by Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan
(all photos courtesy of Mark Dohm)
Perhaps it was hard at first to know whether the “antique” in the phrase, “antique apple experts,” referred to the apples or to the experts. But when the Hall of Famers of the Heirloom Apple Kingdom gathered on March 19th at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum outside of Madison, it was clear that the so-called “old-timers” invited had much to say about the current status of and future prospects for old-timey apples. Between them, they had more than 350 years growing, pruning, propagating and tasting uncommon American apples, thereby constituting a sort of Buena Vista Social Club for these forgotten fruits.
And so, the Forgotten Fruits Summit organized by the Renewing America’s Food Traditions alliance became the first full gathering of America’s most accomplished back-country fruit explorers, veteran orchard-keepers, horticultural historians, pomological propagators, natural-born nurserymen and hard cider-makers concerned with the destiny of Malus X domestica, the single fruit most imbedded in the American identity. Their task was to determine the best means of restoring apple diversity to our farms, roadhouses, backyards and kitchens, and to revive “apple culture” in all its dimensions on this continent.