Grafting allowed one tree to produce four varieties — the original Nerchinsk as well as Goodland, Kerr and Garland
Every spring, the crabapple tree in my backyard sent forth sensory blessings to the neighborhood —white blooms with a fragrant aroma, a sort of “the white way of delight” as Anne in the story Anne of Green Gables labelled it.
Neighbours, family and friends dropped by to gaze at the blossoms and whiff in the fragrance; for a short season, it was the most blossomy yard around.
Later, from mid-August to mid-September, the tree became eye-catching again, when it produced crabapples of different sizes, flavours and shades.
When I moved into my bi-level in the Winnipeg neighbourhood of Island Lakes in 1987, a first for me, I had visions of an attractive yard — shrubs, trees and a lawn that would be eye-catching, yet easy to maintain.
Fortunately, one of my fellow teachers owned a garden centre. I asked him to plant trees in my back and front yard.
In addition to an ornamental crab, which exhibited its pink blossoms in spring and red berries in fall, and a maple tree, which displayed its crimson insignias in the fall in the front yard, he planted a bass and a crabapple tree in the backyard. I also had perennials embedded around the house.
The multi-fruit bearing crabapple tree became the main focus. The ornamental crab, which shared its minute crimson crab berries with the birds, was a close second.
My friend sold me a crabapple tree, into which he had grafted three different crabapple branches. Grafting, a horticultural technique where tissues from different plants are joined and continue their growth, was a new phenomenon for me. It provided four varieties of apples on one tree — Nerchinsk from the original tree, and then Goodland, Kerr and Garland varieties from the grafted branches.
The Nerchinsk, originally from Russia, bore small reddish-green sweet apples and produced fruit in early fall.
The Goodland, developed at the agricultural research centre near Morden, Man., was introduced into the market in 1955. This sweet, soft, greenish-skinned fruit with a bit of flush is a good-sized apple, harvested by mid-August.
The Kerr, a wine-coloured-red fruit with touches of yellow, had a tart taste and was firm in texture and larger than the tree’s crabapple. It was a cross between two crabs, developed also at the Morden centre and produced in the 1950s. The apples were ripe in mid fall.
The Garland crabs produced in Manitoba in 1961 were small and yellow-green in colour and not very sweet. Unfortunately, I never benefitted because it only blossomed every spring but never produced any fruit. Eventually, I lopped the branch off the tree.
For 30 years, the tree produced fruit. Although, the “crab” in crab-apple means “sour,” the apples on my tree had quite the opposite effect on those who savoured its flavours. Beginning with the Goodland apple the middle of August, I kept picking a variety of apples until early fall. They served as snacks and fruit for my lunches, and “beyond apple” pies with their distinctive tart and sweet-lemony taste. One of my international students commented, “One of my favourites.”
I gave bags of the delights to my neighbours, family and friends. When most had ripened, I picked containers full of the three varieties and took them to a juicer. One year, I had 23 two-litre containers of the healthy stuff. All winter, I drank pure, sparkling, homemade apple juice, which had to be stored in a freezer because it had no additives.
The tree is gone now and replaced, you guessed it, by another crabapple tree — no grafting this time. Memories from those enchanted summers linger —white blooms, a long fruit-bearing season, producing a continuous selection of crabapples for snacking, cooking, baking and juicing.