Tessa walks through Wilson’s Orchard, 2004
In September 2004, Tessa and I were driving to Los Angeles through Iowa, and my brother Kent took us to Wilson’s Orchard not far from their house in Iowa City. I’ve always had a thing for apple orchards – the simplicity, the overflowing of fruit, even the apples-gone-bad smell in mid-October – but Wilson’s is truly a legendary place.
We sampled at least a dozen different varieties, but when we came to one particular tree, I was thunderstruck. The particular apples on a tree they called the Song of September were the most amazing I’d ever experienced. All the crisp tartness of a good Granny Smith, the sweetness of a Fuji and Braeburn, the spice of those New Zealand “Jazz” apples, and an extra spice all its own. I picked about 20, feeding them to random horses in Wyoming as we made our way westward.
That tree has never left my consciousness, and last year, I did the research: its other name is “Sweet Sixteen”, and it was a hybrid of very old trees developed by the University of Minnesota thirty years ago to withstand their brutal winters. The stunning flavor was basically a happy accident.
Very few places carry the Song of September tree in semi-dwarf form (normal apple trees grow 30 feet tall, and make picking a big problem), but I found two: a nursery in Wisconsin, and one, conveniently, on the other side of Iowa City. I called and reserved the last one they had.
Instead of flying back to New York like we usually do right now, I flew to Iowa City today. Tomorrow, I’m going to hand with my brother Kent, then I’m going to fetch my semi-dwarf apple tree (along with a different varietal for pollination) and drive the rest of the way to our farm in New York. And, god willing, Lucy and Tessa will help me put it in the ground somewhere wonderful, as part of their birthdays and Mother’s Day. O sweet Song of September, I pray you shall be mine!
Song of Sept. apple, Wilson’s Orchard, 2004