For most of our lives, we were not big apple-eaters. I spent most of my youth thinking that I just flat-out didn’t like apples, but I’ve since come to realize the problem is that apples from the grocery store taste like ass. They’re cloying, one-dimensional, and often mealy. We’re lucky enough to live very close to a big orchard, with the pick-your-own, and a wide array of apples to choose from, but even with that resource at hand, I’ve had a hard time finding apples I actually wanted to eat. Then, one glorious day in London, we stopped in at Neal’s Yard Dairy to pick out a sampling of cheeses for a picnic dinner. While basking in the fairy-tale wondrousness that is Neal’s Yard, we added some farmhouse loaves to our picnic, and then noticed the crates of farm-fresh produce in front of the store. There was a handful of varieties of apples and pears, and one apple caught our eyes. It was called a “Blenheim apple”, and the description said they had come from a old orchard in Blenheim and had the most crisp, superior flavor of any apple ever. Or something like that. At any rate, it was no lie. That cheese dinner still stands as the single best meal I’ve ever had, and those Blenheim apples stand as the single finest fruitstuff I’ve ever eaten.
We moved into Maple Hoo almost immediately after returning from England, and suddenly fell under the sway of the magical gardening vibe here. Along with our unprecedented (in our lives) urge to plant vegetables, we decided the front lawn needed to be augmented with a bunch of apple trees. Not because we love apples, but because we love those gnarly old rambling apple trees that live in so many of the yards around here. Pookie started researching heirloom apples, then, and found Trees of Antiquity, which is, if you’re even remotely interested in planting fruit trees or bushes of any kind, total porn. We never found exactly what the “Blenheim apple” is, but after poring over the catalogue, we developed an obsession. Twelve fruit trees later, these are the apples on which we’re pinning our hopes and dreams of making us learn to love apples.
This guy isn’t actually from Trees of Antiquity, as we were antsy to get planting, and they were mostly sold out when we got around to ordering from them our first year here. We picked him up on a “let’s see how many saplings and shrubs we can fit into the hatchback of one Prius” shopping spree at a nursery co-op. According to google, these are its traits: “Large fruit; red glossy skin; good for fresh eating and cooking; scab resistant. Mid to late bloom; late apples.” We haven’t expected much from this tree, other than just being gnarled and autumnal, and maybe standing in the mist occasionally like a picture in a Martha Stewart magazine.
And then this Spring happened.
It is covered with glorious blossoms. They were just a riot of little pink buds when we were restaking his cage of deer fencing and took that full portrait above, and then a few days later, they became a riot of huge, white, beautiful, fluffy, graceful blossoms.
The Enterprise tree has gone from bobo to crown jewel in just one Spring!
It seems like this is one of those status trees for apple snobs. It was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite, is “unexcelled in flavor or quality” (according to Trees of Antiquity), and is fussy to get cross-pollinated, because it needs three other trees’ pollen.
We figure we’ll never get an apple from him, but what kind of heirloom orchardists are we if we’re not cowing to the pressure to have this “unexcelled” tree in our collection? (You might be able to see in that picture taken during his deer-fencing restaking that Spitzy was sans buds or blossoms, when almost all the other trees had at least one attempt at a flower going on. It’s like Thomas Jefferson’s favorite remedial apple tree.)
Calville Blanc d’Hiver
We bought our orchard denizens in two waves, with the first year’s trees mainly just the dregs of what Trees of Antiquity still had in stock, and the second year’s trees selected in a glut of impulse-buy, “hey, we totally have room for a bunch more trees, right?” early ordering. The catalog description of this one is, “This is the gourmet culinary apple of France, excellent for tarts. Uniquely shaped medium to large size fruit, skin yellow with light red flush. Flesh is tender, sweet, spicy, flavorful, with a banana-like aroma. Fine-textured, yellowish-white flesh is also higher in Vitamin C than an orange! Grown by Le Lectier, procureur for Louis XIII. Continues to be served in fine Parisian Restaurants.” We can’t have a home orchard that isn’t growing Louis XIII’s apples, can we? It’s a touch of French aristocracy to balance out all that Spitzenburg Jeffersonianism.
And unlike Spitzy, Cal was sporting some lovely blossoms on class picture day:
Also picked up at the nursery co-op, at the same time as the Enterprise. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that we’ve got all these fancy-pantsy trees, poor Smitty probably thinks she’s there just to produce grocery store-grade apples to make the other fruits look that much better by comparison. She was the first of our trees to ever blossom, though, an event that surprised us to no end. It was her first summer after being planted, and she produced two tiny, mutant proto-apples that did nothing but attract weird, creepy ants.
For all that she seems kind of mundane, she’s got the lushest, thickest foliage of all the apple trees in the orchard.
When we planted our first wave of trees, we stupidly decided that we don’t often see any deer in our front yard, and anyways, there were lots of other green things budding and leafing out all over the place, so surely our new babies would be safe from those rapacious creatures. We were wrong. Every day we’d say to ourselves, “We should probably fence those…” and then we’d decide, “Eh, we’ll do it tomorrow.” Finally one morning we woke up and asked each other, “Do the trees look a lot smaller today?” Yes. Yes they did look a lot smaller. The deer had devoured them. The one that got it worst was our poor little Northern Spy. He was basically left for dead, just a lame little stick poking up out of the ground where there had once been a perky, leafy sapling. We were confident the other trees would rebound from what turned out to just be a really invigorating pruning, but we had serious doubts about the Spy.
Two years later, he is a towering beacon of hope for plants all over the world that have been ravaged by pests:
It is absolutely stunning to us that this tree, that had been nibbled down to a waist-high twig, is now significantly taller than we are, with leaves and blossoms, and, we hope this fall, delicious, crisp apples. It’ll be the feel-good story of Maple Hoo orchard.