Dorsett Golden at Kaiapit?

Karl Holzknecht, who was the main missionary at Kaiapit, grew up in Germany. While he embraced the tropical fruit that New Guinea had to offer, he greatly missed the apples of his youth.

Imported apples were fairly scarce in New Guinea in those years. Living at Kaiapit, 80 miles inland from Lae, and being dependent on occasional aircraft bringing goods ordered weeks or even months in advance, meant that no apples found their way to Kaiapit. In an attempt to rectify this situation, Holzknecht ordered two Tropical Beauty apple trees from Australia. This apple originated in South Africa and was introduced to Australia in 1953.

When the seedlings arrived, he planted them in the valley behind Kaiapit hill near a small watercourse, called the Ngarogoga. This rill ran as a creek during the wet season, but in the other months dried up though it retained some moisture further down. Both seedlings survived and grew and became full-grown trees, seeming to thrive in that environment. But, alas! There was never an apple, not a single one!

It turns out that despite the name, the Tropical Beauty apple does require some winter chilling hours, possibly as many as the Fuji apple, which needs about 350 hours. Kaiapit, situated less than 500 miles south of the equator in the lowlands of the Markham Valley, had no such hours.  (Chilling hours are hours with temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 and 7 degrees Celsius.)

One other apple would have had a better chance, though it originated only in 1954 in the Bahamas and was not available while the Holzknechts lived at Kaiapit. This is Dorsett Golden applesthe Dorsett Golden, which will grow without any chilling hours. The apple is golden in color, but blushes red where it is exposed to sunlight. Its flesh is crunchy, sweet tart, and has the classic apple flavor. It is also good for culinary purposes. In the right conditions, a Dorsett Golden tree will even produce two crops a year. It may have done so at Kaiapit, since most years Kaiapit mangos produced two crops.

Kaiapit has a distinct climate pattern, a three-month monsoon season, starting in December, followed by a hot dry season (though temperatures rarely exceed the Fahrenheit nineties or the low Celsius thirties). The dry season, of course, is equivalent to the southern hemisphere’s winter; however, since the monsoon season is cooler than the dry, it is not difficult to think of that time as “winter” and the dry as “summer”, corresponding to the pattern in the northern hemisphere. Christmas conveniently falls during the cooler season, and growing up at Kaiapit with European parents, it was easy to place Christmas in what passed for “winter.”

This pattern is similar to what we have here in central California, though our wet winter has only about twenty percent of the Kaiapit rains and more than 800 chilling hours, but our dry summer temperatures are similar. I think the Kaiapit pattern would eminently suit the Dorsett Golden, making it to bloom in February and produce apples sometime in July. What a pity the Dorsett Golden apple was not available, when the Rev. Holzknecht placed his order!

It should be noted that nowadays, apples do flourish in Papua New Guinea, but they are grown in the cooler high country, particularly the Eastern Highlands, not in the Markham Valley.

Old World Cider

When I was around ten years old, we lived in Bavaria, Germany. For a while, it was with my grandparents in Altheim, a little village in Franconia. We lived next door to the Sichlings. They farmed and they also had a dairy.

Most of the residents of Altheim were peasants, but the Sichlings actually owned land, so they were a cut above their neighbors. Unlike here in the United States, no one actually lived on the land they farmed. (The peasants did not even own any land and had to rent fields from people like the Sichlings.) Everyone lived in the village and went out to work in the fields.

Later, after we moved, my brother Hartmut and I came back to spent a vacation at the farm. This was in the mid-fifties and there was really nothing to drink there, but herbal tea and hard cider. The milk they sold. Nobody in Sichling’s house drank water. I suppose it had to be boiled first.

I recall my first draft of cider. To a boy who had never had an alcoholic drink, the taste was unexpected, “dry”, bitter and yet sweet; it was not the apple juice to which I was accustomed. When I had finished, I was left giddy-headed and even breathless. I suppose I did get used to drinking the cider as my main fluid intake over the next two weeks.

The Sichlings owned many apple trees, but none in the village. Theirs were all over the general vicinity, lining the fields here and there, or growing on unworkable ground. They were probably mostly wildings, not good apples, for the Sichlings themselves never ate any of the fruit. One day I asked for an apple. The adults discussed where I could find an edible one and finally gave me directions to a tree. Hartmut and I went with the oldest Sichling boy, who was my age, and when we found the tree, the fruit turned out to be heavily covered with brown russet. I don’t think they were Leathercoats, but that would have been an appropriate name. As a ten year old unaccustomed to russets I was very leery of them, but we nevertheless bit in and found sweet, brisk, juicy, yellow flesh inside.

