Printed Leelanau News 10/22/2011
If you’re looking for a historic apple, Leelanau County is the place.
Or if you seek a modern variety — the Honeycrisp, which has taken the market by storm — you’ll also feel at home here.
Locally grown apples representing young and old varieties are mainstays at county fruit stands this week. It’s been a good year, at least volume wise, for apple growers, with the crop statewide projected to increase 78 percent from the dismal showing of a year ago.
Christmas Cove Farm has orchards farmed by John Kilcherman and a farm shop managed by his wife, Phyllis. "I like to think we’re a good team," Phyllis said. That teamwork shows in the color and quality of each apple available for purchase.
"Honeycrisps are my most popular apple, no question," said Bill Casier, owner of Sleeping Bear Orchards in Empire. He sells apples wholesale, and at a stand on M-22 just north of Empire Village.
"I usually take four or five bushels to Georgia (where he winters) with me, and everyone loves them so much that when I get back up north, there are all sorts of shipment requests," he said. "With shipping, it’s $100 a bushel. But that doesn’t phase them. They just want those Honeycrisps."
Lots of people are Honeycrisp fans. The apple variety has skyrocketed to popularity after being developed at the University of Minnesota in 1992. They’re crisp, juicy, and big enough to be a nicely-sized snack.
Other varieties growing in Leelanau Courty are senior citizens by comparison. In fact, many of the county settlers’ original plantings are still producing oldies but goodies.
Some of the oldest trees are located within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
"We believe the oldest tree is at the Miller Barn," said Marla McEnaney, a National Park Service landscape architect who surveyed the Lakeshore for the Port Oneida Historic Landscape Management Plan. "The varieties (at the Lakeshore) have been identified as Sweet Bough, St. Lawrence, Gravenstein, Duchess of Oldenburg, and Wolf River."
McEnaney says that historic apples in Port Oneida are specified for the region. With fruit trees there ranging from 50-160 years of age, they would have to be hearty to northern Michigan.
Generally parts of small family orchards, many trees still standing in the historic district continue to grow apples.
"A reconnaissance level survey of the trees found that while the trees are beginning to show the effects of age and limited maintenance, many are still producing fruit," McEnaney said.
The Kilchermans of Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove Farms in Northport started growing apples in 1975. While their trees are relatively young, they specialize in rare and antique apple varieties. Many of their varieties date back to the 1800s. They classify antique apples as those that originated 50 or more years ago.
"The Duchess of Oldenburg is one of my favorites for pies," said Phyllis Kilcherman. co-owner "Wolf River is super-duper for pies or sauce. It dates back to the 1800s and the first tree found in Wisconsin. The Gravenstein is a superb apple for applesauce or pies, too. It goes back to 1873. It’s also good to eat fresh if you like a more tart apple."
The Kilchermans, however, are changing with the tastes of apple aficionados. "We do grow one of the latest varieties, Honeycrisp," said Phyllis Kilcherman. "People go wild over Honeycrisp."
The Kilchermans harvest an average of 240 apple varieties a year, ranging from rare to popular, antique to brand new, and American to Russian. Apple lovers visit Christmas Cove Farm from far and near to stock up on their favorites, while other visitors stop while on a color tour and are blown away by all the options.
"We sell the most of Macoun," Phyllis said. "We draw people from other states that come here every year to get the Macoun.
"It’s not one you can find everywhere. They do raise some on the East Coast. It’s a McIntosh Arkansas Black combination. It’s not a big showy apple, but it’s one of those that when you bite into it, it just snaps and the juice runs down your chin and it offers just a terrific flavor."
Back at Sleeping Bear Orchards, Casier grows 16 varieties of apples. He planted his first tree in 1982. "My Red Spies are my oldest trees," said Casier. "Those are great apples for pies."
Techniques used in apple growing in Leelanau County have changed over the years.
"Orchards were one of the first improvements made by homesteaders," McEnaney said. "At the turn of 19th century, orchard technology advanced, representing the professionalization of fruit production. There were fewer varieties introduced with greater developments in standardizing production and advancing science, namely the introduction of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation methods."
Nowadays, apple growers have balanced science and business, introducing new varieties every year.
"The Zestar is gaining popularity," said Casier of a new apple in his orchard that was released in 1998. Also developed by the University of Minnesota, the Zestar is an early apple that is on the softer side.
"This is the first year we’ve had Linda Mac and it is good," said Kilcherman. "It’s a multipurpose apple. "It is sweet, and juicy, and crisp. An ideal apple. We sell a lot of these."
Finding an apple perfect for growing conditions in Leelanau County can be an inexact science.
"John was at an apple conference about 10 years ago and some other farmer was raving about a specific type of apple, saying it was the best he’d ever had," said Phyllis Kilcherman. "So John planted about 10 of those trees and when the apples came in, they were the worst darn apples we’d ever tasted.
