|Michigan man keeps grandfather's legacy alive growing hundreds of
|John Kilcherman's childhood memories are not unusual - impromptu baseball
games with pals and dramatic slides into second base.
But second base
for Kilcherman was a Snow Apple tree, which, he will tell you, is an antique
apple variety dating to 17th-Century France. First base was a Wealthy tree - "great
applesauce," Kilcherman says. And the objective was to hit the ball toward
the Winter Banana tree in left field. This apple "probably originated in
Holland but its U.S. origins are Cass County, Indiana, 1876," Kilcherman
Perhaps Kilcherman has a passion for apples because his
sweetest memories are mixed up with them.
Kilcherman is a
third-generation farmer from Northport, in Leelanau County. His grandfather came
from Switzerland and planted a mere two acres of apples on the family's Michigan
farm. But he grew about a hundred varieties so they would ripen all year long
and his family would always have fruit.
"That's how it was done
back then," says Kilcherman. Now, he says, supermarkets and a mass
production system require a relatively small number of popular varieties. So,
many of the antique and gourmet apples "are becoming extinct."
But thanks to a few apple enthusiast like Kilcherman, antique and
gourmet apples survive. He has more than 3,000 trees and 200 varieties.
Kilcherman started out with about 10 trees in 1975. He thought he
would see how the fruit of his childhood stood up to the grocery store stock.
When those first few trees bore fruit and he bit in to bear witness, Kilcherman
was hooked. He acquired books and journals and learned all he could about apples
- the technical, the historic and the poetic.
As he strolls along the
lanes of his orchards, Kilcherman points out different varieties and imparts
apple wisdom between bites: "Apples are gifts from God." Having an
orchard is "like having a family." The genetic makeup of apples is as
complex as that of humans, and apples are equally adaptable. "Like humans,"
he points out, "the apple has migrated all over the globe."
About 15 years ago, Phyllis Kilcherman decided to make her husband's passion
into a little business and came up with the idea of gift boxes, which include
Kilcherman-grown apples and a brief history or anecdotes about the fruit.
Last year, Phyllis remembers, a woman brought her 80-year-old father
to the farm, called Christmas Cove.
"When he saw some of the names of the apples, he started to cry,"
Phyllis says. "They had transported him back to his childhood."