The Sichlings matured their cider in two large vats that were in a cellar on the church grounds. One vat was a year’s drinking, so they alternated between the vats.

I was there for the one of the crushings. Everyone went out with the largest wagon. (The Sichlings owned one of the few tractors in the village.) We went from tree to tree, shaking them and picking up the fallen apples until the whole wagon was full. Some of the apples were clearly crabapples, but many were large and pretty. I bit into one lovely apple that was splashed with red, but it was very tart and bitter. We came home at dusk, clinging on to the outside of the wagon, since there was no room inside.

The next day, it was crushing time. The cider press was a large affair. It was turned by two long, wooden arms, which were attached to horses; they went round and round while the juice oozed out into buckets. We boys sat on stools under the arms and our job was to keep the flies away from the must. This was an important job, since there were many flies because the manure/compost heap was not very far away. The next day we were crushing again. This is all that I remember of it. The pomace was probably fed to the cows.

The milling situation out in the open in the yard was not particularly hygienic. I don’t think that Sichling added any yeast or did any of the procedures that we are advised to use to make cider, but the resultant product was excellent. It has had a long-term effect on me: it has spoiled my taste for cider. I have not yet been able to find any product that comes close to it in taste and briskness.

Eve’s Peach

Unless we read the story of the Fall of Man in the original Hebrew, we are told that it began with Eve being tempted by an apple. The Hebrew, however, simply identifies the fruit as a fleshy fruit. The apple was part of European culture, not of the Middle East (though some apples may have been imported). Eve’s fruit did not become an apple until the Bible was translated into Latin. The translators used malum for “apple”, eschewing pomum (pome), which had a broader meaning and was probably a more accurate translation of the Hebrew. They may have preferred malum because the word also meant an “evil” or “wrong-doing”. Even if the pun between apple and evil was unintended, it was certainly convenient for sermons.

Apples were more than mere fruit in pagan Europe. They had many other associations. The Norse gods got their immortality from magic golden apples. The god Balder was worshipped as the god of the apple tree; indeed, his name derives from abaldur, meaning “apple tree”. Crab and bitter apples had healing powers and were used in potions and poultices. And, of course, the apple provided alcoholic cider. Since the apple was such an important aspect of paganism, it was convenient for the missionary monks to have apples associated with a fundamental aspect of Christianity that sought to supplant pagan beliefs, and conveniently also an association with evil.

Back to the fruit that tempted Eve. If not the apple, what fruit was it?

The one generally favored is the pomegranate. Pomegranates originated in Persia and were cultivated in the Mediterranean regions for millennia; they were native to Palestine, according to the Bible (Deuteronomy 8:8). As a fruit, pomegranates are attractive, and they are wonderfully flavored. But there are some problems. Despite the pome in its name, the fruit is more seedy than fleshy. Access to the best part of the pomegranate is not as easy as it is in other fleshy fruits. I find it difficult to imagine Eve taking a bite out of a pomegranate.

Another native, the fig has also been suggested. Adam and Eve used the fig tree as a boutique after they partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, so we know there was one in Eden. Since the fig tree and the Tree of Knowledge are two different trees, it is doubtful that the fig was Eve’s fruit. Figs were probably part of Adam and Eve’s normal diet.

My favorite candidate is the peach/nectarine, though it may also have been the apricot. Apricots came into the Mediterranean region through Armenia (hence the scientific name Armeniaca), and they were widespread in Palestine by the time the Bible was written down.

The peach, which originally came from China, would have been more exotic to the Hebrews, being by now extensively cultivated in Persia, as the scientific name recognizes: persica. The Bible was written down not in Israel or Judea, but when the Jews were in exile in Babylon, where peach trees must have been well in evidence around them, probably more so than the pomegranate or fig, and definitely more than the absent apple.

So, how about it? Did this fruit bring about the fall of Man? I like to think so. Imagine Eve’s delight in taking a bite out of a delicious peach or nectarine, and the juice dripping down her chin. “Wow! Hey Adam, try this.”