Photographs by Russel Wasserfall
Heading out into the Swabian Streuobstwiesen (meadow orchards) surrounding Schlat in Baden-Württemberg, you’d be forgiven for thinking the retired population had been put out to work.
The knowledge of how to care for these fruit trees, many of them hundreds of years old, and how to make Most (cider) and schnapps from the harvest is held by the older generation.
For their children there are more interesting weekend pursuits than the backbreaking labour involved in tending the orchards, and easier ways of generating cash. Naturally there’s an uncertainty about what will become of these heirloom variety apples, pears, cherries and plums.
Cue Jörg Geiger. Determined to preserve the Streuobstwiesen tradition, Geiger began researching a recipe from the 1700s that uses the tannins in the Champagner-bratbirne (Champagne Baking Pear) to produce a sparkling wine made in the champagne style.
He sent out the message that anyone bringing him beautiful specimens of the Champagner-bratbirne would be compensated handsomely, hoping that by rewarding a good-quality harvest the orchards would assume a value.
Geiger now produces a refined methode champenois from the Champagne Baking Pear with floral and pear fruit aromas, as well as a ‘Swabian grappa’ from the skins and pips. He also employs a network of local families who supply his operation from their meadows.
Herr Rapp keeps Geiger in apples for Swabian cider. Over his shoulder Rapp wears an old flour sack inherited from his father – it’s more comfortable than a harvest basket. He warms the apples in his pocket so as to take the cold edge off biting into them, and explains the best uses for each variety: Kloster, Boskoop and Gold Parmaene. He finishes by offering a round of home-made schnapps made from his Palmisch Birner apples, but Rapp’s favourite incarnation of the Streuobstwiesen apples is Most. It must be enjoyed with a Vesperbrot (sandwich) he warns, ‘Otherwise you will be riding the carousel!’
As he resumes picking from the trees he knows as well as his children, Geiger’s second in command, Herr Henning, remarks, ‘For every Mr. Rapp we need 10 young people.’