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Sunday, November 6, 2011


  This morning I listened to a story on NPR about people looking for abandoned heritage apple trees in the Salmon River area of Idaho. It was titled  “Pioneer Apples, Saving A Taste of Idaho’s Past.”
                Up here in the Panhandle there are more than 100 heritage apple trees of various ages on our 66 acres. I know that because I mapped them a couple of years ago, following deer trails through the woods, and coming across another apple tree among the pines.  There are only four original trees in the old orchard by the spring that old Mr. Cable planted in the 1930s or earlier.  The rest have been unconsciously planted by the deer.  I recall the names Mom mentioned during my childhood in the 1950s – McIntosh, Winesap, old Delicious, Jonathan, Wagener, Baldwin, Rome Beauty, Russet – but I am unable to marry most of the apples to the names. (See the photo to right of seven to nine different varieties.)  There are even hidden trees producing apples I know we didn’t have during my childhood. 
                One mystery apple’s name has been solved.  There are about five trees that produce a wonderful eating apple scattered near Anna Spring and on a western slope among the pines, but I have no memory of a similar one from my youth.  Our neighbor, Pat Ferry, is the grandson of the first couple who homesteaded across our narrow valley in the 1890s.  He had mentioned Grandma Ferry’s apple tree as a Winter Banana, and that he had loved the fruit as a boy. The family story was that his grandfather brought it from Ireland.  Sadly, the old tree died a few years ago.  When Pat paid us a visit last week, I brought out some ribbed apples bearing a bright pale yellow background and a contrasting blush, darkening to dark pinkish red.  “Is this your Winter Banana?” I asked.  “Yup, that’s what that is,” he replied, and we enjoyed the crisp, juicy, mild sub-acid flesh while we visited.  Our apples probably aren’t as large as Grandma’s Ferry’s had been, because the trees are not irrigated, and must seek their own moisture. But they’re just as good, I bet.  But it didn’t come from Ireland; the Winter Banana actually originated in Indiana in the early 1890s.
                I know which is the old Delicious because of the little knobs on the bottoms of the fruit.  It is nothing like the Red Delicious in the grocery stores, which keeps their cheery red skin intact even when the flavor has disappeared from inside.  Our old Delicious has a bit of a bite, but still is an eating apple.  I didn’t appreciate it as a child; Mom would put one in my lunch pail, and I’d trade it for someone’s banana.
                The Jonathan is described as having a brilliant red color, being highly flavored, and useful as a dessert or cooking apple. It was sold for the fancy trade during the holiday season. So, now, I know that one. 
                There are two books on that can be downloaded free to help identify heirloom or heritage apples.  One is the Manual of Horticulture 1913, Idaho State Board of Horticulture, which has plates of some of the apples known to be best for the Idaho climate.  The other - which will make your head spin because of the many color plates (not to mention the half-tone plates) of nearly every apple developed, plus its description and history - is The Apples of New York, published in 1905.  One would think it easy to identify our two varieties of white or transparent apples (one small and round and the other larger and more oval).  But, no, there are just too many that were developed in the early days.  They are both sweet, but with a different tang.  Is the larger one a White Pearmain and the smaller a White Pippin (related to the Michael Henry Pippin)?  Perhaps I’ll never know.

                And which ones did Mom use to make those wonderful apples pies?

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