Last winter, my husband and I bought a house on 15 acres of land in the mountains of western Maine.
It had a little orchard, but since the previous tenants had fed the deer apples right in the middle of the orchard, our trees were eaten to nubs.
Nonetheless, we found about a dozen wild apple trees that had been planted by the deer maybe 30 years ago and had survived the browsing, the -20° winters, and the aggressive blocking of light by the neighboring pines.
When we asked ourselves what does our land want to grow, the wild trees told us on no uncertain terms: apples.
So I decided to start a cidery. In the spring we planted maybe 17 trees (lost count), almost all different varieties, mostly English bittersweets and Maine heritage apples. Next year we'll be planting many more.
That is the voice of Shelah Horvitz, whose cidery will be called Savage Apples Orchard, "after my ferocious wild apple trees."
I haven't tasted any of the apple varieties I've planted. I haven't seen any of them in stores, in farmers' markets, nothing.
The closest I've come is my two Gravensteins, which are some of my healthiest trees; my husband is Norwegian and I wanted the Gravensteins so I could attempt to reproduce the ambrosial Gravenstein juice we had enjoyed in Hardanger. But the rest, I have purchased from verbal descriptions.
We're clearing some land and this coming spring I'll learn to graft and will be getting a lot of scion wood for a new orchard.
I recognize I'm at the really exciting stage where my entire orchard is a mystery. I've read how good my Ashmead's Kernel and Cox's Orange Pippin will be someday, but right now they're just these little trees wheezing through scab scars.
Tiny Dabinette, which should never have been planted on M111, almost gave up the ghost when the scab swept the orchard, but she's coming back, squeezing out the leaves, the intrepid little baby.
There's Bramtôt, a stocky little fireplug full of energy, with her guardian spider that takes care of all the bugs.
My trees all have personalities. They all have this problem, that problem. They all have their little triumphs. I know them from that end. But what their fruit will taste like? I have only heresay.
This year I'll be making my first cider. Since my trees are babies, I'll have to purchase apples. I know of a few places where cider apples can be bought but they're quite a drive away.
Do you know of any orchards near Boston where I might be able to pick up some English bittersweets?
Shelah says she comes to Boston regularly. I'm leaving the last part in in case anyone reading this can help her. Because my readers are the best.
Thank you, Shelah, for permission to publish this story. And good luck with those trees!