There is a tradition throughout the Midwest of old properties like ours having an array of fruit trees on the property. Often this would consist of a small variety of certain types - cherry trees, plum trees - and often several different types of apple trees, with larger properties often having space set aside for small apple orchards. You can still see the remnants of those orchards if you travel around the countryside. In some cases the old orchards are still loved and tended to, but in others they are let to grow wild or are cut down - I’m sure that, if one isn’t planning on harvesting the fruit, an old orchard represents a landscaping and lawn care nightmare.
In those old orchards likely live dozens of apple varieties that you won’t see in your local grocery store. As Michael Pollan discusses in entertaining detail in the book The Botany of Desire, our forefathers planted apple trees for cider - what we now call hard cider, an early example of a retronym being coined when soft cider became the more common item - and a hard liquor product known as applejack. A good orchard represented the gift of booze on the prairie.
Our property had only one fruit tree on it when we moved in, an old apple tree that yields little, hard, tart apples of the “natures toothbrush” variety. That is, when it yields them at all. Last year, for example, we had none, while the year before was a bumper crop.
This past weekend we started the process of rectifying that shortcoming. We have room at the back of the property for 12–13 fruit trees, and the three in the picture represent the very beginning of that process. These three aren’t apple trees - rather there is a cherry, pear, and cold-hardy peach to start - but much of the rest of the space we plan to fill with a variety of apples, ultimately intending to have a little orchard to fill that same purpose as our settler forefathers. I’ve had the opportunity to make hard cider before, and am looking forward to making batches of my own from apples we’ve grown ourselves.
I can heartily recommend The Botany of Desire. Michael Pollan is an excellent writer, with a profound interest in our relationships with food and the plants that produce them. The book itself discusses our relationship with four different plants - tulips, potatoes, marijuana, and the aforementioned apples - and contains fascinating information about Johnny Appleseed, who turns out to be, shall we say, somewhat different than presented in the story we heard as children. ↩
Strictly speaking this isn’t technically accurate. We do have several uninvited white mulberry trees, an invasive (and prolific) species which yields an edible fruit similar in structure to a large raspberry or blackberry. They are very hard to get rid of and the birds clearly love them, because new volunteers often show up growing in unwanted places, such as the middle of bushes. ↩