Monday, October 24, 2011

Pioneer Apples: Saving a Taste of Idaho's Past

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Some of the pioneer apples found in a Salmon River orchard.
  • Guy Hand
  • Some of the pioneer apples found in a Salmon River orchard.

In early October, I hitched a jet boat ride down the Salmon River into the River of No Return Wilderness. Though hitting the river, and its rapids, on a perfect fall day was a bunch of fun, the people I traveled with had come for less recreational reasons. They were there to save rare and dying apple trees.

The Salmon River Canyon—with it’s mild, low-elevation micro climate, few pests and lots of water—is an apple-growing paradise. Idaho’s early pioneers caught on to that right away, bringing in saplings by horseback and planting orchards on nearly every flat patch of ground above waterline.

Today, those old and mostly abandoned orchards are a storehouse of genetic diversity, a living museum of rare and unique apple varieties. But they’re also slowly fading away, ravaged by hungry bears and left without irrigation.

In the Oct. 26 issue of BW, I follow members of the Idaho Heritage Tree Project through a remote Salmon River orchard, where they taste, tag and make plans to save a juicy, often delicious bit of Idaho history from extinction.

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