Family Heirlooms: Apples, Palms, Ferns, and More

Readers share stories of treasured family plants passed down for generations.

  • This tree is likely a strain of 'Red Astrachan,' a Russian apple dating to the 1800s that was included in the farm's orchard but has since died off.
    Photo by Elizabeth Janoski
  • The sago palm thrives in the warm, humid climate of Houston, Texas.
    Photo by Sue Warwick
  • This Boston fern, inherited from the author's grandmother, has survived for over 30 years.
    Photo by Diane Anderson

The Mystery of Grandmother’s Apple Jelly

My grandmother’s apple jelly was a thick, amber-colored syrup that slid off a spoon onto toast like honey. For years, I tried to imitate her recipe with apples that she might have used from the old trees at the farm. An early ripening scrub tree I discovered on the slope made sweet, pure- pink jelly, but it wasn’t like grandmother’s. The ‘Wealthy’ tree’s sweet apples made a great pie, wonderful sauce, and good jelly — but that special flavor just wasn’t there. I rejected the ‘King David’ ( too sour), pondered the ‘Redstreak’ apples lining the lane, and then sampled the crisp ‘Rhode Island Greening’ further down the hill, which my cousin used, along with all the other apples, for his cider.

Then I realized: Grandmother must have made her jelly from a cider that blended all those sweet and crisp flavors into a beautiful bouquet. My apple cider jelly, though not quite the same texture, is close enough to keep the memory of her wonderful jelly alive.

Elizabeth Janoski
Montrose, Pennsylvania

Paternal Pothos

When my dad opened his law office in 1990, my great-grandmother gave him a potted pothos (Epipremnum aureum) plant for his office. Years later, when a family member passed away unexpectedly, my dad gifted all of his children potted pothos plants that he’d established from my great-grandmother’s original gift. He mixed some of the family member’s ashes into the soil and staked the plant with a portion of a barbed-wire fence post from my great-grandparents’ dairy farm. I keep my special plant in a prominent part of my kitchen, where it reminds me of my great-grandmother’s green thumb, my dad’s loving support, and my beloved family member who passed away too soon.



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