“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” – Martin Luther
Perhaps our favorite thing about fall is apple season. Over the past 30 years, there has been a welcome reawakening around the biodiversity of apples beyond typical grocery store varieties. At least part of this growing awareness is thanks to renowned apple expert Lee Calhoun and his book Old Southern Apples.
Lee Calhoun did not set out to write a book. He set out to purchase a few trees for the Pittsboro, NC homestead he shared with his wife, Edith. But when Lee mentioned the varieties he’d selected, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, to a local elderly neighbor, the man suggested Lee seek a different eight or nine older varieties. When he couldn’t find them, the hunt began. Lee and Edith started driving Chatham County looking for apple trees to graft (for a quick intro to grafting, see here).
As Lee’s collection of apple trees grew, so did his fascination. Lee and Edith began researching these rare, heirloom varieties. After a decade of grafting rootstock, six years of library research and two years going over piles of notes, letters, and historical books, Old Southern Apples was published in 1995. It is a thoroughly researched reference book that details over 1800 heritage southern apple varieties, with additional historical context. It’s highly recommended reading for any apple enthusiast. Our apple-obsessed co-founder, Mark, owned Lee’s book before he relocated to Durham in 2005, and within weeks of moving here, promptly set out to meet Lee and learn as much as he could from the heirloom apple guru before planting a few fruit trees in his downtown Durham yard. Lee and Edith were more than gracious hosts, and Mark was thinking about one of Lee’s apple varieties (and the perfect peanut butter to complement it) when he had the idea for Big Spoon Roasters in October 2010.
The real-life ramifications of Lee Calhoun’s work are possibly best exemplified by Century Farm Orchard. The Reidsville, NC orchard specializes in growing and selling old southern apple trees. Owner David Vernon consulted Lee Calhoun to help save the family farm, and it’s old apple trees. Lee later entrusted his own nursery collection to David. Century Farm Orchard thrives today, and they even have open houses in November with music, baked goods, and lots and lots of apples!
Photo credit: The New York Times