Before the last half of the twentieth century, a wide variety of apples were grown regionally, with apple types grown according to the varying soil, weather, and habitat conditions across the United States. The advent of a national market, driven by the development and consolidation of supermarket chains, has reduced the number of available apple varieties to a dozen or so that keep well, respond well to extensive spray programs, and have an attractive and uniform outer skin. Much of the flavor that our ancestors cherished in apples has been sacrificed. The old regional varieties have become difficult, if not impossible, to find—and some have disappeared entirely.
Clyde Jenkins grew up in an old homestead in the Shenandoah Mountains in Page County. He is an expert apple grower, dedicated to finding the most richly flavored fruits available that will grow well in central and western Virginia. One of his specialties is grafting, which describes any of a number of techniques in which a section of a stem with leaf buds is inserted into the stock of a tree. Grafting is useful for more than reproduction of an original cultivar. It is also used to repair injured fruit trees or for combining an established tree with one or more different cultivars.
The Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans all practiced grafting, and it remains a valuable and widely-used horticultural method. In addition to being an authority on apple varieties, Clyde is also a brilliant basket maker, relying mainly on white oak strands he weaves together. The traditional skill of making baskets from white oaks is hundreds of years old, involving an in-depth study of the grain structure of the tree. Each white oak tree behaves differently, so basket makers must work with hundreds of trees to gain an intimate understanding of the nuances of the wood.