Encyclopedia of Fall: O is for Orchard
‘Ashmead’s Kernel’, ‘Roxbury Russet’, ‘Belle de Boskoop’, ‘Pink Pearl’, ‘Winter Banana’ … The names of antique and rare apple varieties are part poetry, part history lesson. Many go back centuries, some as far as the Renaissance. The tiny ‘Lady’ apple, also known as the ‘Pomme d’Api’, was first recorded under that name in 1628, but may have been cultivated by the Romans. Most of the old varieties we know today, though, sprang up around the turn of the 19th century, when John Chapman (a.k.a. “Johnny Appleseed”) departed Massachusetts for the nascent Northwest Territory of Ohio and points west, planting nurseries as he went. By 1905, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture commissioned a report on all known American apple varieties, researchers counted some 14,000 unique types.
Today, only about 100 are grown commercially in any volume, but after decades of ‘Red Delicious’ dominance, the old apples are finding a new audience–especially here in New England, where more and more savvy growers are swapping some of their ‘Cortland’ trees for ‘Calville Blanc d’Hiver’ and ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’. These antique stunners have flavors and aromas that run from toasted nuts to honeyed champagne to lemonade, and tasting them is like discovering an entirely new fruit species. In the year I’ve been promoting my Apple Lover’s Cookbook (W.W. Norton, 2011) by hosting heirloom-apple tastings, people take a bite, then ask: Where can I get them? The following orchards specialize in keeping our apple heritage alive. Be sure to call or go online to check picking schedules for different varieties.