If you go into a modern supermarket, you can find a stunning array of food. The choices available to modern consumers are incredible when compared to the pantry of a pioneer home. On the other hand, modern practices have actually worked to minimize, not maximize, the variety of goods in some instances. Take apples, for example. In my local supermarket I can count on finding McIntosh and Delicious apples, and probably a few others such as Empire or Ida Red. Consider that in the 1800s there were thousands of varieties of apples grown in North America. One estimate stands at over 7000. The varieties of apples you find at the supermarket were chosen in part for their ability to stand up to shipping and resist bruising, so they look good on the grocery shelf. If you are adventurous though, you might want to experiment with other apples.
A number of heritage apples, and less well-known modern varieties are still available at local orchards across the country. You can grow your own, too. Nurseries such as Siloam Orchard in Uxbridge, Ontario, offer many different varieties to growers. The All About Apples website has good information about many varieties. Some of the names are very enticing. Who wouldn’t want to try a Glowing Heart (described as looking like a beet, inside and out) or a Seek-No-Further apple?
I recently visited Smyth’s Apple Orchard store and purchased a few different varieties to taste-test. Railguy and I sampled these three heirloom varieties for dessert one evening.
Snow apples, also known as Fameuse, are a very old variety. They originated in Quebec in the 1600s, likely from stock imported from France. Snow refers to the pure white flesh of the fruit. Trees are reported to be long-lived and hardy, and this variety is probably a parent of the more famous McIntosh. The fruit is small to medium-sized. We found the flesh of the apples to be rather soft, lacking the crispness of some other varieties, while the flavor was mild and pleasant.
There are a few different kinds of Greening apples: Bottle Greening, Rhode Island Greening, Northwest Greening, Patten Greening and Lanark Greening. These were labeled simply Greening. The Bottle Greening was a chance seedling found growing near the border of New York and Vermont in the early 1800s. Work gangs in the area used to stash their bottles in the hollow trunk of the original tree, and it was thus named the Bottle Tree and later the Bottle Greening. The Rhode Island Greening is one of the oldest historic apple varieties in America, originating near Newport, Rhode Island around 1650. It produces quite large, light to dark green fruit and has long been prized for pie-making. The apple we sampled was noticeably more tart than the other two varieties recorded here, though not unpleasantly so, and pleasingly crisp.
Winesap apples originated in New Jersey and are recorded as popular cider apples by 1817. The apples are good “winter-keepers” and they remained very popular across America until availability of commercial storage allowed other apple varieties to be widely available. The flavor of Winesaps is often described as spicy and it is said a slight wine-like aftertaste is the source of their name. Railguy and I agreed that while the Snow apple was a bit bland, and the Greening a bit tart, the Winesap was just right! It had a nice crispness and good, sweet flavor. Rather than wine-like or spicy, we both described the flavor as fruity. For the final word, you’ll have to try it for yourself.