The fruit on the pic above is not a kaki, these bright-colored fruits that dot the Japanese winter landscape. This is an unpicked apple which was nicely waving at us from this side-road orchard. We were driving through Northern Burgundy last november and we saw this partly-fenced orchard along the road in the Yonne with all these apples hanging on leaf-less branches. We stopped to take a few pictures and as the gate was half open, we walked in. This fenced lot was actually an orchard conservatory and had probably been set up by the Département of the Yonne, or by a group of villages with the help of passionate people devoted to protect little-known ancient varieties. That's a paradox in France : On one side, the French judges, the Administration and the major seeds companies regroup to limit biodiversity and impose heavy fines on the non-profit group Kokopelli for distributing seeds of ancient varieties [read about the lawsuit on this page in French and this one in English], and on the other side you have people who here and there (and oddly, with the funding of local administrations) devote their time & energy to plant and manage appletree orchards so that little-known apple varieties survive. This proves that the local people feel compelled to defend their biodiversity heritage, and that it may only take a few more rebels like these to successfully counter the French Bureaucracy's enmity to the survival of ancient vegetable varieties.
Other good news is that thousands of volunteers across France give their time to preserve our deep fruit heritage, often with a particular focus on apples, and vergers conservatoires (orchard conservatories) now dot the country even though it's not clear if there are centralized data about their exact number. They are managed by non-profit local organizations and relayed by "apple activist groups" like Les Croqueurs de Pommes (apple crunchers) who do a lot to put the spotlight on the subject. See on their website the page listing the apple varieties.
The disregarded old-time orchards are why the back roads of the French countryside in autumn are so tempting for daring apple lovers. If you ever travelled through France on your bicycle as I did myself you could almost live for free in mid-october hopping from orchard to orchard and preying on the fallen apples as birds seem to be the only ones to eye them.
There's an ancient expression in French to mean petty thief, it's precisely voleur de pommes (apple thief), it is used for small larceny, the underlying meaning being that stealing apples is an almost pardonable crime. Now, this expression appeared very long time ago, when apples were still picked and eaten by villagers. Since then, blame it on people getting richer, spoiled or too busy, the apple trees have often been left alone. I suspect that the owners still eat apples but prefer to buy clean, square apples from the nearest supermarket. The bright side is that you have all these help-yourself displays all along your route. And anyway, there's no trespassing law in France and it's tolerated to pick fallen fruits on the ground when they're obviously left by themselves.
Newbees-in-apples like me thought that apples had already been around for ever (at least since the Bible story) but reading this Wikipedia apple page (in French) I learn that the development of apple varieties has also a lot to do with ancient France : If 6 varieties were described by Theophrast in 287 B.C, and 17 varieties by Pline in 80 A.C., the renaissance of Apple growing and selection went through a high point in Normandy, France, and particularly between the 8th and the 15th century. And guess what ? the clergy played a central role here, like it did for grape growing and winemaking in other regions...
And anyway, what the heck with this voleur de pommes tag, these apples are lost anyway and I'll buy back my crime by writing this story and by encouraging people to get back the control of their orchards (although I'm not sure they read wineterroirs...)...
Other sweet wines would probably have made a good match with these cooked acidic apples, all it takes is to try...
All About Apples : the Forum
A few dates in the apple History (though it ignores the central role of Normandy, France for apple growing).
History of apple-trees and cider (in French - Léon Ferret - 1855)