Grafting: Apples and Pears, 2014

Sometimes things go “almost” exactly as planned

DSC_0026These cuttings were taken from an apple tree of the variety “Duchess of Oldenburg” last winter, and grafted onto semi-dwarfing rootstock in the spring.

Blossoms on grafted cuttings are very unusual in the first year.  Usually a grafted tree will grow a stem in the first year, branches in the second year, then blossom and bear fruit in year three or four.  I’m not sure what happened here, but it makes for a curious photograph.

Most of the other 40 apples and 5 pear trees I grafted this year have a more conventional appearance.  That is, they are either alive or dead.  Below, scion-wood from the apple variety “Akane” was double whip-and-tongue grafted onto M9 rootstock.

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The whip-and-tongue graft has been quite successful for me.  A strong union is formed over the first year, allowing the grower to handle the young trees (re-potting, planting etc) without worrying about breaking the graft.  Below, this “King of Tompkins County” apple is pictured one year after grafting, with the paraffin tape removed.

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About 80% of this spring’s grafts were successful.  That leaves me with plenty of trees, but sadly missing some of the varieties I had hoped to cultivate.  Perhaps a trade is in order…next spring I will have yearling apple trees available (all my varieties are good) if anyone can provide me with cider apple and perry-pear scion wood.

Cheers!

 

Field Notes: Map of Heritage Orchards and Historic Fruit Trees of the Northwest

I promised when I first started writing this blog, to use it as a cutting edge online laboratory notebook.  I said that because I thought it sounded cool.  I also promised to share my successes and failures…again, it’s the kind of stuff you say right before you get elected.

The failures I don’t mind revealing, especially anything to do with cooking or brewing.  That stuff makes for great material.  But it’s tempting to keep the best for oneself – the most picturesque orchards, the small pool of quality varieties, the perfect accidentally-devised recipes…but sitting here as a scientist at the end of his day, I think it’s a sin to make deliberate omissions in a lab notebook.

Below is a Google Map I use to keep notes on historic orchards and fruit trees from British Columbia to Southern California.  With over 100 coordinates it may take me awhile to visit all of these sites, but as I do I will attempt to track the status of these orchards, the number and condition of the trees, the varieties present and any restoration or maintenance efforts I observe.  Please enjoy these orchards, visit them and work for their preservation and recapitulation.


 

Please utilize the comments section to suggest corrections or to help me add new information. Thanks.

Early Apple Varieties

I am lucky to be surrounded, in my personal and professional life, by highly educated, specialized people- experts and technicians in their crafts or fields. These people are great, but in practical terms the number of things they do well tends to be limited. Compared with people one or two generations ago, we tend to leave woodworking to the carpenters and music to the musicians. We mainly entrust the art of vehicle repair and enhancement to the mechanics. We mercifully restrict the practice of medicine to the health care professionals.

For better or worse (better, I think), we live in a society of experts. But many also crave a secondary skill – something that falls between a hobby and a religion, something that they can share in an intimate way with their friends and family.  Enter the “Foodie” movement. For many, an enhanced appreciation for the preparation and consumption of and drink provides that accent to professional and family life.

Early Apple Varieties

This “gourmandism” can take many forms: the pursuit of fresh, seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs – the craft of smoking or curing meat and fish – sundry manners of fermentation, cheese making, pickling and brewing – baking and all associated witchcraft – the grill, in all its glory. Regardless of their day job, when it comes to food everyone seems to have their “thing.” And when we all come together at the table, these cultivated food skills collaborate in a real and rewarding way.

Here at WarLock Manor, we dabble in a little of everything, but the main theme of our efforts – the center of our culinary orbit – is the apple.

“The apple” is, of course, not a single kind of fruit but an array of types each with its own qualities, attributes and abilities.  You might even say that apple varieties comprise their own community of experts and specialists.  Some cook smartly into sauce, some are best dried and preserved. A few select varieties have aroma and structure enough to hold up baked into pies and tarts, or provide a cooked accompaniment to pork, fowl, or fish. Vinous and crunchy American apples can be tossed into a salad, add crunch to a sandwich or hamburger, or be eaten straight from the tree. Sweet and tannic apples can be crushed and pressed into juice and drunk fresh, or forgotten for a few months to stiffen into cider. Carelessly or on purpose, a little air will turn cider into vinegar, which is a staple in our pantry.

Apples have provided several inspiring challenges for the foodies in us. Luckily we live in a place that can and does grow very good apples. It all starts with finding the right varieties at the right times and making the right decision about how to use them.

