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Lost Orchard

Apples Like You've Never Seen Before

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Discovering the Historic Lost Orchard

Michelle Hanging Out with the Empress

Imagine buying a densely-forested acreage, beginning to remove invasive brush and trees to create walking trails, only to discover a lost orchard of massive, Victorian-era, heritage apple trees hidden among the forest...that's the beginning of this fairy-tale-like adventure that I am thrilled to share with you.

After many months of renovations, restorations, installations, and what felt like endless amounts of cleaning of my newly-purchased 130-year-old Victorian farmhouse, I finally lifted my head from what had begun to feel like never-ending drudgery and took to the land to clear the dust from my mind. After a frustrating day of work, I decided that I wanted a trail system through the forest on my land so I could enjoy regular nature walks. Slowly but surely, I began cutting through the dense invasive forest and overgrown brush.

Each day, I ventured further out into the forest until I discovered a massive thirty-foot apple tree, then another gnarly old apple tree that was about twenty-five feet wide. As I cut through the invasive trees and brush, I began to discover an ever-increasing number of gorgeous, old heritage apple trees. Statuesque by comparison to today’s varieties which are usually under twelve feet tall, I couldn’t believe my eyes or my taste buds: these apples are explosions of flavours that range from pear-like to apple wine, and even to a variety that tastes like coronation grapes and another like oranges.

The journey was slow and arduous so it’s not surprising that it took several months before the full magnitude of the situation hit me. I am the proud owner of a lost, Victorian-era apple orchard of over seventy trees—a dream come true for me as I’ve always wanted an apple orchard!

Since that realization, I’ve begun a cataloguing and identification project, of the rare varieties, which bear no resemblance or taste similarity to today’s apples. Most of the apples have extremely dense flesh, much denser than today’s soft and pulpy varieties. Some are yellow with red polka-dots, others are green with a pink blush, some have yellow undersides with coral tops, while others are brilliant coral-red, and still others are green with almost black spots.

Even after countless hours scouring websites, I have yet to find the bulk of the varieties anywhere else (so far, I believe I have identified Black Oxford, Greasy Skins, Newtowne Pippin, Snow, and the extremely-rare Junaluska varieties of apples). To say they are unique and unlike any apples found in today’s orchards or grocery stores would be a serious understatement.

Better yet, it’s clear that these apples have been organically-grown for years, if not for their full lifespan, so I don’t have to worry about genetic modification or toxic pesticides that may potentially cause cancer, nerve or brain damage, or other serious health concerns. And, if that wasn’t enough, based on the surrounding invasive trees that blocked (and continue to block access to most of the trees), it is clear that most of them had been forgotten for at least a few decades. That suggests that they have survived extreme cold (the Lost Orchard is located in the Ottawa, Canada-region), droughts, flooding, pests, and many other challenges, which means they are incredibly hardy.

Additionally, unlike most of today’s apples which ripen in August or September, the apples in the Lost Orchard are ready for eating between July and November, including some varieties that survive after early frosts and snowfalls.

I still have a vast amount of brush to clear and plentiful amounts of skin-piercing, thorny buckthorn and prickly ash that makes the job all the more treacherous, but beyond it lies my beloved apple orchard. In some ways battling the thorny and tough landscape to reveal the forgotten and beautiful rewards has been a metaphor for life.

Prior to discovering this orchard, I had endured a horrific string of hardships that challenged me to my core, but I kept going, believing in brighter times ahead. Today, I've never felt more alive as I help to restore food diversity and preserve the living history and legacy of these gorgeous apple trees. Every day is an exciting adventure worth waking up to embrace.

When internationally-renowned astrologer, Phil Booth, read my posts and saw some of my apple tree photos on social media, he exclaimed: “you’re living in a fairy tale.” And, he’s right: I spent over two decades fulfilling projects promoting food security, writing many books about healing foods, and writing hundreds of articles about various aspects of food biodiversity, all the while dreaming of owning an apple orchard.

I never imagined I’d awaken one morning to find an ancient, heritage apple orchard hidden on my newly-purchased property. Who knew that preserving food biodiversity could be so magical? Helping to ensure the food supply of the future: priceless.

Right now, I’m working to ensure that survival of the apple tree I’ve named Legacy due to its monumental size—estimated to be about four stories high. Make saving Legacy a part of your legacy!

Please show your support by making a donation (any size counts!) to the Lost Orchard. All donations go to the preservation and rehabilitation of these rare and stunningly beautiful apple trees. 

