Amelia Simmons, on Grafting a ‘Family Tree’

"Apples, are still more various [than pears], yet rigidly retain their own species, and are highly useful in families, and ought to be more universally cultivated, excepting in the compactest cities. There is not a single family but might set a tree in some otherwise useless spot, which might serve the two fold use of shade and fruit; on which 12 or 14 kinds of fruit trees might easily be engrafted, and essentially preserve the orchard from the intrusions of boys, &c. which is too common in America. If the boy who thus planted a tree, and guarded and protected it in a useless corner, and carefully engrafted different fruits, was to be indulged free access into orchards, whilst the neglectful boy was prohibited — how many millions of fruit trees would spring into growth — and what a saving to the union. The net saving would in time extinguish the public debt, and enrich our cookery."

Amelia Simmons, American Cookery (1796)

Words of late eighteenth century wisdom there, on the subject of grafting multiple types of apple onto one tree to create a ‘family tree'[1]. They were penned by Amelia Simmons, in her 1796 volume American Cookery, considered to be the first American-originated cookbook – as opposed to the great many imported, European cookbooks that would have been in wide use at the time – and, according to the Library of Congress, one of the books that shaped the still relatively new nation of the United States of America.

Amelia suggests that to keep (potentially millions) of boys from mischief[2] they should be given an apple tree, planted in an otherwise useless spot, to guard and care for. Allowed free access to the trees in the main, productive orchard, these boys – as opposed to those nasty, prohibited, neglectful boys – should be taught the techniques of grafting and encouraged to add a dozen or so varieties of apples to their own tree, in order to provide both fruit and shade for the benefit of their families in years to come.

It’s a rather lovely idea. Sadly, I doubt there are many parents today who would consider a grafting knife to be something their youngsters ought to be familiar with. But involving children in a community orchard project and teaching them about how fruit trees are grafted, planted, grown and cared for[3] is a much more sensible and achievable goal.

But if any grown-ups are interested in grafting a family tree, it’s a project that I’ll be tackling later in the year, as I cut back an outgrown MM106 rootstock and top-graft it with a few new varieties. Stay tuned for the full story in a few weeks’ time.

If you’d like to read Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, a digitised copy can be found at Project Gutenberg and details of numerous reprint editions are available via Google Books or Amazon.


1 As I mentioned back in March last year, grafting multiple varieties of scion onto a single stock is a long-known technique, written about by Brossard in the late sixteenth century and mentioned in Arnold’s Chronicles back in 1502.
2 Girls, presumably, being far better behaved and much less mischief-prone than boys back then…
3 I have to agree that neglectful boys and girls alike should be prohibited from the orchard – or rather, very closely supervised within it – until they’ve learned enough about the trees to appreciate that caring for them is rather more important than climbing in them or swinging from their all too-breakable branches.

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