The search for the Enormous Pippin continues
November 26, 2019 1:06 AM   Subscribe

Botanists scour old Northwest homesteads for long-lost apple varieties. "North America once had 17,000 named varieties of domesticated apples, but only about 4,000 remain... E.J. Brandt and David Benscoter, who together form the nonprofit Lost Apple Project, log countless hours and hundreds of miles in trucks, on all-terrain vehicles and on foot to find orchards planted by settlers as they pushed west more than a century ago."
posted by web-goddess (28 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
These guys are doing great work. I took a grafting class from Brandt a couple of years ago when I was visiting the folks, which was super interesting. Doing my part here in Sweden, I just planted a couple regional heritage varieties procured from the local pomological society.
posted by St. Oops at 4:07 AM on November 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


My favorite lost apple variety is the Taliaferro apple (Google cache because Monticello's page is throwing a certificate error). Thomas Jefferson said it was the best apple for making cider.
posted by steef at 5:23 AM on November 26, 2019


Maine Organic Farmers and Gardiners (MOFGA) has been sponsoring a similar effort for about ten years. They travel the state, and also encourage people to bring them apples for identificaton and possible preservation. They currently have about 300 heritage varieties growing in the Maine Heritage Orchard, with more trees added every year.
posted by anastasiav at 5:42 AM on November 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


I am a sucker for stories about long lost apple varieties. I think I like reading about apples more than I like the apples themselves.

Though I'm irrationally giddy anticipating my first bite of a Cosmic Crisp.
posted by a complicated history at 6:06 AM on November 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


1. Cosmic Crisps are OK but over-rated. 2. The search for old apple varieties is huge news locally. Basically we’re The. Real. Big. Apple here.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:22 AM on November 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


We used to find Rhode Island Greenings at the the grocery store but I haven't seen them in years. They are the best cooking apple I have used and I would love to try dehydrating them as tartness survives the processioning better than more subtle flavors.
posted by Botanizer at 6:28 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


We've had a new apple appearing in the stores here in eastern Washington, from central Washington growers, the Rockit. It's about the size of a plum, it's exactly the flavor profile I want in an apple (tart and sweet, juicy and crisp), and it's small enough that it's an apple that is not a major commitment. I love it. I've eaten more apples since I found them on the shelves than I have in the previous several years.

I also am looking forward to trying the Cosmic Crisp, and keep watching for it. But these new tiny apples are right now my jam.
posted by hippybear at 6:32 AM on November 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


We used to find Rhode Island Greenings at the the grocery store but I haven't seen them in years.

My wife gets these at a couple Massachusetts orchards. I could probably find out where if you want. Season's over, of course, but there's always next year. I think she has some in the fridge for the thanksgiving pie.
posted by bondcliff at 7:31 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


I like Rokits too, nice flavor and not too big.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:41 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm just happy when Honeycrisps go on sale.
posted by dbiedny at 8:33 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's about the size of a plum, it's exactly the flavor profile I want in an apple (tart and sweet, juicy and crisp), and it's small enough that it's an apple that is not a major commitment. I love it. I've eaten more apples since I found them on the shelves than I have in the previous several years.

Seriously, I'm not sure when we started breeding apples to be the size of your head that you need to split with two or three people.

One of the major benefits to being in WA state is all the wild apple trees basically everywhere. There's like a dozen trees within a four to five minute walk and I know where dozens and dozens of trees are all over the area. The apples range from crabapples so tart that a deer wouldn't eat them to delicious wild hybrids that look and taste like a mix between a braeburn and a honey crisp.

So over the past, say, two or three years almost every apple I've eaten has been either randomly foraged from wild, public trees, neighbors trees or officially gleaned and organized from private yards and orchards to be distributed at the local food bank.

I think I've had one or two mass market cultivars in as many years, usually a honey crisp or a smaller more traditional red delicious, the rest effectively have no names and can't be found in stores. Many probably only exist on that one particular wild tree.

Actually I can't even remember the last time I bought an apple in a store. The concept is now rather foreign to me. "People... buy apples? But there's a tree right outside the store?"