"It just goes to show you that something that grows well elsewhere may not grow well here in northern Michigan."
She hopes John will invent his own varieties of apples.
"I think my husband should make an apple after me," Phyllis said with a laugh. "It would have to be sweet, crisp, and juicy. And beautiful! That would be an ideal apple."
Printed New York Times
Twenty-five years ago, John Kilcherman decided he needed a hobby. Never mind that he and his wife, Phyllis, were running an 85-acre commercial cherry and apple orchard in the Leelanau Peninsula of northwest Michigan.
Remembering the apples of his childhood, he planted 10 antique varieties that were at least 50 years old and no longer sold commercially.
Today this hobby has grown to include 200 varieties of antique apples and a thriving mail-order business. "On the advice of our customers, we decided to do gift boxes 10 years ago," Mrs. Kilcherman said. "Every apple is different, and we include the history of each. It's an eating history lesson."
Gift boxes are hand packed by Mrs. Kilcherman and her daughter-in-law and include varieties like the English Golden Russet, a sweet-tasting apple from the 1800's with a skin that feels like sandpaper; the Winter Banana, which appeared in Indiana around 1876 and has a slight banana flavor, and the Green Newton Pippin, a tart apple from 1722, which is considered America's oldest.
The apples come in boxes of 12 and 16, with the larger shipments containing varieties like the Spitzenburg, Thomas Jefferson's favorite, and the Lady Apple, which French women of the 17th century used as breath fresheners. No two apples are ever the same, and some varieties come with their own natural, and characteristic, wax covering.
Advertising has been by word of mouth, attracting customers in all 50 states and from as far away as Norway, India, and Russia.
Kilcherman´s Christmas Cove Farm is at 11573 Kilcherman Road, Northport, Mich. 49670; (231) 386-5637.
-- Lori Seleno
Printed Detroit Free Press
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
Printed Grand Traverse Insider
Kilcherman’s farm offers heirloom varieties of fall favorite Antique Apples.
The best antiques in the area are in Northport, but they aren´t the kind the Keno brothers would be poring over on the Antiques Roadshow. While there are plenty of varieties in various shapes, sizes and colors, their value isn't gauged by price – but by taste.
Winesap, Golden Russet, Tolman Sweet, Wolf River – these are just a few of the more than 200 varieties of apples grown at Kilcherman's Christmas Cove farm on M-22 just north of Northport. The farm is famous for its antique apples, heirloom varieties seldom seen anymore except at specialty farms such as Kilcherman's.
John and Phyllis Kilcherman are third-generation apple farmers. John´s grandfather first began growing apples, planting numerous varieties so there would be ripening apples throughout the harvest season. But as with many fruits and vegetables, the mass markets, driving distances and desire for uniformity in color, shape and size at today´s hypermarkets served to nearly cause the more obscure varieties to all but go extinct.
But the Kilcherman's would have none of it. Not with the memory of the varieties from grandpa´s farm. They decided they wanted to keep the complex tastes and interesting shapes and colors alive as more than a fading memory. So in 1975 John planted 10 trees to see how they competed with the commercial varieties.
Needless to say, the project was a success. Thirty years later, the Kilchermans are still going strong, as are the many apples.
"People thought we´d be dead by now," said Phyllis with a laugh. "We're in our 70s you know, but I think this helps keep us young."
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the display in the Kilcherman´s pole barn. Spread out on tables are anywhere from 75 to 100 varieties of apples, depending on the day. Early birds such as Strawberry Apples give way to later harvests. In mid-October you're likely to find the greatest number of apples.
"It just smells so good, doesn't it," remarked a customer. With thousands of apples exuding their fresh scent, that is an understatement.
Not only are there of dozens of varieties of apples on display, they boast a brief description of the apple and, where applicable, its history. So not only can you find apples you've never seen before, you can actually learn where they originated, or their heritage, or why they are called what they are.
For example, the Gravenstein, a medium sized scarlet-orange and green apple, is originally from Denmark by way of Germany. It's good for eating but especially good for pie and applesauce.
Or the Wolf River, a large red and green apple is great for pie or simply baking. It was first found near Wolf River in Wisconsin in the 1800s.
You get the idea. For every apple, a story. And a taste. They too run the gamut, from crisp, tart and invigorating (Spitzenburg – said to be Thomas Jefferson´s favorite), to soft and sweet (Strawberry) to super sweet and spicy (Tolman Sweet). Other varieties have crinkled brown skin, pink flesh, or range in size from that of a small ball to a small pumpkin.
In short, the variety is amazing. For those not accustomed to such versatility from such a seemingly humble fruit, it's an eye-opener. And if you're lucky enough to taste them, a tongue-tickler.
The varieties include:
-- Ross Boissoneau