Clyde Jenkins grew up in the Shenandoah Mountains in Page County, on the homestead his family has inhabited for generations. Throughout his life working the land, Clyde has acquired a host of skills from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries including basket making and heirloom apple growing. Clyde has spent a lifetime demonstrating and teaching his skills to others, and participated as a Virginia Folklife Master Artist in 2005. We are thrilled that Clyde is returning this year to work with four young men who have expressed a deep interest in carrying on these traditional folkways: Isaac Lonas, Tanner Good, Logan Hindershot, and Clyde’s own son Sam.
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 about a dozen. Much of the flavor that our ancestors cherished in apples has been sacrificed. The regional heirloom varieties have become difficult, if not impossible, to find—and some have disappeared entirely. Clyde 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. Clyde’s family has been grafting apple trees for many generations, single-handedly keeping many varieties alive. In addition to being an authority on apple varieties, Clyde is also a brilliant split oak basket maker, and for many years was the primary basket supplier for Colonial Williamsburg. 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.