Apples. Before you head to the garden center, make sure you have a reasonably sunny spot to plant a tree, and take a look around your neighborhood. Are there actually apple trees everywhere now that you’re paying attention? Check the alleys, peek over fences, scan for little red blobs still attached to bare branches. If you’ve got a lot of trees around, you might be able to get away with only planting one tree. Otherwise, apple trees need a mate in order to set fruit. But don’t panic! If you’re short on space, you can plant two trees in the same hole and they’ll grow just fine.
Ask at the garden center for help choosing the right variety. The trick with finding a mate for your apple tree is that it has to be a variety that blooms at the same time in order for the pollen to get transferred from one tree to the other. They’ll probably have a handy chart to help you figure this out.
Apples do require a little care, but less than you might think: learn a few pruning basics by taking a class at the garden center, or by picking up a book like Michael Phillips’ The Apple Grower. (okay, you can probably just Google it, too.) You can get away with just a few deep, infrequent waterings in summer, and I don’t bother with any pest control at all, but a little dormant oil in winter can knock back overwintering pests.
Now, what cocktail-ish thing are you going to do with apples? You could make your own apple cider—and for that, you really will need a book. Fortunately, Annie Proulx wrote one: it’s called Cider, and it’s still in print and easy to find.
You can also soak apple slices in vodka to make your own apple liqueur (more on this in a minute), and use fresh-squeezed juice or slices in apple-based cocktails made from applejack, calvados, or hard cider. The best use of apples in a cocktail, however, has to be the apple granita my husband made one year. He served a scoop or two of Pink Pearl granita in a Martini glass and poured Core Apple Vodka from Harvest Spirits over it. Amazing. Do that. (By the way, Harvest Spirits’ Cornelius Applejack is amazing. If you’d rather drink your apples than grow them, this is the spirit to get.)