Mystery trees

I was doing a little spring pruning on my fruit trees a couple weeks back and things are looking hopeful for our mystery tree.

I was doing a little spring pruning on my fruit trees a couple weeks back and things are looking hopeful for our mystery tree. This could be the year I finally get some apples! Exactly what kind of apples remains to be seen.

Five years ago we bought three apple trees — a Norland, a Heyer 12 and a crab. It was Mother’s Day weekend and the nursery was a mad house. We eyed the crowds, considered the distance between us and the checkout counter inside and came up with a brilliant idea. Instead of lugging three trees through the crowds and into the store we would set the trees by our nearby truck, remove the tags and take them to the counter instead.

Feeling beyond brilliant we proceeded to the counter with our light load. It wasn’t until we were on our way home that we realized we no longer knew which tree was which. Two of the trees died over the first winter leaving us with one that could be a Norland, a Heyer 12 or a crab. We have since replaced the other two and added three more. All of which, I am happy to report, are alive and carefully named. Our miniature apple orchard now includes another Norland, a Honeycrisp, a Battleford, a Kirk, a Minnesota 447, a Thunderchild crab and, of course, our Mystery Apple.

The Thunderchild (and perhaps our Mystery Apple) is the only one of the bunch without the potential for apples sweet enough to eat off the tree. Thunderchild has gorgeous pink blooms in the spring but the fruit— like all crab apples — will be a bit sour and best used for making jelly. Even if it wasn’t beautiful I would have bought it anyway, just for its name. Thunderchild! How poetic is that? It certainly rolls off the tongue better than Heyer 12 or Minnesota 447.

Speaking of apples and tongues, last year I discovered Ambrosia apples in the grocery store and it was love at first bite. The taste was so swoon worthy it moved me to do a search online in the hopes of being able to grow one of my own. Instead I stumbled on a story as incredible as the flavour itself.

Back in 1989 a rogue apple sapling sprung up in a newly planted row of Jonagolds in B.C.’s Similkameen Valley. It should have been grubbed out but for some reason was overlooked until it had reached such a size the orchard owners decided to leave it be. When it started to bear fruit in the early 1990s the pickers were drawn to the tree; the fruit was irresistible. Though the pickers seldom ate apples, this particular tree became their favourite and was consistently stripped clean and consumed on the spot. The orchard owners were intrigued and tried propagating the tree. To their delight the offspring produced the same delectable apples as the mother tree. They moved through the process to have it registered, naming it Ambrosia … food of the gods! It ripens in late September or early October and keeps for about six months, which sadly means that locally its season has now come to an end. Foodies out there will want to circle October on their calendars and write “Ambrosia apple harvest” in bright red ink — you won’t be disappointed!

In the meantime you could sample some imports — though local is better. Today Ambrosia apples are grown in orchards not only in Canada but throughout North America, Europe, Chile and New Zealand and available in grocery markets the world over. What an incredible thing! Hundreds of thousands of Ambrosia trees all stemming from a single tree that found its roots by chance right here in western Canada; a tree that appeared on its own as if by magic; a mystery tree that has become a legend in its own time.

Now that’s the kind of mystery tree to have. As for a mystery tree resulting from a pair of idiots removing its label? Not so much.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns or check out her garden blog by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com.

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