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.

The scraggly "tree" on the left side -- yep, that's the apple

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.

The apple tree today!

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.

Ripe apples

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.

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§ 8 Responses to The Apple Tree Makes a Comeback

  • […] Nurturing our apple tree back to productive health (20 pounds of apples!) […]

  • […] But, I finally persuaded myself that all those people preserving food for so long must mean we know what we’re doing by now. So off I went to my neighborhood hardware store to purchase canning implements and the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, figuring I needed all of the help I could get. Then I popped by the farmers’ market, where I met Tory the farmer; with a grin glowing from his grizzly gray beard, he handed me a Dapple Dandy pluot to try. The sweet juice said “summer” on my tongue, and I knew that I wanted to capture that flavor and the flesh’s fuschia hue in a jar. My final stop was my backyard, where I picked the last of the apples off the tree that I’d nurtured from the brink of death back to vigor. […]

  • Jessica says:

    since I can see the top of that beautiful tree, I can verify that everything is true! I’m so glad you revive the tree, and that you can enjoy your own gravensteins. they are my favorite apple tree. You have so inspired me with this post that I’m considering planting a few trees in our yard too!

    • Allie – Thanks for stopping by and sharing such a poignant memory. Luckily there are great apples in NY, though perhaps not so many apple trees in NYC. 🙂

      Jessica – Thanks for stopping by! The apples are delicious, especially in apple sauce, apple butter and apple pie. I’d love to see a Grav tree go up next door!

  • Allie says:

    This brings back memories of an apple tree that we had in our back yard in Noe Valley when we lived in San Francisco. Our first daughter was born when we lived there and she loved watching the apples grow, and being held up over my husband’s head to pick them when they were ripe. We baked pies and made applesauce. When we moved back to New York City, she talked a lot that first year about the apple tree that we used to have.

  • Sally White says:

    The rebirth of your little tree is a proud moment! Please remind me to share a “raw apple cake” recipe that was from my Dad’s family. You may have a similar recipe but just in case not, I think it is worth trying. When visiting my in-laws in Wilmette, Glenview area of Illinois we would almost always go to the Original Pancake House for their “famous” apple pancake. The pancake was made in a cast iron skillet would be about 2″ thick and a 10′ diameter. I remember it to be light a fluffy and rich with the melt in your mouth flavor of caramelized cinnamon, sugar, and apples.

  • Katie says:

    My parents have a mystery apple tree (we also think Gravenstein) that’s been in their lot since before the house was built in the 40s (the neighborhood used to be all orchards). The fruit used to be ready in August – all at once like you say. We would pick them all and make pies, 1-2 dozen at a time, and freeze them to eat all year round. Fond memory of childhood summers and also probably responsible for my love of apple pie…for breakfast.

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