© 2020 Donna Hébert, all rights reserved.
The slideshow music is my waltz-clog, Little Birds, written for Molly in 2007. I recorded it with Max Cohen playing guitar in 2009 for In Full Bloom. Dancing to this track is Québecois step-dancer Marie-Soliel Pilette.
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Our language is ripe with apple metaphors – the apple of my eye, apple-cheeked, American as apple pie, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and of course there’s the trope of the apple offered by a designing woman: “Adam ate the apple and our teeth still ache,” in a Hungarian proverb. Apples have also long been associated with mysticism. Cut into an apple and you’ll find a five-pointed star, rich with symbolism. Such tempting fruit the apple is, with juice both fresh and fermented, with that tart-sweet crunch in your mouth when you bite into it. Indeed, the apple has sustained us and our domestic animals for centuries.
I live half the year in the north central part of Massachusetts that was home to John Chapman, better known as “Johnny Appleseed,” whose mythology is firmly implanted in the story of America’s westward expansion. Wagons heading into the wilderness of the Ohio River valley carried what was necessary to survive and cuttings and grafts for apple trees – and cider presses – made that trip. Disney glorified this expansion, implying that folks made pies with all those apples and that the land was empty, just waiting for them (it was not, as they unhappily discovered). What the settlers were doing was fermenting apple juice and making safe drinkables like low alcohol cider before the advent of the germ theory told them why their water was unsafe or why it made them so sick.
Now I live on an island with so many apples that I think of it as Avalon. Let’s just say that if Martha has a vineyard in Massachusetts, Aphrodite has an orchard on Cape Breton. On the west side of Cape Breton, from Mabou to Margaree Harbour, the many colors of the apples line the road like sugar maples do in Massachusetts. As a lifelong gleaner of wild food, they beckon to me but as we’ve learned, they also look better than they taste. Even though we have two of these ‘found’ trees here, we also have four grafted apple trees. The taste difference is marked. One is yummy, one is meh.
Of course the apple doesn’t breed true. It can’t. It has one root and a fruiting graft from another variety. Unlike an oak, where you can plant an acorn and an oak tree will grow like the original, apples have to be grafted to viable rootstock. Every apple we eat today is a clone, so planting the seeds of an apple won’t give you the same fruit. Pretty trees maybe, nice colors, but the apples will taste unremarkable, meh.
With the hurricane aimed straight at us, we picked ours a little earlier than planned this year and on Monday, we stripped the trees. Tuesday, while the wind blew, Bob chopped a batch of apples up for sauce but when we tasted the cooked mash before processing it, neither of us liked it, so we tossed it out for the fox. Sounds drastic but these came off our trees so we aren’t out any cash and whatever we put up has to taste good by itself. No amount of sugar or cinnamon will make blah apples better or worth the work of canning them and then there’s the fact that we already have more than a dozen delicious pints from previous years. It’s a drought year, so I’m not surprised. What surprised me was this batch of apples tasted much better fresh, like tart Ida Reds. So now we have our fingers crossed for the second batch, this one of Scotia Golds. Wish us luck!