The colors of fall in Appalachia include more than leaves. The colors of the many apple trees include bright orange, reds and greens as well. As Avery County, NC extension agent Doug Hundley told us, those trees might be the remnants of much larger orchards!
Many of our ancestors, who traveled across the Atlantic, came to America bringing more than dream of a new promised land, they brought apple seeds.. From the seeds came several apple varieties. Time for some science…that seed inside the apple, represents the mother (the tree itself) but not the father, ie, the other pollinating tree. So you can see how it was incredibly easy to create many new varieties of apple trees!
While the mountain terrain did not really lend itself to commercial orchards, a standard was to have 6 apple trees per person in the family and back then, back when, families were pretty big. Time to do some ciphering…or what you folks today call math…12 kids plus ma and pa equal 84 apple trees!
Virtually every rural family in the southern mountains had an apple orchard providing fresh fruit from early July to November. Many varieties were stored in root cellars or dried so that the harvest provided much needed sustenance until spring. Not to mention the staple of apple brandy…for medicinal use only, of course.
By the late 1800’s the variety of apples was astounding. According to Lee Calhoun, “A North Carolina nursery listed 160 different apple varieties for sale in its 1852 catalog. A Virginia nursery had 428 varieties in its catalogue in 1869. They ranged from the size of cherries to nearly as big as a grapefruit, with colors running the entire spectrum–flushed, striped, splashed and dotted in a wonderful array of impressionistic patterns.
Not long ago folks rediscovered a couple of old Avery County apples like the “Buttermilk” and the “Ozark Pippin”…not a bad apple in the bunch…
A brief search of interesting apple varieties yielded this bumper crop of names…
Adam’s Apple (of course!), The Bloody Ploughman (Scottish), Cats Head, Nonesuch Apple (not kidding), The Puritan apple, yep you guessed it, it is hard and tart…And the patron apple of all physics majors, The Isaac Newton apple, …unfortunately I could not find an apple named for Johnny Appleseed or even a Fiona Apple…and hey, who is this Granny Smith anyway?
So as we enjoy our scenic roads every fall remember the old apple trees that used to be at Uncle John’s or Aunt Mary’s place. If you go check on those trees you may find them delivering the same apples you remember as a youngster; the same apples that first originated in North Carolina or Virginia 200 years ago. They often amaze us in what clean fruit they produce. Buying some heirloom apples at your local famer’s market shows respect for our American history, possibly your own family history and you may be in for a taste treat beyond anything you’ll find at the grocery store!
Hope you enjoyed this trip into the orchard! Please like, comment and share this post so that others will find it in their “feed” thanks again! Click below to hear the audio version!