But one of the really cool benefits of all this is I don't ever have to feel obligated to finish an entire apple, whether I'm just bored with it or I can't finish it or I don't like that particular apple.

If I don't like the apple or I can't finish I just toss it at the nearest deer or leave it in a likely place for them and they'll finish it for me. If I can't find a deer it can go on a compost pile. If I can't find a compost pile (and I'm not on a public trail, preserve or backwoods practicing LNT) I will happily fling it into the bushes. Something will eat it, fungi, molds, squirrels, kangaroo rats, something. It'll be natural compost within a week or two. (No, I don't do this with things like orange peels. Apples are different and break down quick around here.)

I used to have a lot of anxiety about apples and fresh produce in general but having this freedom and lack of commitment and lack of any real cost besides going and harvesting an apple has eliminated that and I definitely eat a lot more apples.

This sounds so ridiculously wasteful and bougie when I actually say it, and I guess it is in some ways. More than once I've picked a few apples, lazily eaten most of one and instead of making a mess out of trying to get every last bit down to the core I'll just toss it and start on a new apple. But these were all ground falls or soon to be ground falls, so... am I really wasting apples? Nah, worms would have had them within a day or two, and I might as well have a few bites and partake in that bounty.

But also eating wild apples all the way down to the core without using a pocket knife is a really fun way to get extra protein and practice entomology.
posted by loquacious at 8:38 AM on November 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


Bondcliff, I'd appreciate the names of the orchards for next year. Memail is fine.
posted by Botanizer at 9:34 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


I have some friends who make cider in Portland, Oregon. They're deep into the stories of lost heirloom varietals. The thing with cider apples is many of them make terrible eating apples, way too sour or bitter. But they're perfect for making hard cider. A lot of these old varietals were lost simply because folks stopped making cider. Partly because of prohibition, partly because of changing tastes. But good cider is fascinating, as interesting as wine. It's fun watching America rediscover the art of it.

Johnny Appleseed was all about cider.

(Your occasional reminder that most store-bought eating apples are over a year old.)
posted by Nelson at 10:07 AM on November 26, 2019 [9 favorites]


(Your occasional reminder that most store-bought eating apples are over a year old.)

Ah, yeah. I can't stand most supermarket apples anymore. Not when I know what fresh off the tree tastes like—almost always incredible, regardless of variety. As someone said to me after I lamented the crappiness of apples after cold storage: "Yeah, someone messed up, and it wasn't the tree."
posted by the_blizz at 10:44 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


But these new tiny apples are right now my jam.

Or butter, hopefully!
posted by Melismata at 11:13 AM on November 26, 2019


i have 7lbs of apples in my fridge right now and im not sure it will last the week
posted by poffin boffin at 11:22 AM on November 26, 2019


I was going to write a big lengthy comment, but basically it boils down to "Man, I really love apples."
posted by xedrik at 11:47 AM on November 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


(Your occasional reminder that most store-bought eating apples are over a year old.)

Hmm. How could I get my hands on some fresh apples while living in a city with no car? Is it possible, or a doomed enterprise?
posted by clawsoon at 1:51 PM on November 26, 2019


Hmm. How could I get my hands on some fresh apples while living in a city with no car? Is it possible, or a doomed enterprise?

I could build a very large apple trebuchet or potato gun? Err, apple gun?

Now I want to know how fast you can propel an apple through atmosphere without it vaporizing or turning to apple sauce or powder. A good, small apple should surely be able to survive breaking the sound barrier, no?

There's probably some rules or reason not to do this with regards to fruit flies or something - but otherwise I would be open to mailing some limited quantity of apples to people for shipping costs next year when they're in season again.

I think most of these rules deal with not sending fruit to specific places and isn't a general ban on interstate traffic.

Super fresh right off the trree not one-year-old apples are really good, and some of the local wild-ish apples and hybrids have a surprising range of tastes and textures.

