The Apple Tree Makes a Comeback
August 30, 2010 § 8 Comments
I mentioned earlier that I’d tell the story of our apple tree’s rebirth. It’s been a five-year labor of love.
When we were shopping for homes upon our move to San Francisco, one thing we wanted after living in a 650 square foot high-rise apartment in Manhattan was outdoor green space. We chose our home in part because of the backyard overlooking the Bay. Although it was long-neglected and in need of vision and repair, we figured we could offer that over time.
And I fell in love with that backyard in part because there was an apple tree.
Looking at that picture, you may be wondering just how misguided I was back then. There have been times over the past five apple seasons that I’ve wondered that myself.
The tenants who’d lived in the house for 10 years told us that the apple tree used to bear fruit, but that it was hit by lightning two years before we bought the house. They had cut off the dead wood and propped up the shaky tree with a post. It hadn’t produced leaves, let alone flowers and fruit, since being struck.
But I was determined to see if that apple tree could come back to life. Although I’d never loved eating apples previously, I was enamored of the idea that I could eat apples that I’d grown myself. So, I researched apple tree care, watered and fertilized the tree. And I waited.
The first season (2006) — Nothing.
The second season (2007) — Some leaves sprouted — a promising sign — but not much else.
The third season (2008) — Aha! Now we were getting somewhere. Blossoms appeared in the spring and transformed into 12 fruit which were “ripe” in August. I say “ripe” in quotes because when I cut a sliver and tasted it, it was so tart that my eyes and mouth screwed up tight and my cheeks sucked in like a fish. Yeeaahhh…those apples went into a couple of apple cakes. The apples were quite tasty when ensconced in flour, butter and sugar (well, isn’t anything).
The fourth season (2009) — I read instructions from an agricultural university on how to prune apple trees, and when that didn’t really do it for me, I watched a portly English dude prune trees in high wind on YouTube. Although it was remarkably difficult to hear him (still not sure why you’d video something with a gale coming through), I got the idea. I pruned the tree into bonsai form, gave it fertilizer and kept watch. And that summer, the tree produced 24 apples! Unfortunately these were still inedibly tart raw, so let’s just say that we had a lot of apple cake and applesauce that summer (as did our friends).
The fifth season (2010) — After the same drill, a profusion of blooms appeared on the tree a few weeks earlier than last year. There were so many blooms that the blush-pink petals littered the yard like confetti. Fruit started setting a month earlier as well. And now, at harvest time, I’ve counted 120 apples that the tree has produced!!
Yes, I feel vindicated.
And even more thrilling (yes, I am easy to please) is that the apples this year are actually sweet enough to eat out of hand. After two seasons of tart apples, I’d resigned myself to the likelihood that we’d never be able to eat them raw. I have no idea why the flavor profile changed, but my hunch is that an extra month to ripen on the tree didn’t hurt.
I’m not 100% certain what type of apple they are, but I think they’re Gravensteins. They look like them, have their sweet-tart flavor and cook well but don’t keep well, which apparently is a hallmark of Gravensteins that make them impractical for mass production and long-distance shipping. Given my love for the Gravs (as mentioned in my Applewood Inn post), I feel happy thinking that we might be doing our small part to keep the variety alive.
The one thing about our apple tree is that when the apples are ready, they’re ready — all at once. So, that means lots of apple cookery for me. I’ll share recipes for applesauce and other apple goodies soon.