Heritage apples

Heritage Apples

Heritage applesIf you get your apples at the grocery store, you’re losing out. Supermarkets carry only a few of the hundreds of great apples, and their taste comes second to their keeping and shipping qualities.

Apples can be big or small; red, yellow, or green. Their flesh can be mealy, crisp or juicy. Some apples ripen in the summer, some wait almost until frost. Some are the apple of your dreams, best for eating out of hand, while some are best for baking, or for applesauce. Some will keep for months in a cool cellar, while some won’t last a month. Some apples are too sour to eat fresh, but make exceptional hard cider. There’s an apple for every taste – yet your supermarket carries only a few.

Each named apple variety has its own distinctive characteristics. While John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, planted scads of seeds, most of the apples grown from those trees were only good for feeding the hogs, or for turning into cider: you never know what you’re going to get, when you plant an apple seed. Some of the seeds, though, will grow exceptional apples. Those are the ones that get propagated; most apples are grown from grafts. Every Granny Smith apple, for example, comes from the chance seedling found in 1870 by the Australian, Maria Smith; every McIntosh is a graft derived from the tree that John McIntosh grew on his farm in 1911 Ontario.

I’m lucky to live in a state with a lot of apple trees, and there are fine orchards within 20 miles of my house. I have my favorite apples: “Spies for pies” said my grandmother, and I think she was right: Northern Spy makes great pies, but so do Cortland and Winesap. I like to use a mix of apples for applesauce. My favorite apples for eating fresh are Davey and Snow/Fameuse.

Find your own favorites – why not look for fresh local apples nearby?

Helpful links

  • find apple growers near you with local harvest.org
  • an article about John Bunker’s quest to find apple varieties
  • Organic Gardening on heirloom apples
  • Fedco Seeds, suppliers of heritage apple trees