Transparent Apple, Edmonds, WA

The first apple to ripen is usually the Transparent, a variety common to Western Washington and the American West (though famous worldwide). This pale, almost white-skinned apple will start to soften and drop from the trees in mid-August. You may have to pick two or three  find a really ripe juicy one, but it’s worth the effort. Transparent is a “cooker,” meaning it is quite acidic and will break down to a froth when cooked. It’s great for apple sauces, and is sometimes used to put away an early batch of cider.

Apple Varieties

Another summer cooking apple is Red Astrachan (above left). Like Transparent, this variety hails from Russia, where they apparently like their apples very sour. Astrachan has a flavorful and deeply colored skin (which can sometimes stain the apple’s flesh red as well). Picked the third week of August, I have used this apple for cider and the results were promising.

Wealthy (above right) is an unusually hardy variety. Several hundred-year-old Wealthy trees still grow in Carkeek Park in Seattle, where they bear heavy crops every year. An “aromatic” apple ripening in early September, Wealthy tastes and smells strongly of strawberries and has a nice balance of sweet and tart. I have made some tasty baked Wealthy apples, and have also prepared them grilled and seasoned alongside pork chops. This variety is supposed to be a nondescript apple for cider, but I’ve used it due to its abundance and availability- results are pending.

Spartan (above middle) is a particularly attractive apple. It grows and crops well in our area, ripening in mid to late September. The flavor is similar to a Wealthy, but more heavily scented and sweeter. The crisp texture (akin to a Cameo) makes it a particularly pleasing dessert apple. Elizabeth loves this apple, and we have one planted in our yard for ornament and snacking.

Late Summer Apple Varieties

Other apples ripening in the late Summer and early Fall are – Duchess of Oldenburg (above left, soft and juicy with hints of citrus and banana) and Akane (above, second to left, very crunchy with a distinctive pear flavor) are best eaten fresh. Dolgo (above right) is a small astringent crabapple used for jelly or added in fractions to juice and cider.

These (along with the iconic all-purpose Gravenstein) are the early apples we pick here at WarLock Manor.  After a long Winter, Spring and Summer they are welcome indeed, and are used hastily and enthusiastically in any number of ways. Sometimes they fulfill their exact purpose.  At other times, like that reliable friend arriving first to a dinner party, they are sometimes pressed into service for which they are not fit, or given undue attention by default of their superior punctuality.

But is this not the moment for apples and Foodies to shine? Let us be flexible in our talents and our tastes so that no apple, nor any moment at the kitchen table with friends, is wasted.

Public Orchards Around Puget Sound

My ideal brewing operation would produce apple and pear ciders to my exact specifications, at a scale which precisely offset my cider consumption.

A Cider Spider at Piper's Orchard

Assuming Elizabeth and I were to each enjoy a pint of cider per day (for breakfast, perhaps?) we would need to start with 3/4 ton of milled and pressed apples, which would eventually yield about 100 gallons of cider. But Federal Law sets the production limit for our household at 200 gallons per year, suggesting that we should either increase our consumption to two pints each per day, or make more friends.

All things considered, we decided that one ton of apples and pears would probably meet our needs. However, the trees in the Agate Orchard were in rough shape. The original varieties were not known to crop heavily or consistently, so I anticipated only a few hundred pounds of apples per year until the orchard was improved.

It would be necessary to scrounge, beg, trade, and perhaps even poach most of that ton of fruit. We needed to find other trees, other orchards, and other orchardists to help fill our barrels.

Small private orchards have proven indispensable, but the following are public or “open-to-the-public” places were one can harvest, sample, or perhaps just admire orchards of apple and pear trees:

Magnuson Park in Seattle is just down the street from my neighborhood. Asidefrom boasting a huge lakefront recreational area and the off-leash dog park where Pearl rolls in the mud each week, there is a small orchard of a few dozen trees, very deliberately laid out on dwarfing rootstock. There is a diversity of varieties here that is not found in most orchards of this size. The selection is mostly of critically acclaimed dessert apples. However, the size of the trees and proximity to the playground encourage careless picking in the Summer (before the fruit has even ripened), so the full potential of this orchard is not always realized in the Fall. There is a second string of older apple and crabapple trees along the water, on the other side of the park.

Socked Apples at Magnuson Park

Anderson Island is the Southernmost island in Puget Sound. Accessible only by ferry, it is the location of several old farms and orchards. The Johnson Farm (Anderson Island Historical Society) has a small and neatly kept dwarf orchard of the traditional varieties: Spartan (Elizabeth’s favorite), Liberty, and Gravenstein.