 

The Majesty of The Empress

The Empress apple tree believed to be over a century old

The majesty of the Empress is unmistakable. This towering apple tree dwarfs the others, as you can see from the two-storey barn in the background and the 12-foot ladder that barely reaches the lower branches of this striking tree. Seated at the epicentre of the acreage, the Empress seems like the guardian of the Lost Orchard. This impressive tree must have lived for a hundred or more years to have reached such a stature, reminding me of her strength through even the coldest and bleakest winters, the unrelenting droughts of summer, and the harshest of times. She stands as a reminder that we, too, have the strength to overcome our greatest challenges and to reach for the stars. I'm standing here with this stunning tree to show the massive stature of this tree that produces plentiful amounts of crimson-red apples.

Me picking apples from The Empress

Dreaming of an Apple Orchard

One of the heritage apple trees I discovered

The first time I set my foot in an apple orchard, I fell in love. I loved the fragrant, fruity scent that wafted through the air. I loved walking among the trees with their gentle canopies full of plump and beautiful fruit. And, I loved the feeling of being among them, the energy that instantly picked up my spirits and made me feel so alive.

But, the trees soon faded into shadows as I discovered that owning an apple orchard was simply not in our budget. Fast forward several years when my husband and I decided we were going to leave our beloved British Columbia after living indoors for weeks at a time during the summer months while forest fire smoke filled the air and our lungs, making it hard to breathe, even indoors.

At the same time, we decided that we were tired of large mortgage payments where more than half of the money we paid out was eaten up by bank interest. We knew we wanted land and to become more self-sufficient so we bought one of the most affordable forested acreages we could find in Ontario, close to a town with amenities but with enough space to roam. Upon it sat an old, brick home built around 1890. The house needed a lot of work, after all, it didn’t even have a full kitchen or even a stove for that matter. And, we couldn’t find a single hookup for a washer and dryer. It appeared that the old farm house was suspended in time, having never seen such modern luxuries as laundry facilities.

After many months of installations, renovations, restorations, and what felt like endless amounts of cleaning, we finally took to the land, slowly but surely cutting through the overgrown grass and brush. Since we arrived at the home at the end of November while the land was already covered in a thick blanket of snow, we were pleasantly surprised to find two lovely apple trees in our yard. There were many dead and craggy branches so we weren’t sure if the trees would even yield apples, but they did…lots of them.

Imagine my great surprise as I ventured further out into the forest on the property to discover an ever-increasing number of apple trees, including a gorgeous old, heirloom tree that looks to be about forty feet tall. And, many other trees approached that lofty stature. Today alone, after hours of cutting trails through the brush with an old, but tough, riding mower, I discovered six more apple trees, bringing the current total to thirty-three.

I nearly burst into tears of gratitude when I suddenly realized that we are the unexpected but proud owners of a magnificent apple orchard full of beautiful Victorian-era heirloom trees. We still have lots of brush to clear and plentiful amounts of skin-piercing, thorny buckthorn that makes the job all the more treacherous, but beyond it lies our coveted and beloved apple orchard. In some ways battling the thorny and tough landscape to reveal the forgotten and beautiful rewards has been a metaphor for life. And, while most of the apples aren’t going to win any beauty contests, with a few nips and tucks of a paring knife, they’re perfectly crisp and delicious to eat and ideal for apple sauces, cider, hard cider (check out our awesome new Alchema for making homemade artisanal ciders, wines, and beers—save 10% with the coupon code COOK10), and baked treats.

Better yet, it’s clear that these apples have been organically-grown for years, if not for their full lifespan, so we don’t have to worry about toxic pesticides that may potentially cause cancer, nerve or brain damage, or other serious health concerns.

Now, I'm waking up early to walk the newly-cut forest trails with my wicker basket in tow to pick (or pick up, as is more often the case) the apples from these gorgeous trees. While I have always dreaded mornings, and have indeed been a night owl my whole life, the excitement of the fruits that await each morning has turned me into a cheery morning person. Every day is an exciting adventure worth waking up early to embrace. And, I've never felt more alive as I help to restore food diversity and preserve the living history and legacy of these gorgeous apple trees.

Join us for more of our thrilling farm life escapades on our acreage at FoodHouseProject.com.

Help Save the Lost Orchard

Thanks to the commercialization of apples that favour appearance over taste, nutritional value, or ability to survive changing climatic conditions, we've already lost hundreds of varieties of superior apples. Help us to save seemingly near-extinct varieties of apples and preserve our food heritage at the Lost Orchard with your purchases and donations. 

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