by Andrew l. McFarlane
How many kind of apples are there in the world?
Ask your local supermarket, and you might be led to believe that there are about 4 or at the most 5. Ask John and Phyllis Kilcherman, and you'll hear a different story.
"We have about two hundred different varieties planted, but there are about 14,000 different varieties known in the world," Phyllis explained. "I love that. Each one of them has something a little different about it and learning about each of them is like learning about a new spice -- how it tastes off the tree, what it looks like, what recipes it can be used in."
The Kilchermans know apples. Their Christmas Cove Farm is located north of Northport in Michigan's Leelanau County and contains an ever growing stock of antique apple varieties and apple lore. John told of how they came to be (as some have called them) "Keepers of the Apples".
"I grew up three farms down from here. My grandfather had an old apple orchard that I would play in as a child. Years later, I thought I'd try and grow some of those apples that tasted so good when I was a boy."
It wasn't easy. For many years "apple" in this country could almost be summed up by two words: Red Delicious, but John said that some places could (and can) still be found with grafts for sale from the old varieties.
"It really just started as something to do just to see if it could be done," John continued, "I figured I could always sell the apples for juice, but I never really expected to see any money out of it."
John's whim soon grew into a full time pursuit.
"One thing leads to another. Phyllis hit upon the idea of offering holiday gift boxes with a twelve or sixteen apples and that really did well. Of course, we had to tell the people about the apples they were receiving, and that meant buying books. Old books," he laughed, "I've got a lot of old books now."
While the two agree on much, their taste in apples differs a bit. Phyllis prefers Wine apples and the Ingrid marie (native to Denmark) while John says "I like 'em sweet" and keeps an eye on the darkening Macoun apples (photo to the right), a cross between the McIntosh and the Arkansas Black.
One thing has led to another for the Kilchermans, and will no doubt continue to do so. John is to be honored by the Michigan Historical Society for his dedication to preserving one part of Michigan's heritage. Phyllis, who has painted for a number of years, is planning a book on antique apples, though she wonders how she'll ever be able to afford to print it with all the color plates.
They remind you that the "real" harvest has yet to come in, inviting you (and me!) to come back for more. I know I will...