On a hike this weekend, I picked a wild apple from a tree sagging under the weight of its slightly misshapen fruit. It was a beautiful fall afternoon and the fruit fairly glowed in the golden fall sunlight. Having just written a book on apples, how could I resist grabbing one for a taste?
It goes without saying that wild apples aren’t like grocery store apples. But they also aren’t like the apples you tend to find at u-pick orchards either. They’re gnarled and lumpy, like an apple skin stretched taught over a box of rocks. They often have black spots and hard knobs from hungry insects. These imperfect wild apples reflect the apples of the past, before pesticides and other pest management strategies made it possible to have perfect, unblemished fruit. So picking one with a good spot for a bite can be a challenge – a hunt high and low through the branches for the right one.
Finding one, I took a bite, my husband watching expectantly for my reaction. I winced briefly at the surprising tartness and then relished the sweet aftertaste. The flesh was bright white with a slight green twinge toward the core, and the texture crumbly, more like a cake than a fruit.
Wild apples aren’t always so good. An apple’s agenda is different than our own. For an apple, a big core with seeds is crucial to reproduction and survival. They aren’t concerned about a good tasting or even a big amount of flesh for eating like we want in an apple. Wild apples are often bitter and tannic, too.
The apple I ate may have been the only one of its kind. An apple tree produces offspring completely unlike its parent tree. Each generation looks and tastes different. Only grafting allows us to produce apples of the same variety. The seed of this wild apple in the Baraboo hills may have traveled over many miles in the stomach of an animal. Or maybe it was the offspring of a tree near by.
All I know is that an unexpected apple found on a hiking trail on a beautiful afternoon is one of the purest pleasures of the season.