A few weeks back, when autumn hadn’t yet turned into winter, we held an “Apple Day” in our village. The celebration of what is seen as our national fruit was instituted by the charity Common Ground in 1990, and now many communities hold some kind of event in mid to late October as apples are picked and enjoyed. In our village, the celebrations at our Community Café included apple-juice making using a press, an apple-themed menu, and lots of apple based crafts and fun for the kids, including the inevitable apple-bobbing (the competitive retrieval of a floating apple from a bucket, using only your teeth). The heart of the event though, are the fruits themselves: over 30 varieties of apple grown locally, forming a wonderful display of diversity in aroma, taste and appearance. At one end of the spectrum you have a variety like Spartan – a brash, bright apple with a deep red, almost purple skin overlying crisp white flesh. At the opposite end you have the mellow hulking green of the Bramley’s Seedling cooking apple – each weighing over a pound, whose size belies the delicate balance of tartness and flavour within. And perhaps on its own you have an apple like Egremont Russet with its elegant nutty taste and texture unlike any other. There are apparently something like 12,000 different varieties of apple – and all within one species, Malus domestica. Yet we only usually come across a handful of varieties in our supermarkets and greengrocers. For me the amazing diversity we find in apples is a result of how humans have taken advantage of the potential that God created in that one species. But holding on to that variety is not just about celebrating the past and enjoying the taste of “heritage” or “heirloom” apples. Diversity is an intrinsic part of food security, particularly with an uncertain future in terms of climate and weather: In 2012 late frosts affected our area when the fruit trees were in blossom. A commercial orchard a few miles from here which has only four varieties was badly affected and harvested few apples. My hotch-potch orchard of over thirty varieties all flowering at slightly different times fared better – most of the trees had apples, with some completely loaded.
I met someone recently who, like me, is convinced that tough times lie ahead as the convergence of energy shortages and the effects of climate change start to impact an unprepared world. But our responses are different. His response is to make sure he has a shotgun and a generator. Me? I’m planting apple trees.