Last September I finally had the pleasure of shaking Tony Dembski’s hand and walking through his orchard, Maple Valley Orchard, as he picked out apple after apple for me to taste. It was an honor to finally meet him, you see, not only because Slow Food WiSE had been working with him from afar for two years, and not only is he a rare sentinel of apple biodiversity, but he also tends the only adult Milwaukee Apple tree that we know. It is his Milwaukee Apple tree that is helping to repatriate the varietal to our fair city. Read on as Rufina digs a bit deeper into the story behind apple genetics…. -Jennifer Casey
Johnny Appleseed or Johnny Apple Scion?
Tony Dembski is Wisconsin’s own Johnny Apple Scion, an improvement over Johnny “Appleseed.” The truth is that if you simply plant the seed of an apple that you like to eat, the tree that grows rarely produces the same kind of apple. Appleseeds contain diverse genetic material. Any apple seed can produce apples with multiple traits and flavors completely different from its parent apple.
To produce a particular variety of apple that you want to eat, you need a scion, a living branch with buds, from the tree that produced it. This scion can be grafted, or combined by cutting through the bark and matching up growing cambium cells found in the inner layer under the bark, with the same kind of cells in rootstock, a slender trunk about the size of a finger with roots from a hearty tree variety. The small tree created by the combination can then be planted.
Tony is one of approximately six orchardists nationwide who sell scions and small trees through the Internet. Orchardists, cider makers, and others choose from his collection of over 300 different types of apple trees at Maple Valley Orchards located in Gillett, Wisconsin.
As a steward of apple biodiversity, Tony knows that diversity produces exciting flavors, but the current trend for selecting apple varieties for sale on the market sacrifices flavor. He refuses to grow a smaller, homogeneous selection of apples based on shelf life, pest resistance, and transportation hardiness. Instead, Tony grows multiple international and northern climate tree varieties from Turkey, Russia, England, and from places closer to home in Wisconsin.
Slow Food’s Spring Apple Affair features Tony’s apple trees on May 12, 12p.m. to 4 p.m. at Stahl-Conrad Homestead in Hales Corners.
See www.mysaucylife.com for photos of Tony’s apple tree farm and to find a recipe using his apples.