The Orchard

Where you can find us:

Our website address is: https://www.affnorchard.org.

Our orchard is located on CR804 in Etowah Tennessee, across the street from Coghill Baptist Church.

Native Fruit Trees

Pawpaws

This is the least known of America’s native fruits, and ironically it is also America’s largest and many would say most flavorful fruit.  It is native from southern Ontario to northern Florida and as far west as Texas, Arkansas and Missouri.  Tennessee is literally in the very heart of its range, and it is very popular in the Ohio River Valley States of West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana.  Lewis and Clark mention eating them frequently.  “One can live well on pawpaws.”  For the Native Americans, pawpaw was a seasonal treat because it was perishable, but much loved it is thought, as where the Native Americans lived they transported and planted pawpaw seeds, leading to isolated patches of pawpaws outside their normal range.

The species name of pawpaw is asimina, a Creek word “asimina” or “simina”.  And the word pawpaw is related to the Caribbean native word papaya, a fruit with which pawpaw is often confused, though they are unrelated. 

Unlike more commercially available fruits like apples, pears, plums, pawpaws have resisted modern market cultivation, some say because of their very short shelf life and tendency to bruise.  

Selections at the Orchard include selected wild pawpaws, and 1st and 2nd generation improved cultivars from Jerry Lehmann, James Claypool, the Kansas State University breeding program and Neal Peterson.  These brief efforts to develop the fruit show enormous potential for the fruit commercially.  We, however, like the amazing wild variability of the fruit.

American Persimmons

The American persimmon (diospyros virginiana) was a staple of Native American diets, but it is much misunderstood by modern Americans, who mainly know them as mouth puckering and distasteful.  And if they are picked before peak, soft ripeness, they are indeed an unforgettable shock, being very dry and unpleasant to taste.  This repels critters, too, though, who also dislike the astringency in the unripe fruit.

The word persimmon itself is an Anglicism of the Algonquian word “putcheman”

The American persimmons grown at the Orchard range from simple wild ones, to some forest selected varieties, and some first generation crosses of these selections from the James Claypool and Jerry Lehmann cultivation efforts.

Homestead Fruits

Appalachia has a long history of settlers “making a go of it” in marginal conditions – hilly plots, rocky soil, pressure from woodland creatures (critters and varmits!).  Many times, the settlers were the poor who could not find a place in the rich fertile plantation lands east and south of the Appalachian mountains.  One finds their plants sometimes as the sole remnant of homesteads that formerly dotted the landscape and hollows (“hollers and coves”) of the region.  What they chose were plants tolerating poor soil, fluctuations in rainfall, and most of all resisting, browsing by deer.

Asian Persimmons

These truly bountiful trees come to us from Asia – mainly Japan and China – where they have been cultivated for a couple thousand years.  They produce the highest number of pounds of fruit per acre of any fruit grown by mankind.  A single small (12′-15′) tree can produce 200-300 pounds of fruit! 

Asian persimmons (diospyros kaki) were introduced by Asian workers who came to America in the mid-1800’s to help build America’s transcontinental railroads.  Starting in the West, gradually they moved eastward, delighting people who made a place for them in their gardens with their sweetness, flavors of baking spices and butterscotch, their long shelf life and of course the chance to share abundance with friends, neighbors and family.  They can be picked ahead of their full ripeness, and will ripen over weeks on the counter and even in the refrigerator.  They can also be dried and make an almost candy-like fruit, even sweeter than dried apricots.  The genus name “diospyros” means “food of the gods”, and Asian persimmons very rightly carry this genus name.

Figs

Figs are another surprise in Appalachia.  One hears over and over the surprised exclamation “Those grow around here?!”  Yes, and they grow very well! 

The plants and the immature fruit magnificently resist pressure from birds and browsing deer, and the unripe fruit and the leaves are filled with a bitter, latex-rubber compound (much like milk weed).  But this disappears as the fruit ripens.  Fruit can be picked a day ahead of peak ripeness and left to ripen overnight on the counter, and then refrigerated (if kept dry) for the next couple of weeks.

 

Pomegranates

Yes – one find pomegranate trees near old Appalachian homesteads!  Who knew?!  One does find them here and there at old home sites in the Smokey Mountains.  So, the fruit has been grown in these parts for over a hundred and fifty years.

The AFFN Orchard grows selections developed in the Russian selection program started in the 1970s to find flavorful and cold resistant cultivars.  We would very much like to add to our collection samples from some of the old home sites in Appalachia.  

