Every year I set out to pick apples. This year I thought I’d be very highbrow about it and try to learn some history while I gathered fruit. So I set out to find a historic apple orchard. My search led to Boston, New York, Indiana, and Oregon.
I vaguely remembered that American apples originated somewhere in New England. The historical record tells us that there were apple trees planted from British seeds in Plymouth. It also places an early orchard on Beacon Hill in Boston. To my surprise and delight, a little research on Google Maps shows that there is still an Apple store in that area today! I packed my girls into the car and drove two hours to Boston, anticipating the fun of picking apples at their American genesis. When I arrived, I realized I’d made a slight mistake. There was no orchard on Beacon Hill, but I picked up a shiny new red Apple iPod to commemorate my misstep. It’s fabulous.
Next, I found out that the first commercial apple nursery in the country was in Flushing, New York! It was called the William Prince Nursery. Flushing is just down the road from where I live, so again I jumped in the car and headed there. I didn’t find the first American apple nursery, famously visited by George Washington himself, but did end up at a wonderful Korean bathhouse. That experience is fodder for a whole different post – anticipate it.
I’m tenacious so I kept looking for an early orchard. I decided to find out more about Johnny Appleseed, who was really John Chapmen. He was born in Massachusetts and spread apple seeds all over the country by sending packs of seeds with everyone who was going west. It’s a little hard to pin him to a specific orchard although it seems like he himself planted trees in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. If you’ve picked apples at an orchard in one of those states, please let us know about it in the comment section!
I did find a tree that I would love to visit, although I didn’t make it there this year. It’s in Vancouver, Oregon. It commemorates a man named Henderson Lewelling who traveled the Oregon Trail with his wife, eight children, and about 350 fruit trees. He and William Meek who arrived in Oregon with a bag of apple seeds founded an orchard. In 1850 their first crop yielded 100 apples and they headed to San Francisco to sell them to gold prospectors eager for fresh fruit. Each apple is said to have sold for $5.
In all honesty, this year I finally ended up back at Silverman’s Farm to pick apples. My experience this year was much like the one I wrote about last year. The fruit is delicious and I am finishing off a bowl of tasty apple crisp as I write. I think what I really learned about apples this year is that their history parallels the history of the United States–they migrated from foreign lands, found their way across all of America, and in diverse and surprising ways they have become part of our every day. Maybe that’s why so many of us are drawn to the apple orchards every autumn to pick some fruit or just to buy a fresh pie.
Where did you go for apples this year, and how is that place connected to American history? Or how is the place you live connected to apples?