The Apples of My Eye

It’s that time of year again, when I spend an hour picking apples off the ground in my front yard several mornings a week.

I sort them carefully, discarding the ones with evidence of codling moths or squirrel bites and hauling the rest indoors.

I’ve been told by older neighbors that my house was the home of an orchardkeeper in the 1930s or 1940s, and almost everyone in the vicinity has cut their apple trees down but me.

When I saw a recent news story about apple sleuths in search of vintage varieties no longer grown, I knew I had to contact them.

Within a couple weeks, there was an apple sleuth in my yard, sampling the fruit and calculating the geographic coordinates of the tree.

He said mine doesn’t appear to be old enough for true Lost Apple Project designation – 100 years or older – and for a definitive answer on the type of apple, I’d need to send leaf samples to Washington State University for DNA testing.

Yep, these folks are serious. They even have an annual Heritage Orchard Conference, which is being held online this year as a series of monthly seminars. The next session is this Wed., Sept. 16.

After a little research, the sleuth’s best guess is that my tree is a Duchess of Oldenburg, an apple variety that originated in Russia in the 1700s. While it isn’t common today, it also isn’t especially rare – you can still buy these trees at a few specialty nurseries.

I was also happy to learn that the tree is healthy, and perhaps 60 years old.

The experts are no doubt disappointed not to find the Holy Grail of Lost Fruit Trees, but I am thrilled to learn more about its history, and even more determined to keep it alive and thriving.

“A Duchess of Oldenburg,” I told them, “is the closest to royalty I’ll ever get!”

And this grand old gal keeps me busy every year, turning out applesauce, apple tarts, pie filling and apple butter – all of it delicious.