Disappearing Apple Varieties – 1,400 to 200 – wow!

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The Genius of Apples; by Linda Burnham, Oct 2004

There’s a hearty band of hunters ransacking the South, says Lee Calhoun, hunting for old Southern apples. They are tracking down apple trees in the front yards of old country homes that may disappear tomorrow. Time is running out for these hunters. Of the 1,400 apple varieties known to have originated in the South, only about 200 are still known to exist. “The others are totally extinct,” says Calhoun, “and when that happens, you lose a whole apple. Most of these trees were planted in the early 1900s. I’d say we only have about five years left to find them.”

Creighton Lee Calhoun is a pomologist. Etymologically, that means he loves apples. On his land in the Saralyn community in the heart of old Chatham County, he is growing 450 kinds of heirloom apples. Calhoun’s Nursery on Blacktwig Road has become legendary among those who are trying to rescue a history that is slipping away. There he collects cuttings of old varieties, grafts them onto root stock and plants and sells the results, all in the name of preservation and propagation. Our own Johnny Appleseed.

One hundred years ago, apples were a staple of the Southern diet. Time was, says Calhoun, when every farmhouse in the largely rural South had apple trees in its yard. Apples provided fresh fruit from June to November, and were kept in the root cellar all winter. The varieties were myriad, providing fruit through the whole summer — early, midseason and late. Southerners dried the tart varieties, made applesauce and apple butter from the soft ones, and fashioned pies from the firmer fruit that held its shape during cooking.

Read more The Genius of Apples

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