Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Due to the death of a friend, Maine apple guru John Bunker will not be able to attend this Saturday's Great Maine Apple Day, an event he helped found. As a result, the organizers have been scrambling since Thursday to find other experts to fill in the gaps left by Bunker's absence.
John Bunker shows off a Fameuse, a Macoun and a Gray Pearmain apple while stopping at Rabelais books in Portland to drop off rare apples distributed as part of the Out on a Limb CSA.
Photo by Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer
Some of the rare apples likely to be on display at the Great Maine Apple Day include the diminutive Pomme Grise apple in the foreground, the large Wolf River variety and the Tolman Sweet.
Press Herald file
GREAT MAINE APPLE DAY
WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday
MOFGA's Common Ground Education Center, 294 Crosby Brook Road, Unity
HOW MUCH: $2 for MOFGA and Pomological Society members; $4 for adults; free for children under 13
12:15 p.m. – Edible landscaping workshop by Lauren Buyofsky and Bill Errickson of the Newforest Institute
12:30 to 3:30 p.m. – Old-time apple cooking class lead by Cheryl Wixson of MOFGA. Five dollars to participate. All attendees, not just those taking the class, are encouraged to bring old family recipes that feature apples. The class will make three or four of these recipes and share the results at 3:30 p.m. A recipe booklet featuring all the submitted recipes will be created.
3:30 p.m. – Apple pie contest judging. Bring a pie (preferably made with Maine-grown apples) and a list of the ingredients to find out how it stands up against the competition. Attendees can sample after the judging concludes.
Time TBA – Orchard tour with MOFGA's CJ Walke. MOFGA has two apple orchards featuring rare varieties. Walke will discuss these varieties, talk about how to manage an orchard using organic methods, explain fall orchard management, and take questions.
Apples 'a way of finding community'
John Bunker's wanted posters don't contain fugitives or terrorists. Instead, they feature descriptions and illustrations of long-forgotten apples. One reads: "Wanted: Carll Apple. Last Seen in Saco on Rte. 112 in York County."
Bunker first encountered the Carll in historic documents, but he has yet to set eyes on the actual fruit.
"I found the farm that was the Carll farm, but the apple wasn't there," said Bunker, who grows fruit trees for Fedco and runs the Out on a Limb rare apple Community Supported Agriculture. "I haven't given up."
As with many of the rare apple varieties Bunker has sought over the years, he's confident that eventually more information about the Carll will materialize.
There's even a chance someone could show up at this year's Great Maine Apple Day with one of the elusive fruits.
Other apples on Bunker's wanted list include the Blake, which originated in Cumberland County; the Narragansett, which originated in York County; and the Killham Hill and the Naked Limb Greening, both of which were grown in Waldo County.
People constantly send Bunker mystery apples in hopes he can shed some light on their history and varietal names.
"I do IDs for free," Bunker said. "Because I'm looking for the rarest, oldest, most ancient varieties in Maine. I don't have to go find them. They just appear magically."
Bunker's journey from an apple novice who didn't know the difference between wild apple trees and grafted varieties to Maine's go-to guru for apple identification began in 1972, when he moved to Palermo and began exploring the town's old and often neglected orchards.
In 2007, he published "Not Far From the Tree: A Brief History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804-2004" chronicling his journey and the apples that inspired it.
The book includes information about the heyday of apples and farming in Maine, and provides descriptions of many of the rare varieties that are still grown here today.
At one point in the book, Bunker writes, "1860 apples were the most profitable product on Maine farms, and top quality Blue Pearmains could bring up to $1.00/bushel, roughly the same price that Maine farmers were getting for their juice apples 150 years later in 2002."
Even though Bunker won't be at this year's Great Maine Apple Day, his influence on the current generation of apple enthusiasts will be evident.
"Everyone I know loves apples, even if they don't enjoy eating them," Bunker said. "Apples have become a way of finding community in a world that's increasingly divisive."
"Thankfully John's got a lot of contemporaries now," said Andrew Marshall, who directs educational programs for the Maine Organic Gardeners and Farmers Association, where the event will be held.
"There's a lot of expertise in the state on this topic. John's been at it for 30-plus years, and he's got a lot of people interested."
Sponsored by MOFGA, Fedco and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the event celebrates Maine's orcharding heritage, educates attendees on the huge number of apple varieties grown in Maine, and gives people the know-how to start or expand an orchard.
Popular attractions at the event include a rare and heirloom apple display. The display covers numerous tables, and each apple is accompanied by a knife so attendees can have a taste. Another crowd-pleasing portion of the event is the opportunity to have mystery apples identified by a panel of experts.
According to Marshall, several hundred people attend the Great Maine Apple Day each year, and they range from hard-core fruit explorers who seek out unusual varieties to those who just want to buy some apples.
A number of vendors will be at the event selling apples, apple cider vinegar, candied apples, baked goods, apple ladders, orchard tools and books. A press will produce fresh cider throughout the event.
Those who attend are encouraged to bring apples from their own trees to share, and everyone who participates is bound to leave with new knowledge.
"There's still so much left to learn and discover," Marshall said. "We're starting to rediscover that a lot of these old-life ways and traditions are the way forward."
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org