From the Detroit Free Press

Antique Apples

Michigan man keeps grandfather's legacy alive growing hundreds of rare species
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 says.

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."
Susan Tusa

 Christmas Cove Farm