Grapes

Originally from Europe, grapes were brought over by early settlers hoping to make wine.  And in some places, there was success – the Great Lakes region, the West Coast.  But elsewhere, it has proven harder to find varieties that make for good wine and that are resistant to phylloxera aphid blight.  The native scuppernongs grow well, but often make a very sweet, fruity wine, and in the humid regions, to which Appalachia belong.  European grapes often tend to have off flavors when made into wine (“cherry coke” was a fitting description I saw in the tasting notes of one local grower…), and suffer from mold and mildew. 

But, like the generations before us, we are giving it a go too, humbly admitting that we too have not yet found the magic variety that overcomes the region’s challenges.  Local winemakers have been developing their wine making skills, but not been waiting for the local grapes.  Often they will buy grapes in bulk from established regions, like California, Oregon and Washington, to develop their skill in making wine itself.  Of course, European viticulture also took centuries to develop, and maybe the story will be the same here.  Suggestions concerning promising varietals are welcome!  In the meantime, we will simply eat and make fresh juice with our grapes.   

Native Berries

Maypops

Known to the Cherokee as “Ocoee” an entire river valley is named after this edible native plant, presumably for its beauty and flavor.  It is also the lesser known Tennessee State Wildflower, designated as such in 1919 by Tennessee Senate Joint Resolution 13.  (The State’s “cultivated flower” is the more commonly known iris.) 

Juneberries

Juneberries, known also as Serviceberries are in one native American language called “Saskatoons” (yes, just like the capital of the Canadian province Saskatchewan!), are a tasty native American staple.  Even though in modern times, we have largely forgotten this fruit, they fed Lewis and Clark as they crossed the continent (to the point some expedition team members complained of them in their journals…). 

While modern Americans may have forgotten this fruit, the birds have not.  And they may be responsible for the fruit’s obscurity nowadays since they devour them with gusto.  Also, the Juneberry has been supplanted by the blueberry, which tastes similar and which is easier to mechanically harvest.  

Juneberries have the taste of blueberries crossed with almonds, and are usually up high out of the reach of people.  No wonder the birds love them!

Huckleberries

This is an often misidentified fruit.  A couple of different genuses comprise the fruits known as “huckleberries”, and they fall into a western group, in the genus vaccinium, and an Eastern group in the genus gaylussacia.  They are often confused with blueberries, which also happen to fall into the genus vaccinium.

But huckleberries do have a brighter flavor than blueberries, much like wild strawberries have a brighter flavor than their commercial counterparts.  Gaylussacia are also seedier than vaccinium, having ten seeds per berry rather than five, and the seeds tend to be crunchier.

At the orchard, we grow a few western varieties, vaccinium melanocarpa and the evergreen huckleberry.  But we would like to focus more on the lesser known eastern varieties, known to our forebears.  Gaylussacia bacata, brachycera, frondosa, dumosa…We are looking for selections and crosses giving a larger berry (more pulp to seed), but in the meantime, we’ll enjoy the intense flavor and crunchy texture.   

Edible Honeysuckle

Honeyberries or Haskaps (from Japanese native Aino language “hassukappu”) grow all around the northern hemisphere spanning Siberia, the Japanese islands, boreal Canada all the way down to Mexico.  It has a phenomenal geographic range, and is becoming more popular as a cultivated fruit plant.  Many wild varieties are astringent and tart, leading them to have been mostly used for medicinal purposes, or admixed with more flavorful berries.  But selections from the wild, and 1st and 2nd generation crossings, have resulted in remarkably sweet and flavorful cultivars.  We are giving them a try to see if they can become a new homestead favorite drawn from our native stock.

Currants

The currants at the orchard are native varieties to North America but taken from from further west:  the common Clove Currant (ribes odoratum), the Missouri Giant Currant (ribes odoratum var. villosum), the Golden Currant (ribes aureum), Crandall Currant (ribes odoratum “Crandall”) and we are still seeking Gwen’s Buffalo Currant (ribes odoratum “Gwen”).  The fragrance of the flowers in the springtime is intoxicating, with their strong clove scent.  And so the mellifluous name, odoratum…

The berries are juicy, and have something of this wonderful clove aroma.  What they lack is the muskiness or earthiness of European blackcurrants, a flavor that some North American palates consider to be an “acquired taste”.  

Nut Trees

Pecan

American Hazelnut

American/Asian Chestnut

Hican