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Lost & Found: Heirloom Apples

Gardeners are rediscovering the rich flavors of heirloom apples.

'Duchess of Oldenburg' apple
'Duchess of Oldenburg' is a hardy Russian apple known for its superb cooking qualities.
Crisp, juicy apples have been enjoyed by families in America and Europe for centuries. Thousands of varieties have been grown over this time but only a few are sold at grocery stores today. Modern varieties are attractive, ship well and have a mild flavor that pleases the masses. That’s great, but we are missing the bold flavors of yesterday.

To illustrate the point, come with me on a trip to the past and see what appeals most to you:

Imagine going back to our Dakota homestead days and enjoying a slice
of fluffy apple cake made from the ‘Duchess of Oldenburg’ tree we brought from Russia. Delicious!

Or, pull up a chair in an old village pub in New England and let’s enjoy a pint of ‘Smokehouse’ cider. Cheers!

Looking for something more chic? Then imagine sitting at a street café in Stockholm enjoying a tangy tart made from prized ‘Akero’ Swedish apples. It smells like raspberries!

Allow me to offer you a sweet apple scone made with ‘Kerry Pippin’ apples from an Irish bakery.

Before coming home, let’s grab some apple butter made by the local monks using ‘Lamb Abbey Pearmain’ apples. Smell the pineapple essence!

I could go on, but you get the idea. There is a world of amazing taste experiences waiting for you with heirloom apples. 

Go online and search for “heirloom” or “heritage” apples. Several nurseries offer these trees today and a few will offer more than 100 varieties. Spend a moment and revel at the flavors and legends surrounding these varieties. Choose varieties that are hardy and ripen by early October.

The most popular heirloom apples are available in limited supplies and can be ordered this fall for delivery next spring. You will buy these as bareroot trees, which are easy to plant and save you money. In many cases you can get these on semi-dwarf rootstocks (hardy to Zone 4), which are easier to manage than standard types.

I enjoy a ‘Honeycrisp’ as much as anyone, but the rich flavors of heirloom apples can delight both our stomachs and our souls as we share the same delights of our ancestors. 

Written by , Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, September 7, 2017. Photo courtesy of beautifulcataya

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