Winter Respite

red crabapples
Winter Respite

A welcome burst of color on a gray winter day, a respite for the eyes and for winter foraging animals looking for food.

Before modern-day apples, the larger fruit we snack on today, all apples were what we now consider crabapples, small, sometimes berry-sized, often tart to sour, fruit. Humans largely created the modern apple by hybridizing for desirable traits, mostly sweetness and then size, others to ferment for fruit-based alcohol, and still others for their pectin in preserving fruits. The first list of desirable “dessert apples” comes from the days of the Roman Empire. Each region and country created apples through the ages that grow best in its climate. As humans moved around the globe, they took apples with them to regions like North and South America where apples are not native, and created species that adapted.

But for those who didn’t have access to hybrid cultivars, the tiny crabapples called “wildings” were always available in the woods, and always part of human and animal diets, found in Neolithic waste piles from the moderate deserts around the Mediterranean to the temperate regions of northern Europe and east into Asia, though not on other continents. Those small and twisted silhouettes covered with tiny five-petaled flowers each spring bore their fruits from mid-summer to late autumn, feeding the world along the way. Even the later, more sour apples weren’t wasted in a winter freeze—instead the frost and freeze tenderized the skin and flesh and developed the sweetness, with each freeze making it more edible, so these apples were available up until the time of the spring bloom. How’s that for a metaphor for turning adversity into a positive outcome?

Birds, deer and other winter foraging species forage for their food through the winter, but even this runs low before winter is over and tiny insects and young plants appear to help supplement their diet—the animals’ winter respite. As long as there are a few wildings around to provide apples for them, they’ll have both the fruit to give them energy and the seeds for protein, and we’ll continue to have the wildings they “plant” along the way.

I love crabapples, some even to eat as they are, but mostly to bake, like my favorite crabapple crisp, and jelly—crabapples have the best pectin I have ever used and I’ll often include them in a jelly just for their pectin. This tree is not in an area of town where it would have been planted, but in a row of trees along the railroad tracks mostly populated by crabapples. No doubt birds landing there after eating from all the back yards within flying distance did a good job planting the varieties they liked.

My visual inspirations to create images began early, before I had any means of creating those visions. The twisted and knobby crabapple tree in our back yard, silhouetted dark against the snow, inspired an early sketch with one of my mother’s sharpened No. 2 pencils, intended for her crossword puzzles, and drawn on a note pad. I can still see that tree through the dining room window in the snow of our fenced back yard some time in the mid-1960s. Later, on trails and winter walks, I’d find them garlanding a bare tree like an intentional decoration and they have become a regular subject for photography.

I first read about the history of the apple in a historical fiction novel about prehistoric peoples. I went from there to look it up and research it years ago and from that enlightenment developed my love and respect for this humble, versatile little fruit—you can enjoy it, you can make art with and inspired by it, and you can eat it. What more can you ask for?

The information I have is in books, not linkable here, but here is an interesting article in an older magazine, now online: Simply… A History Of The Apple.

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, visit my galleries of Photography on Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit “Custom Prints” for availability and terms. I'll be more than happy to make a print for you.

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