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APPLE SEASON MEANS TAKING THE TIME TO RUMINATE ABOUT TASTY DELIGHTS OF MULTIFACETED FRUIT

As you meander down Alps Road at different times of the year, your nose will tell you different things. The air may be curdled by the tang of cabbage and cow manure or perfumed by curing hay and the blossoming locust groves. You may want to roll your windows up or down in response, but it is what makes life in farm country varied and real.

This week as you travel to the town end of the road, you are treated to the cidery bouquet of apples on the trees of LynOaken orchards. It is like a dessert at the end of a meal.

Long ago, the Greek writer Plutarch created a tale in which his characters debated which of all the fruits was the most perfect. The winner of the contest spoke for the apple, for it smelled and tasted great, was beautifully shaped and colored, and, like M&M candies two millennia later, was not messy to eat.

If he had needed more arguments, he could have mentioned the apple's quality in storage and its adaptability in cooking. Humanity has been agreeing with Plutarch ever since, and it seems as if everywhere you look in human history or folklore, an apple can be found.

The apple got us kicked out of the garden of Eden, started the Trojan War, poisoned Snow White and led to the founding of Switzerland. King Arthur was transported to the heavenly isle of Avalon, which in Welsh means "Island of Apples." Madonnas were pictured holding apples, and girls spit apple seeds on Halloween to learn the identity of their future husbands.

Not only the taste of the apple has endeared it to humanity. The genetic unpredictability of the fruit makes apple culture a mystery, and planting an apple seed is like buying a scratch-off lottery ticket, a case of "You never know."

This is because an apple seed does not run true to the tree which produced it. If you plant a seed from a MacIntosh apple, you won't get a McIntosh tree. That is only done by grafting, a practice discovered thousands of years ago.

This genetic lottery has given us so many wonderful varieties of apples, and most of the strains of apples we enjoy now have curious stories connected to them.

The Delicious apple was discovered on Jesse Hiatt's farm in Iowa. Hiatt had cut it down twice before he chanced on the apple produced by his persistent tree. The Golden Delicious was found in the hills of West Virginia, and its first grafted stock was grown in a steel cage to protect it from theft.

John McIntosh in nearby Dundas County, Ont., found the tree that was to make his name famous growing in a brushy field. The intriguing Northern Spy came from suckers growing from the base of a dead apple tree in New York's Ontario County in about 1800.

Rome Beauties came about in a similar way and trace their ancestry to a tree growing on a bank of the Ohio River. The York Imperial, prized for its keeping qualities, was rescued by thrifty Pennsylvania farmers after a batch of the young trees were thrown away by a nursery.

Modern tree breeders can create hybrid trees by carefully fertilizing blossoms and have contributed the Cortland, the Macoun and our favorite, the Empire, which has grown quickly in popularity since its introduction 30 years ago.

Science is wonderful, but the mind is left to wonder what tasty fruit is growing on a hillside in Pennsylvania, or along a railroad track in Michigan, its ruddy treasure known only to local raccoons and deer.

This fall, my wife, Kathleen, and I sampled a good-sized yellow apple we found on a wild tree as we walked along Barry's Book. It was past its prime, but tasty enough to make us plan to try it earlier next year.

It would be worth the bother of caring for a wild tree just to have the fun of giving it a name as exotic as Gravenstein, Stayman Winesap, Calville Blanche, Westfield Seek No-Further or any of the 500 antique species of apples, most of which have been forgotten by commercial orchardists and the public.

What would we name the sweet yellow apple? Barry's Beauty? Alps Apex? Honey Ball? Golden Girl? No something better than these, something with poetry and heart and a whiff of intrigue. It would be something to ponder while sitting under the tree and chomping a few of its offerings on a late summer afternoon. Finch's Glory? Morning Alizea? Pass-Me-Another?

E-Mail address is AlpsRoad@aol.com

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