Oh my goodness, it has been a spectacular year for apples. They are busting out everywhere!

There’s an inside joke in our household — “we brake for apples.” As we drive around the countryside this time of year, I keep my eyes “peeled” for apple trees alongside the roadway, because in this time of year they are filled chock-a-block with fruit.

Frequently, we come to a screeching halt to sample some long-forgotten, and, yes, often wormy, apples growing by the roadside.

A couple weeks ago, we took a camping trip down east and stayed in a couple of our great state parks, and two of them, apparently, were formerly either farms or apple orchards. There were so many apple trees and all were full of fruit. Those old trees continue to produce apples in abundance.

We know old apple varieties numbered in the hundreds, most no longer in commercial production. But at a time when a lot of people raised most of what they ate, the apple figured prominently in their diets.

There were apples to press for cider — both sweet and hard — and apples for drying or baking, or making vinegar, or some varieties that tasted best when kept all winter in a root cellar. There were what apple historian John Bunker calls “dessert apples,” or apples eaten fresh out of hand. These days, some of those old varieties are seeing a comeback in popularity, thanks in part to Bunker and others like him who discovered, cataloged and grow and promote those old varieties.

They are doing this by grafting those old varieties to root stocks. Unlike many crops, apples cannot be reliably grown from seed. Apples seeds are the ultimate “pig in a poke.” No two apple seeds are the same.

That means every single seed in that apple you eat now is different. I’ll repeat: There are no two that are the same. Let that fact sink in for a minute or two. It is, for that reason, that if you want to grow another just like the one in your hand, you will need to take a bit of graft wood from the tree on which that apple grew in order to get the same apple. It kind of puts a kink in that old Johnny Appleseed fable. Maybe he did distribute apple seeds, but no one knew what each would produce.

One thing is true about apples, they not native to this country, not even to this continent. Apples — and a lot of other fruit trees — originated in places like Afghanistan. Over eons, apple seeds were spread throughout Europe, originally by the droppings of wild animals that ate them.

So in a sense, Johnny Appleseed is a European invention, not American, and “Johnny” might have actually been a wild horse with a taste for apples, and not a human.

Local gardeners Eric and Laura Evans grow a multitude of fruit trees, in addition to several apples. Eric has one tree that flutters with a gaggle of tags, each listing a different variety grafted onto that one tree. There must be a couple dozen varieties growing there.

So what are you doing with apples this fall?

I am slicing up a lot of them to dehydrate to enjoy as chewy, healthy snacks later. I am making pies and cobblers. My niece introduced me to the concept of fruit compotes. These sweetened concoctions keep for weeks in the refrigerator, and are tasty toppings for things like yogurt, pound cake, toast, ice cream, hot cereals — whatever you like. You can season this compote with ginger or rum, raisins or chopped dried apricots, lemon or orange zest, vanilla or your choice of spices.

Start with about one and a half to two pounds of apples (four large), peel and cut into one-inch chunks. For two pounds of fruit, use a half cup of water and four teaspoons of sugar (either white or brown) or maple syrup. I like to add a teaspoon of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar to “brighten up” the mixture. In a heavy saucepan, bring to a simmer and cook until fruit(s) are soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Season to taste. Cool and store in jars in the refrigerator up to three weeks.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. She is a member of GardenComm and the National Garden Bureau. Her gardens are in Camden.

This was a banner year for apples. Whether you grow, gather or buy them, now is the time to enjoy apples. Lynette Walther