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The Romance Of Finding Undiscovered Apples

Foraging

The Tristate region has plenty of actual apple orchards, some of them private and others open to the public for Pick-Your-Own or Buy a Bushel.

There are also back yards with one or two apple trees that are glorious to look at in spring, when they blossom, and delicious in late summer and early autumn, when they produce fruit.

And then there are the wild apple trees, the ones that you see out of the corner of your eye as you travel along back roads and the larger travel-ways between towns that are, technically, highways (Route 4, Route 7, Route 41 …).

Ours is a part of the world where we consider it fun to forage for food (ramps, mushrooms). Foraging wild apples is even more fun because not only are you finding something nice to eat, you’re also in a sense taking a crisp bite out of local history; and at the same, making a discovery of a piece of fruit that is, probably, unknown — except to the apple obsessed.

One such devotee is Matt Kaminsky, a tree expert from Hadley, Mass., who is on a quest to find and name as many wild apples as he can, with the help of other apple enthusiasts.

In an email this week, talking about his new book (more on that later!), he described how most of these one-of-a-kind trees came to be: “The specimens found in my book are apple trees that were not grafted, but rather grew from seed by way of errant apple cores from speeding motorists, birds’ droppings, squirrels, deer, bears, porcupines, etc., and were noticed by apple enthusiasts, orchardists, cidermakers, citizen scientists, etc., given a name and shared.

“These roadside apple trees are typically not remnants of old homestead orchards or bygone farms, but naturally a part of the native vegetation of ‘edge ecosystems,’ like roads, field edges, stone walls, drainage ditches.

“It is possible that the seed parentage descended from older stock, or perhaps more obscure genetics like the indigenous crab apples of North America.

“However, they are just as likely to have arisen from the seed of a discarded apple core of store-bought red delicious. Every seed of every apple that germinates and produces a tree will yield a never-before-seen expression of the apple genome.”

For the past two years Kaminsky has convened the Wild & Seedling Pomological Exhibition in Ashfield, Mass. (the 2021 outing was held on Nov. 5). Apple and pear enthusiasts from all over the U.S. are invited to bring samples of fruit they’ve found and, often, named.

Historically, apple names can be quite beautiful. Unlike more modern and streamlined monikers like Jazz or Gala, older names are more stately and often invoke the name of an orchardist or land owner or place of origin: D’Arcy Spice, Lamb Abbey Pearmain, Roxbury Russet.

The apples collected and cataloged at the 2021  Wild & Seedling Pomological Exhibition had names like Bus Stop Blush and Ruby Secret (see photos, this page and B1).

Each apple from that first exhibition was lovingly photographed against a plain background. All the images are displayed in a just-published book with the wonderfully 19th-century title, “Proceedings from the First Annual Wild & Seedling Pomological Exhibition.”

The apples included have names like Hospital Orb, presumably found on the grounds of a hospital; Jetson’s Proudstem; Screaching Weasel; and Juicy Juicy Pineapple.

The chances that you’ll find one of these specific apples on a foraging expedition are slim. But if you love edible oddities and New England history and foraging, and if you love the idea of discovering an apple that’s been hiding in plain sight on the side of a road or along a trail on what used to be a farm, then this book is thrilling.

Buy it for $20; a portion of the money goes to Gardening for the Community in Springfield, Mass. And if you have a friend who loves foraging, this could be the most memorable holiday gift they receive this year.

Order it at Kaminsky’s website, www.gnarlypippins.com.

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