The Sixth Annual Heirloom Apple Festival, featuring more than 200 different kinds of apples to taste, will be held Sun., Oct. 28, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., at the Historic Venersborg School House, 24317 NE 209th St., Battle Ground.
Clark County used to be a fruit-growing area, well known for many varieties of abundant apple trees. Most of the trees were planted about a century ago and that’s about the life-span of heirloom apple trees. There’s a good chance some of the old apple trees that are still in backyards and old farm fields may be the last of their varieties. Organizers of the annual Heirloom Apple Festival are hoping to find rare and unusual apple trees that are still growing in Clark County.
That’s what happened to Joseph and Jacqueline Freeman of Friendly Haven Rise Farm in Venersborg.
According to Jacqueline, the Freemans have apple roots in their past. Her Massachusetts childhood home was an old apple orchard planted by early botanists and Joseph’s great-grandfather was a professor at Cornell University and founder of the International Apple Association. A few years ago, the Freemans took some unknown apples from their orchard for identification. They found that one apple, the Gideon Sweet, had been thought to be extinct for the past 50 years and another, the Winter Banana, is a rare tree.
The Freeman’s neighbor, Tom Moberg, told them the Gideon Sweet tree was planted on the farm in the early 1900s. The Mobergs were early Swedish settlers who probably carried it from Minnesota where the variety was developed by apple-growing farmer Peter Gideon. Freeman said Gideon successfully bred the first apples that could withstand Minnesota’s bitter-cold winters.
“The Gideon tree was knocked down in the 1962 Columbus Day wind storm that blew many fruit trees down,” Moberg said. “My father, Carl, brother Roger, and I pruned it heavily, pulled it back up and propped it with three long posts in different directions, dug into the ground. Those posts remained in place for nearly 10 years while its roots healed.”
The tree re-rooted and kept growing.
Jacqueline said the Gideon Sweet is a small, firm apple best picked in late November.
“They taste like cardboard when we pick them, hardly any flavor,” she said. “We’d been feeding them to our cows until we learned to leave them aside until January when they turn juicy and tart-sweet.”
“Most apples bruise when they fall, but this one is so hard it smashes apart when it hits the ground,” Joseph said.
The Freemans put on their Heirloom Apple Festival and tasting event each year so people can taste hundreds of unusual old apple varieties. It’s also a way to find more antique varieties before the old trees die out.
“I see plenty of old apple trees in Clark County,” Jacqueline said. “The tall trees are usually the oldest ones. If you see an apple tree taller than 25 feet, it’s probably an antique apple. We want to encourage people to bring some to the Apple Fest and the folks from the Home Orchard Society will figure out what they are.
“Most people don’t know that apples don’t grow true to seed. There’s a lot of creativity in apples. Each seed can become a new variety. Most of them will be what we call ‘spitters’ that don’t taste that good. You have to graft a branch from an old tree onto another to keep that breed going. If we find them before the trees die off, we’ll graft a branch and keep the breed going. That’s what they’ve done with the Gideon Sweet and a few new trees are already bearing fruit.”
To get your apples identified at the Heirloom Apple Festival, pick 5-6 apples and put them in a paper bag (not plastic) in a cool place until the event. Leave the stem on and don’t polish or wash them. Write on the bag the location of the tree and date picked and then hand them to the folks at the Home Orchard Society table at the event.
At the Apple Fest, there will be more than 200 different kinds of apples to taste. They taste sweet, tart or juicy, bake well, or smell like bananas, roses, honey or cinnamon. The Lady apple has been grown continuously for more than 1,000 years; the Snow apple has incredibly white flesh, while others are striped pink, golden yellow and Hidden Rose (discovered in Oregon) is deep red inside.
Other events at the Apple Fest will include cider pressing and a make-your-own-pie booth. Attendees can also buy raffle tickets for the Venersborg Community Center’s handmade quilt. Food and apples will be available for purchase.
Admission to the Heirloom Apple Festival is $5 for those older than 16, children under the age of 16 are free. For more information, visit www.FriendlyHaven.com/apples.html.