Thanks to working on assignments for this newspaper, I’ve been reading a lot recently about apple growing and Blossom Festival history. To use an old cliché, this has been an eye opener. For example, while I knew the Acadians had apple orchards, I never understood until now how their fruit growing evolved into a major Nova Scotia industry. As well as shaping our early history, the Acadians laid the groundwork for the future prosperity of the Annapolis Valley.
While researching for my assignments I learned a lot about apples. I always wondered why so many of the apple varieties of the past century disappeared from our orchards and are now found only in history books. I discovered several answers to this puzzle. Some of the old varieties didn’t store well; some were cooking varieties only and were no longer suitable for today’s fresh fruit market, and so on.
Then there was a bunch of interesting apple trivia, some of which I found in unusual places, such as Marguerite Woodworth’s history of the Dominion Atlantic Railway.
In the chapter on the apple industry and how it spurred the coming of the railroad to the Valley, Woodworth offers readers an intriguing aside about the word “graft.” As orchards expanded with the railroad’s arrival, the Valley became infested with tree peddlers and tree grafters from the United States, Woodworth says. The grafters frequently defrauded the farmer by selling him grafts from the trees in his own orchard. “So prevalent was the practice,” Woodworth writes, “that the professional ‘grafter’ came to be looked upon with suspicion, and one wonders if the modern conception of the word might not have had its origin in the activities of these gentlemen.” (On “graft” and “grafter” as used in the sense Woodworth mentions, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary notes that its origin is unknown).
Some of the old varieties of apples Arthur W. H. Eaton mentions in his Kings County history are Nonpareil, Golden Russet, Yellow Belle Fleur (Bishop’s Pippin), Calkin Pippin, Greening Spitzenbzerg, Pearmain, Ribston and Gravenstein among others. Some of these varieties are still grown in Kings County orchards.
Historians agree that the Acadians planted the apple orchards Nova Scotia, (between 1606 and 1610) but the statistics they use regarding tree numbers differ slightly. An Agriculture Canada booklet on apple production says a 1698 census shows that 53 Acadian families had 1,375 apple trees. A three-page overview of apple growing, which I picked up at the research station in Kentville, gives the 1698 census figure as 1,584 apple trees. In Valley Gold, Anne Hutten’s superb history of the apple industry in Nova Scotia, the author gives the 1698 census figures as 54 families of Acadians with 1,584 apple trees.
And speaking of Anne Hutten’s book, it must rank as the definitive history of the apple industry in Nova Scotia. Published in 1981, Valley Gold is now out of print; copies are difficult to find and are sure to be collector’s items in the future. At a Wolfville used book store, The Odd Book, there’s a waiting list for Hutten’s book. If you have one, hold on to it.
One more piece of apple trivia. A number of Valley orchardists are operating farms that have been in the family for more than 100 years.