humans traveled abroad, leaving the Isle of Apples, the Apple came with. The Apple was brought over the United States in the 1600s. And we loved the Apple so much that we planted it everywhere we could – and this is why you will find old trees even in the woods when you don’t notice any other signs of a pasture all grown up.
It’s in the genes.
The Apple we know and love today are descendants of Malus sieversii which are found in the mountains of central Asia in southern Kazakhstan. But you can’t grow the same variety of Apple from the seeds you harvest. The original saw to that. Visit the mountains in Kazakhstan and you will find so many different varieties – in one area! Each Apple pip (seed) grows up into a unique tree. Imagine that! Just like humans. We have the genes of our parents but we are not exactly like them. We are our own being.
Grafting – a horticultural technique whereby tissues from one plant are inserted into those of another – will make that young tree that has rootstock inserted into it, essentially grow up to be the same desired variety. That’s the only way to get a field of one variety. Left to their own volition, Apple seeds will grow up according to their genes. And possibly to random mutations. Some are great tasting. Others not so much. But there lies the mystery and the fun!
Depending on the variety, the fruit is quite versatile: consumable raw or cooked or processed into sweet cider, hard cider, or vinegar. To make any of these beverages, you simply need to collect the Apples and press them. Then put them in a container. The local yeasts in the air will do the rest. For sweet cider put the juice in the refrigerator and consume as desired. For hard cider, leave out on the counter. It would be best to use an airlock stopper to be sure oxygen doesn’t get into fermentation process or you might wind up with vinegar; which can be fine too, but only if you are okay with switching gears in your head about the end product. Your hard cider will be ready next year. If it turns to vinegar, it will be ready sooner.
“…let yourself sit by an Apple tree and listen to the Apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” – Louise Erdich
Arianna Alexsandra Collins, naturalist, poet, writer, and wild edible enthusiast lives in Ashfield, MA.
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This article, in part, appears in the September edition of the Ashfield News.
Into the Outside is a bi-monthly feature in alternatively the Ashfield News.