I have a soft spot for heritage and lost (and obscure) apples. I also find the stories of these long-forgotten plants and varieties to be impossibly romantic. The folks who seek them out, scour the history books, and put name to apple are poet-pirates, hunting valleys and ancient maps to find trees planted so many years ago by the kind of folks brave and stern enough to travel West, into the unknown, to hack out a living in the wilderness.
This past weekend I saw a story on Facebook or some sort about how 10 lost apples were found in Oregon last year. TEN! Amazing! The article is short but really fascinating.
“Each fall, Brandt and Benscoter spend countless hours and log hundreds of miles searching for ancient — and often dying — apple trees across the Pacific Northwest by truck, all-terrain vehicle and on foot. They collect hundreds of apples from long-abandoned orchards that they find using old maps, county fair records, newspaper clippings and nursery sales ledgers that can tell them which homesteader bought what apple tree and when the purchase happened.
By matching names from those records with property maps, they can pinpoint where an orchard might have been — and they often find a few specimens still growing there. The pair carefully note the location of each tree using GPS and tag the tree with a plastic band before bagging the apples in zip-close bags and shipping them to the Oregon experts for identification.“
I mean, how cool is that?!?!?
If you recall, I too have a “lost” apple in our orchard. Its the Pewaukee apple and it was sold by Seed Savers a few years ago. My home town in Pewaukee (a lovely, small lakeside town in southeastern Wisconsin) so when I saw it in their catalog I was at first shocked, and then immediately placed an order. It launched my Mom and I into a load of online researching to find out about the history of this apple, named after our hometown by a fellow named George Pfeffer, that we had no idea existed.
Pairing all this with the pure magic that comes from eating an apple off of a tree you planted and nurtured (seriously, it is the most delightful and incredible things you can do in the garden)- stories like this are catnip to my brain! To think about the pioneers that put their wee grafted apple saplings into buckets to be hauled across the vastness of this country to be planted in hopes of helping sustain that family in its new home is so incredible that I can’t help but be in awe. I so love that there are people out there who don’t want these stories and apples to be forgotten. Clearly I’m of the sentimental sort…
I’ve got half a mind to do some similar research in our area to see if we can find old orchards that might still have trees in them. The other answer is to keep buying apple trees, but I suppose that isn’t entirely practical! Until then, I’ll keep reading about those heritage and lost apples and, maybe, just maybe, we can find a lost variety of our own.
Here are more links to stories about these apples in case your interest has been piqued: