Another Autumn, another post about apples…

Every year the apple trees prove to be the most reliable of fruit and every year the Jonathon proves to be the most reliable of varieties. It was introduced in 1864 in the USA. It appeared in Australia at some point before I was born, because I remember this being THE red apple of my childhood.

The orchard in my garden is about fifteen years old. The apples are dwarfing rootstock and we keep the trees pruned so that ladders are not required to pick the fruit and so that they can be individually netted against the rosellas and the crows who would be happy to eat them all.

The Jonathon is my standout favourite allrounder. It is the one in the orchard that doesn’t miss a year. The one that we eat fresh in abundance and cook with the most. The one whose fruit keeps the longest in storage, where it retains its flavour and texture the best. I remember it fondly from childhood and now in middle age it contributes a delicate sweetness and character to the cider we make with it. An all round champion, for me at least.

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There is always an outer layer of apples on the tree that are ruby red, an eternal image of fecundity and good health. Then hidden in the silvery green leaves are the pale green apples. You would think they are a different variety. Because the skin has not been touched by light, the anthocyanins have not been triggered into action and so they stay green, but they are still sweet and they are still delicious, but I tend to bundle the green kind into storage and the bright red ones are served up fresh.

Apple trees can have a variety of fungal problems, the Granny Smith in the same orchard is a tragic victim of scab (Venturia inaequalis), for example, but Jonathon seems to be pretty much blemish free at least here.

Part of the regular orchard maintenance in the lead up to the harvest is to gather up windfalls, then after the harvest and throughout Autumn and early winter, the lawn is kept short, the clippings gathered up, with all the leaves that have fallen, and taken away to be composted. We probably should burn the leaves, to make sure any fungal spores are dispatched. But we are conscious of the problems of air pollution and make sure the compost made with the clippings from the orchard are used as far away from the apple trees as possible. Breaking the leaves down quickly can certainly reduce the numbers of fungal spores that persist into the following year to reinfect the tree.

The other great pest, for the apples is the European wasp. I have seen them in their hundreds attacking the ripe fruit, biting holes through the skin and then eating the flesh from the inside out until nothing is left but the papery skin, a shell, a husk. It is a sure sign that the fruit is ripe, however and a good alarm to say hurry up and pick them before the wasps do.

I’m protective of this tree as you might have learnt. And I know not everyone will share my passion. I wonder, though, whether particular apple varieties have this affect on other gardeners. What’s your favourite?

It’s the wrong time to prune fruit trees

My biggest task in the garden I was working on in Boolarra last week was to bring to heel some rather exuberant fruit trees in an orchard that has not been pruned for quite a few years. I am not even sure all the trees are on dwarfing rootstock, so their capacity for growth knows no bounds. I chose to prune them now, the wrong time, in an attempt to knock a bit of vigour out of the growth of the trees. We will see how well that works. I will keep you updated.

Basically I cut out all the staunch upright growth with my handy little pruning saw and tidied up crossing branches and dead wood with my secateurs and loppers.

From the picture you can see it was a classic autumn day. The clippings went to the cows, who love fruit tree leaves (as well as fruit, apples in particular). The lopped branches will end up in a piece of rustic fencing at ‘Clear Springs’.

Oh my word, it’s apple picking time…

“The ripe, the golden month has come again … and from the cider-press the rich brown oozings of the York Imperials run…” Thomas Wolfe

I don’t know much about York Imperials, but I do know that Cox’s Orange Pippin is one of the best eating apples in the world. It has a vivd sweetness that is relieved by a pleasant sourness that with the crunch and ooze of the first bite, brightens up your palate. Eating fresh apples is such a pleasure. I have eight different varieties growing in my orchard and I love moving from one tree to the next at this time of year munching and comparing sweetness and colour and texture and flavour of the Cox’s with the Snow Apple and the Jonathan and the Red Delicious. It’s not an expansive collection, but it is full of the varieties I love.

Adam picks with the help of Elaine, every single apple from the tree.

Adam picks, with the help of Elaine, every single apple from the tree.

There are eight apple trees in our orchard, which means a lot of apples. More than we can eat. More than we can preserve, store and eat. As the trees have slowly matured over the years, I have been noticing the increasing harvest sizes and have been wondering what to do with them. Giving them to a food charity is one option (and I plan to give some of the bounty to Open Table https://www.facebook.com/opntbl/info?tab=page_info). Cider is the other option.

The back of the old ute with our crop of Cox's ready to head to Margaret and Peter's.

The back of the old ute with our crop of Cox’s ready to head to Margaret and Peter’s.

My friends Peter and Margaret are excellent home gardeners and they too have some lovely apple trees such as ‘Lord Lambourne’ and we have been talking for a while about turning these luscious fruits into something a little bit more alcoholic than apple pie and apple strudel. This year, after discovering the most wonderful shop in Melbourne, if not the world, Costante Imports in Bell Street Preston, where we purchased the appropriate equipment (<http://www.costanteimports.com.au&gt; No, don’t check them out yet, we’ll never see you again), we decided that the only thing holding us back was inaction.

So we acted. The following photos tell the story of how we picked, cut up, scratted (i.e. crushed) and pressed all the apples from my Cox’s Orange Pippin and how eight hours later we put the caps on two carboys that contained all up 62 litres of apple juice ready to be fermented into cider. There are a few scientific sort of things we had to do after that. I will let you find out that stuff online, as we did, because I am sure that others can explain the process far better than I can.

The cows were very happy to feast on the apples that were too damaged to press.

The cows were very happy to feast on the apples that were too damaged to press.

The cutting of the apples.

The cutting of the apples.

The scratting of the apples.

The scratting of the apples.

The pressing of the apples. See the lovely juice flowing into the bowl. It took a lot of elbow grease. Margaret proved to be the best presser of the three of us, I will concede.

The pressing of the apples. See the lovely juice flowing into the bowl. It took a lot of elbow grease. Margaret proved to be the best presser of the three of us, I will concede.

This is Peter's photo of the carboys that contain the juice, which now, thanks to the addition of some brewer's yeast, is busily fermenting.

This is Peter’s photo of the carboys that contain the juice, which now, thanks to the addition of some brewer’s yeast, is busily fermenting.

So that’s one tree taken care of. I have good crops on at least five of the remaining apple trees. I am not sure if we will make another batch of cider this year, but I will definitely be storing a good selection of the rest of the apples in boxes in cupboards and sheds, to keep me going for the next five or six months (they keep really well in cool dark places in shallow boxes).

So the York Imperials might delight the cider makers of Virginia, but in South Gippsland, Cox’s Orange Pippins are our first choice for cider making. For now at least. We will be planting some actual cider apples this year. But that’s another story.

Until then, enjoy your apples and enjoy this poem by a Melbourne born poet who knew that apples, like all of us, can improve with age.

 “A dish of apples, two are large and smooth,

The third smaller. Its skin, my fingers learn,

Has just begun to wrinkle. So I choose it:

The fruit inside is likely to be sweeter.”

Philip Martin from Fruits of Experience