I could see myself getting really into going around and casually documenting and reviewing trees and putting together small assortment boxes. It's like a reason to go foraging, which I like to do but I can only do so much of that around here before I either have too much of something or I'm bored of it. (Hello horsetails.)

I talked about this before in one of our apple threads but until I started eating really super fresh right off the tree apples I had no idea that they could have the textures that they do, where they're so sugary and juicy they practically cleave like they're made out of crystals and you can't easily cut them in straight cuts.

They're so crisp that they crack or shatter and it's not at all like cutting into a store bought apple that is much easier to cut, like a potato. Try cutting thin slices or wedges of one of the apples I'm talking about and they just shatter like glass and practically fall apart like a sweet tortilla chip.

And sometimes the texture when eating them is like... I don't know, crisp candy brittle or marzipan. It crumbles and cracks into shards and melts in your mouth without ever being mealy, woody or pasty. It's like a whole different thing, especially since many of these wild/hybrid apples people are familiar with in grocery stores are bred for that long cold storage.

Some of the juicier or more delicate wild apples around here seem have a shelf life of a couple of days or a week or so at best even with cold storage or cold outdoor temps once they fall off.
posted by loquacious at 2:35 PM on November 26, 2019 [6 favorites]


My California solution for buying fresh eating apples is to buy the grocery store imports from New Zealand. Paradoxical, I know, but the ones they ship to us seem to only be a couple of months old instead of a year+. Mostly I see Jazz. It helps the seasons are reversed.
posted by Nelson at 4:14 PM on November 26, 2019


Hmm. How could I get my hands on some fresh apples while living in a city with no car?

farmer's market?
posted by poffin boffin at 12:43 PM on November 27, 2019


farmer's market?

The last thing I read about farmers' markets around here is that a bunch of them apparently get their produce from the same Ontario Foodland warehouse as all the grocery stores. There are probably some that don't, but I'm too lazy to research it.
posted by clawsoon at 4:57 PM on November 27, 2019


How could I get my hands on some fresh apples while living in a city with no car? Is it possible, or a doomed enterprise?

Do apples grow around your city? Here the older neighbourhoods with apple growing microclimes are rife with homeowners selling/giving away apples (mostly the originally Italian neighbourhoods). Even though I have three apple trees in my own yard I still buy different varieties from neighbours for C$5-10 a box. Peaches, nectarines, cherries too. And I give away easily a hundred pounds of apricots the years we have them plus several hundred pounds of grapes (I grow them mostly for shade). If you can identify an appropriate neighbourhood you could take the bus there and just do a little walking around looking for little "apples for sale" signs.
posted by Mitheral at 10:05 PM on November 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


BC is a little spoiled in this regard because introduction of the Agricultural Land Reserve 45 years ago prevented a lot of farm land from being developed. So we have a lot farm land mixed in with housing and therefor accessible to some degree by transit. But the neighbourhoods I'm talking about in my last comment are classic postwar suburbs not the farms spread around in some areas.
posted by Mitheral at 10:11 PM on November 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


I brought some apples from my parents' tree to an apple identification stand once. The two women at the stand ooohed and aaaahed ("Wow, what beautiful apples!"), asked me a few questions, and then started systematically cutting into the apples and flipping through old reference books. "Do you think it's this kind?" "No, the shape's not quite right." Their best guess was a cultivar related to the Tompkins King but which apparently had been sold under the wrong name.

I did the obvious digital native thing - Googled the name they gave me - but search results came up empty. I marvelled at the fact that even in this day and age, there's knowledge that's found only in books and a keen eye and nose.
posted by invokeuse at 9:09 PM on November 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


Before this post comment thread gets closed, any of you have the chance to try a Cosmic Crisp yet? May very well be the best apple of all time, no kidding.
posted by dbiedny at 8:29 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Have not, will give it a go. I usually just get Granny Smith apples on account of I don't have to look at labels and I like 'em tart.
posted by asperity at 1:38 PM on December 18, 2019


They've got them at my local safeway. Was tempted but couldn't remember where I'd heard of them, now I remember.
posted by Mitheral at 6:13 PM on December 18, 2019


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