In the kitchen there are canning jars filled with fresh applesauce lining the shelves. An apple pie cools on the counter. Lunch will include a glass of newly pressed apple cider. What would autumn be without apples?
Long ago there were no apples, as we know them, in America, only crab apples. Then the earliest immigrants planted apple seeds from the apples consumed during their Atlantic passage. However, the trees from these seeds were not ''true type.'' Apples (genus Malus) are heterozygous to the extreme. During reproduction their genes mix and match to such a degree that the five seeds from one apple will grow into five trees that will produce five different types of apples. Wherever apples go, America in this case, their offspring contain so many genetic variations that some are bound to come up with whatever qualities it takes to survive and thrive in a new environment. The trees from those first seeds hybridize with one another and with the native crab apples until there were apple trees that could withstand the American environment.
Remember the children's story of a lanky, barefooted frontiersman carrying a sack full of apple seeds into the wilderness? John Chapman did indeed exist. And to him we owe the ubiquitous distribution of the American apple. For all his hayseed appearance, John Chapman was a shrewd businessman. He took the seeds of those first American apple trees and started apple tree nurseries along the frontier. He had a product the early homesteaders needed. A land grant to the Northwest Territory specifically required a settler to ''set out at least 50 apple or pear trees'' as a condition of his deed. This prevented land speculators from grabbing land and encouraged settlers to literally put down roots. The apples from Johnny's trees were not Red Delicious. In fact they were not delicious at all. Remember none of the seeds grew ''true type'' trees so there was no predictability as to what kind of apple Johnny's trees would produce. Most of these apples were wildlings ''sour enough to set a squirrel's teeth on edge and make a jay scream'' wrote Henry David Thoreau. The fate of a majority of Johnny's apples was hard cider. No doubt this product was welcome comfort in the minimally comfortable world of homesteading.
What would autumn be without apples?
Fortunately for those of us would enjoy munching on a sweet Crispin or Cortland, some wildlings produced reasonably edible apples. From these trees grafts were taken - a twig from the ''good'' tree is notched into a stock tree so that this twig will grow and produce good apples. All edible apples come from grafts.
Now, by seed or by graft, apples have made their way with the pioneers across the American continent, and apple pie has become a symbol of this country. Enjoy!
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit 501(c)(3) land trust and watershed education organization whose mission is to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. It is supported primarily by membership donations. For more information on CWC activities or to support the CWC, call 664-2166 or go to our website at www.chautauquawatershed.org.