Nah, I’m not a helper, I’m not from the Old Country or Lake Constance. I didn’t study in Heisenheim, and for a long time I could just tell the difference between apples and pears. But I am one: a woman who loves apples!
When I filled the Thanksgiving basket for the lovely neighbors with freshly picked chestnuts, pears and a few freshly picked apples, a wonderful thing happened: our living room was filled with the scent of “grass flowers”. Since September, it has matured in an earthen cellar, which we dug especially for our apples and quinces, as home cellars are no longer cool enough. You won’t believe it if you haven’t sniffed it yourself! An apple that beats with its aroma. Filling the space. Experts will say that the apple is “spilled”. But this is not my language.
I lived in Berlin for over 40 years. After retiring from professional life, my husband and I moved to our small village in the Palatinate Forest, where we have had a home for 14 years. Our garden is spacious and wild, we have created a meadow garden and planted different types of wild fruits – out of love for nature and its biodiversity. From the beginning we wanted old varieties of apple trees. From childhood we knew nothing else, these taste memories are indelible. So one autumn afternoon we went shopping at a Munich tree nursery. And planted when the first snow fell. There was also a lot of old fruit in the tree nursery in West Palatinate and we took it. Our apple trees stand between cherries, plums, pears, Mirabella plums and white claws from Alsace – and yet they are necklaces.
The barren topsoil here, in a village in the middle of the Palatinate Forest, meant that everything was growing slowly. Everywhere red sandstone prevents the roots from moving forward. A great test of patience and young tribes awaited us. We carefully tended the cuttings of the trees, loosened them in the spring, mulched them in the fall and watered them when it was hot. After all, nothing is taken from nothing. Our trees are almost 500 meters above sea level, this is the limit. But they are scattered on the wide southern slope, taking the scorching sun.
“Do you smell that too?”
There must be something in my family that is in the fertile Rhine Valley. My grandmother already had a small apple orchard on the banks of the old Rhine, which we called “behind the dam.” It was built to protect against frequent floods. A beautiful piece of land. She distributed juices, bottled simple but elegant brown bottles and pressed in the cooperative as valuable gifts among children and grandchildren. We had Goldparmänen, Freiherr von Berlepsch, Taubenapfel, Rote Eiserapfel and Goldrenette von Blenheim. My dad loved Coke Orange, the flesh of which was a really juicy orange. And I loved the green and white, juicy transparent apples of early summer, which tasted especially nice when you let off steam in a pond quarry. They quenched their thirst better than sunkists or vomit.
An almost slender tall trunk like our “Grasblümchen” (local version of Sickinger Höhe, 1850) carries and carries. Your heart is almost broken due to heaviness. It’s a red-yellow beauty! But the trees take it for granted. In early summer I removed the smaller fruits to lighten the branches and stimulate the growth of the stronger ones. In mid-September we brought a brilliant harvest. Yes, the fruits shine as if they were ground separately.
Every spring the flowering of our trees already predicts the first olfactory impulse. The aroma of flowers is the entrance, the aroma of fruit and the aroma of chewing is the icing on the cake. My uncle Hans claimed that apple blossoms smell the most beautiful of all flowers. He once stood in a vegetable garden on the edge of our village, where today his son is also caring for many abandoned apple trees in the association, and shouted, as if obsessed, “Do you smell too?”
After a flower orgasm in April and May, fear begins: will the frost haunt us, as is often the case? This year we were lucky. Only a small walnut tree was affected, the fruits of which were placed in one hand every year. Once the danger of frost has passed, it will not be long before the first clusters of fruit appear. You are happy about it as a child. Sometimes I walk like the mistress of an apartment, and count the trees. Check stocks, examine logs. I am still amazed that what is laid in the ground like a discarded tree becomes so beautiful and fertile.
Hard and soft
An apple is hard today because it has a lot of fruit. This is an ordinary fruit. For a long time there were fruit trees just for self-sufficiency. Industrial cultivation began only in 1950. What lies and falls everywhere hardly matters. Old varieties often retired, and new varieties conquered the market. Today, there are 20,000 species of apple trees worldwide, about 10,000 of which are old varieties. “Malus” reminds us of Eve and the lost paradise. An apple should not be missing in any still life. A fruit like thunder is part of the imperial insignia. Sword and apple. Hard and soft. Round. Power. Fertility. Seduction. Perhaps that’s how Steve Jobs came up with the bitten Apple. And we are on “Dulmener-Rosnapfel” (1870), often carmine-red, juicy, spicy and at the same time “undemanding”, as it is called in the nursery.
The fruits of this third summer with a little rain in a row could not fully develop, they are smaller than usual. Here the trees suffer from aphids, butterflies and frost, scab – a constant companion. Our “Schonner von Boskop” (1856) capitulated, on a branch sadly hang only two apples. Last year he bent over the load. But “Dulmener”, which matured in the fall, found its fulfillment. We planted it next to the arch of roses (it belongs to the rose family); here begins the ascent to our home.
You go under the lavishly hung branches and the enveloping fragrance. The sweetness gently lies in the air like light water, sprayed, ephemeral. The bright red color of the apple enchants everyone. During the September harvest, I also had to occasionally wake my nephew, as if from a trance, and ask him to continue harvesting. The apples were too good in his hands. Wasps swayed around the fruit all summer and gradually tore out many. Sometimes only dry pods hang from the branches, like paper lanterns.
Like giant red plums
The winter apple is the “Kalterer Böhmer” (1810) from the Adige Valley in South Tyrol. The dark blush is striking. Visitors believed they saw giant red plums. Now it is still sour, but after ripening will taste. And in the summer we have long hoped for “Gravensteiner” (before 1700). Its aromatic sweetness is suitable for the warm season.
For many years the height gave some trees a rest because of the frost and cold, unfortunately, the “Rhine winter rambur” (before 1700). Perhaps we should have tried the “Dicken vom Hunsrück” (old local variety), the “Palatinate sheep’s nose” (before 1900) or the “Herrgottsapfel” (around Landstuhl before 1539). But you only have two hands, and sometimes you just don’t have the space. On the other hand, little “Ontario” (1820) bears very beautiful and surprisingly juicy fruit – if the fox at the last minute does not plunder the active, low trunk.
We harvest only for our own use. My husband perfectly bakes yeast fruit cakes. Our winter basement has stocks ready by March. Juices, cooking and stuffing in the vessels of one variety – also a holiday. They are enough for a glass of your own apple juice during your daily breakfast during the winter. I also happily use juice to dress salads, such as my own quince jelly, in a melange with mustard and elderberry syrup. And dream of vinegar, apple sparkling wine, calvados, a fusion of aromas of apples and roses. But everything is on time.
The leaves are now painted and, as the wind carries them, boast on the ground. Every day I do my daily circles on our rain-soaked land. The earth tastes water, but a lot of liters is a refreshment for the roots of all trees. However, they will not be enough again. It was just too dry.
The sun is flashing again and again. Then I see a very special guy in the green-and-yellow glow, “Minister von Hammerstein” (1882), sweet and sour. After “Ontario” it will be the last one we choose: with sticky fingers and possibly with the first snowflakes on the faces.
Andrea Seibel was the senior editor of WELT and now enjoys retirement.
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