Johnson Farm, Anderson Island

Remants of small homestead orchards can also be observed in yards and pastures throughout Anderson Island, and near old playgrounds like (private) Interlaken Park.

Interlaken Park, Anderson Island

Piper’s Orchard at Carkeek Park in Seattle is a great example of a historic orchard maintained and renewed in a traditional way. Surrounded by forest, century-old trees tower above or lie fallen beside younger trees, planted and cared-for by volunteers (including Elizabeth and myself).

Piper's Orchard

There is a quantity and variety of fruit here that is unmatched by other public orchards, and an admirable attempt at public outreach and education. This site features at least 20 varieties of apples and perhaps 10 varieties of pear and plum. The fruit can be picked and enjoyed freely after the Festival of Fruit in mid-September. The knowledge and skill communicated by the Stewards of Piper’s Orchard has been critical to my understanding of old fruit trees, as well as the harvesting and preservation of fruit.

Family Trees

Some time ago, my father-in-law suggested that I might make an attempt at brewing hard apple cider. Burt had eaten my homemade meals, read about my research in brewing biofuels, noted the trends in the beer and wine industry, and synthesized one of his best ideas ever (apparently Elizabeth was an accident). I agreed that cidermaking was something I should try… but I dawdled for over a year before starting my first batch.

Why did I put aside his suggestion for so long? Why did I follow my first employer to California? Why did I wait five years before putting a ring on my wife’s finger? Because I am obsessed with escalating the degree of difficulty of my own life.

Buying a gallon of apple juice from the supermarket and adding a packet of brewer’s yeast wasn’t stimulating enough for me. I needed a project that touched on issues historical, genetic, socioeconomic, and familial. I didn’t want to make cider from the contents of a shopping cart. I wanted cider fermented from sunlight, and the air and soil of some secret archetypal garden. I wanted to brew something significant.

Last year my parents invited Elizabeth and I to Agate, WA to see my great-grandparent’s homestead, which had lain neglected since I was very young.

Orchard in Winter 1950The Agate Orchard in Winter, circa 1950

The Orchard, Spring 2012

The orchard 60+ years later. From left to right: A sample of surviving apple, plum and pear trees in Spring.

The orchard there (est. 1934) and I (est. 1984) had for 20 years been awaiting each other.  Since my parents were busy remodeling the house and hauling away the refuse of 85 years, I requested the care of the fruit trees in exchange for the harvest… all of it… as well as permission to plant another orchard of my own design.

Tree Condition, Spring 2012

An old Northern Spy Apple. This tree was carelessly sawed back and left to grow tangled branches with a drooping habit.  The weak and twisted growth will be pruned, the upright and healthy saved and allowed to bear fruit.

We walked the orchard together, the apple blossom falling and the warden blossom full throughout that orchard in the forest. My mind was flooded with possibilities of future work and reward.

Blossoms

Blossom of a European Pear of excellent flavor but unknown variety.  This particular tree is in poor health, but will be saved by grafting a branch onto new roots.

We drove over the bridge and through the woods toward home, where I learned myself everything there was to know about planting, growing, and pressing apples for cider.

Welcome to THE CELLAR

Adam & Pearl (8 Weeks Old)

My name is Adam. I’m a scientist.

In an expanding and rapidly moving world, that means I’m always learning something new, and collaborating with those uniquely qualified to teach me. Lately I’ve become a protein chemist (my day job), a gastronomist, a husband, a homeowner, an orchardist, and a cider-maker.

I’m most comfortable communicating in equations, diagrams, and long paragraphs of technical prose. This partnership with my wife, Elizabeth, offers a new challenge in an unfamiliar medium: photographs and videos that are as vivid and illuminating as my own experience. I consider this blog a cutting-edge laboratory notebook, logging the inconclusive but ongoing experiment of my life.

So, since this appears to be a kind of abstract, I should probably let you know what to expect:

  • Delight at success, otherwise humor.
  • Excessive amounts of context- allusions to ancient history, conjecture about the distant future, examination of microscopic mechanisms and macroscopic repercussions.
  • An aesthetic that reflects joy in the moments the natural world cooperates with human designs.
  • Newly grafted apple trees, dormant, standing straight in even rows.
  • Flasks and beakers left in mild disarray, my attempts to tame a wild yeast.

Upstairs, in The Kitchen (coming soon!):

  • “Fillets of sole stewing in the juice of tangerines / Slices of green pepper on a bone white dish” (Robert Hass, Song)

And, in my contributions to spousal site All the Dark Rooms:

  • Scratched and paint-flecked antique mahogany, stripped, then smoothed and stained and tacked back around my kitchen doorway… where it belongs.