“King of Tompkins County Apple” illustration (Rochester: D.M. Dewey, 1872).
Of the thousands of varieties of apples that exist worldwide, why is it only a few ever make it to the supermarkets across America? The answer isn’t that these varieties taste better, or even that they are easy to grow, it’s simply that they travel well across long distances.
The result of 50+ years of commercial preference has dwindled populations of once popular varieties, in some cases, to the brink of extinction.
Those of us in northern Michigan are fortunate that protected within the boundaries of our beloved national park are old orchards grown on standard stock, still thriving after 100 or more years. Healing Tree Farm is working with the NPS to preserve and propagate some of these varieties. These trees will be grafted by a group of volunteers in the spring of 2014 and planted in a nursery at the DeYoung property.
In addition, HTF is planting an eight acre apple orchard next spring featuring 200 antique and unique varieties collected from trees found outside of the park boundaries. Some of these varieties include: King of Tompkins, Manet, Striped Harvey, Winesap, Sweet Sixteen, Belle de Boskoop, Roxbury Russet, and Wealthy. Grafted on to standard and semi-dwarf stock, these trees may survive to see our great great grand children, with a lineage, in some cases, reaching back more than 400 years.
Each variety has its own story. And each selection of scion wood grafted again propagates more than variety; it lends a voice to each tree.
King of Tompkins County
King of Tompkins County, also known as the “King apple” for its unparalleled vigor and size, was so named by Jacob Wycoff, who brought a grafted tree to Tompkins County, NY in 1804 from Warren County, New Jersey. Though the exact lineage is unknown, an investigation some sixty years later by a horticulturalist named James Mattison, revealed the trees likely originated near the north side of the Musconetcong mountain range.
By 1860, it was being grown in Michigan, but like many varieties was overshadowed by a more industrial approach to fruit growing initiated by the 1940s. Likely the first tree we’ll see produce fruit from cuttings, we’re looking forward to breathing new life into this magnificent variety.
A probable a parent tree of the popular McIntosh apple, the Fameuse, or “snow apple” is a small, but flavorful dessert variety first planted in Canada in the 1600s. What I love most about this sweet little apple is the bright red skin juxtaposed with the bright white flesh. Though a delight, at the beginning of the 20th century it was already scarce.
In a 1907 Ottawa Citizen article titled, “A Doomed Apple,” then vice-president of the Pomological Society of Quebec, CA, R.W. Shepher, said he feared the Fameuse would be permanently superseded by McIntosh. The mac was less likely to bruise when shipped, and held similar appeal.
Fameuse is also found on North Manitou Island, nestled within an orchard planted more than one hundred years earlier by Frederic M. Beauham. Contracting with the Stark Brothers in 1894, this 160 acre orchard is home to nearly 1000 apple trees.
A product of French missionaries in Canada, the Fameuse apple is at least 300 years old. Though planted in other regions of the world, many insist it will only reach its full potential on Canadian soil. Friendly neighbors to Canada, we’re hoping to disprove that biased rumor.
A northern spy cross, the sweet sixteen was developed in 1977 by the University of Minnesota. Though a recent addition, the tree maintains the exquisite flavor, vigor, and disease resistance of an antique variety. We call it the ‘bourbon of apples’ for its heavy spice flavor and aromatic qualities, and we’re excited to see it excel in availability and taste-trials here in northern Michigan. For this apple, the story is just beginning to unfold.
In the coming months, we’ll share more about the varieties coming to Healing Tree Farm at DeYoung and additionally, will offer classes both at DeYoung and Port Oneida in pruning, grafting, and old apple tree restoration. Be well!