Thursday, April 17, 2008

What's in a Name?

I should say something about the name of this blog: apples from the island. Settlers who built homes on the island until World War II as a rule planted a few apple trees in their back yards, and others elsewhere on their property, for a good supply of apple cider as well as for cooking and eating. This was a common practice most everywhere in rural New England. Today the island is filled with old apple trees, some behind houses still standing, others in the woods where old cellar holes may be found. Still other trees may be found, "volunteers" that grew from apple seeds which birds and deer and other animals spread from their droppings after eating. The apple tree does not grow true to variety from seed; seed-grown trees are hybrids from cross-pollination. Named varieties are always grafted: a scion (twig) from the tree of a named variety is attached to a hardy apple rootstock. The island settlers usually planted named varieties obtained as nursery stock, but over the years the identity of most of the old trees has been lost and has to be guessed at from the tree habit and the qualities of the fruit. Apples from the island has a literal meaning for me, as I make cider wine from the apples here; also, the habits of the apple serve as a rich metaphor. Apple specialists (pomologists) have walked this property and attempted to identify some of the trees that are more than fifty or a hundred years old and still bearing, but they don't agree on the varieties; and I have my own opinions.

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