Blog Name: 
The Accidental Farmer

My own apple genius bar was set pretty high when I presumed that cultivating an organic orchard at Stonegate was even remotely doable.

The cooperative extension folks shook their Carhartt-capped heads at my callow ambitions; nurseries tried to sell me the same old dreary disease-resistant cultivars; and local farmers insisted that the Hudson Valley, with its centuries of apple production, had created its own Darwinian microcosm of ever-adaptive pestilence would do me in.

Sept blog  9-2013-1737My 1852 copy of  AJ Downing’s Fruit and Fruit Trees of America.

It seemed without the regular puffing-out of vast clouds of synthetic pesticides, I was doomed to harvesting bushels of rotting, inedible muck.

The organic apples were truly forbidden fruit; a tired old trope for original sin.

So, of course – always one to succumb to a little biblical temptation – I planted them: Historic apples with seductive, suggestive names like Hidden Rose, Maidenblush, Pink Sparkle; those that sounded decent and honorable like Ashmead’s Kernel and Esopus Spitzenberg; or a few that reeked of high-born patrician plant-naming, like Duchess of Oldenberg, Devonshire Quarrandon, and C’aville Blanc D’hiver.

Sept blog  9-2013-1401Devonshire Quarrendon, an antique English variety from the 1600s with a complex, vinous bite.

The choosing of varieties (and there are sixteen dwarf, spindle-trained apples trees in my orchard) was not entirely up to me. I have the ghost AJ Downing and his nineteenth-century tome Fruit and Fruit Trees of America to thank for much of the fussy decision-making.

Downing, who was the foremost pomologist of his time and had his nursery in Newburgh, just a few miles from my farm, is something of a legend in these parts. More than just a plant nerd, he was a prominent horticulturalist, landscape designer, architect, author who cast a long and dazzling spell during his short life (he died at 37, drowned rescuing others during a steamship fire on the Hudson).  When it came down to planting an orchard at Stonegate, I wanted Downing help.

Sept blog  9-2013-1227An historic apple harvest of Hidden Rose, Devonshire Quarrendon, Kerry Pippin, Keswick Codlin, Holstein, Maidenblush, and Golden Russet ready for pick-up.

I spent weeks on-line, obsessed, looking for rare and historic apple and pear varieties that Downing knew and grew more than 150 years ago, and stumbled across a quirky, cranky rare-fruit nursery on the southwestern tip of Michigan called Southmeadow Fruit Gardens – they even quoted Downing on the cover of their catalog! After cross-referencing varieties they were growing with one’s Downing had written about and praised, I put my order in.

With minimally invasive, organic pest management, the orchard at Stonegate has matured over the past five years, and the apples this season are the pay-out: flecked and pocked and full of a kind of organic indignation for what passes for fruit these days, these are apples to be reckoned with.

Sept blog  9-2013-0781Dwarf apple and pear in the orchard, fronted by ripening blackberries.

We’ve just tasted some of the the first remarkable fruit of that planting, with a bushel or more of Golden Russet, with its fine-grained flesh and bronze cheeks; Maidenblush, flaring red over tender, yellow skin; Kerry Pippin, with its spicy, aromatic tang; and Hidden Rose, its flesh faintly streaked with pink – the apple of my i.

They may not be the prettiest pommes out there, but they’ve got plenty of of organic personality. And unlike the dull, synthetic supermodels at the A&P, these apples have so much to say.  –Mb

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