Apple trees

by James Alexander-Sinclair

All the decent apples that we grow for fruit today come from grafted stock because apple trees grown from seeds will, almost always, taste sour enough to scour the enamel from your teeth.

Apple treeTo continue my (very) occasional series about interesting gardeners: have you ever heard of Johnny Appleseed?

He is one of the folk heroes of American horticulture and has been immortalised not only in books but also in a song by the late, great Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros (from their 2001 album Global A Go-Go; watch the video).

John Chapman was a hard-boiled and slightly mad frontiersman who travelled from Pennsylvania through to Ohio, ahead of mainstream settlers, planting apple seeds and creating nurseries of apple trees. The idea being that families (presumably in those canvas-covered wagons that, in Westerns, are always being arranged in defensive circles) would then turn up, start farms and need apple trees. He had some odd ideas (although there are so many conflicting versions that it is sometimes difficult to know what to believe), including the habit of never wearing shoes, using a cooking pot as a hat and such concern towards animals that he felt sympathy towards mosquitoes.

All the decent apples that we grow for fruit today come from grafted stock because apple trees grown from seeds will, almost always, taste sour enough to scour the enamel from your teeth. However, and this is the point, they will make darn good cider. Perfectly understandable really. If you were a hard-working settler trying to claw a living from a hostile land, surrounded by hungry bears and hostile natives then what would you rather have at the end of the day: a shiny 'Red Delicious' or a pint of scrumpy? Add to this the fact that the cider was often more potable than the water and if you freeze cider (easy enough in the snowy winters of the Midwest) then you end up with 60% proof applejack (or apple brandy).

Since his death in about 1845 the legend of Johnny Appleseed has been sweetened somewhat by popular culture. Gone are the references to alchohol and in their stead a lot of talk about vitamin C and the benefits of eating fruit. There has even been an animated Disney Film about him wandering around smiling a lot, befriending cute critters and distributing red apples to even cuter children.

However, whether you see Johnny Appleseed as a wild-eyed, ragged-trousered loner or rosy-cheeked and wholesome, it is undeniable that he managed to spread apple trees near and far to the great advantage of all.

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Gardeners' World Web User 18/01/2008 at 13:11

Very interesting to read about Applejack. My cousin came back from a trip to Canada and froze a large flagon of cyder to see if it worked. It did all right but with disappointingly small results! Friends and family were only allowed to sample it by the teaspoonful!

Gardeners' World Web User 18/01/2008 at 14:15

It was interesting to read about this chap, only wish I could get my apple trees to fruit whether they tasted sweet or sour some fruit would be nice.

Gardeners' World Web User 19/01/2008 at 00:17

Yes, I've heard the story of Johnny Appleseed. I think the scruffy frontiersman drinking cider is nearer the truth than the Disney version though! It's a cheap way to get an orchard if you're patient!

Gardeners' World Web User 21/01/2008 at 00:34

My new Holly tree planted in November has been blown by the wind and because of the wet weather I am worried that it will not survive, as I went in to tie it up and my feet in wellingtons sank into the very very soggy soil. Also my fuchias I have left in pots and think it will be too late to rescue them by taking them out and then where do I put them everywhere is so wet.

Gardeners' World Web User 04/09/2009 at 09:25

Could this be the name of the 30ft apple tree I have in my garden with cooking size apples, which have reddish pink flesh?

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