Experts Share the Best Fruit Varieties in America

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Michael Phillips wrote The Book on organic apple growing.
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Choosing the best American fruit varieties for the homestead.

Apples, peaches, pears and plums: Fruit experts name the best fruit varieties in America.

Only fruit growers and their lucky friends get to enjoy the sublime flavors of succulent, tree-ripened fruit. When compared to bland supermarket fare, just one bite into a homegrown, richly perfumed “Forelles” pear or “Sweet Sixteen” apple, with its sweet, anise essence can turn a fruit lover into an ardent fruit grower. A group of fruit enthusiasts, known as the North American Fruit Explorers, paired up with MOTHER to share their favorite fruits — and growing tips — on the following pages. Read about the best fruit varieties in America, and learn how you can grow the most flavorful fruit in your own orchard.

Destined for supermarket bins, commercially grown fruit varieties are selected primarily for their appearance and their shipping and storing qualities: Flavor often becomes secondary. Peaches, plums and apricots are picked before they’re ripe, so they don’t bruise during shipping. When these soft-fleshed fruits eventually do ripen in shipping boxes or on store shelves-their flavors are bland because they were deprived of sugars that naturally develop when the fruit ripens on the tree.

Even hard fruits like apples and pears suffer the same fate. “‘Gravenstein’ apples are unsurpassed for aroma and flavor when allowed to fully ripen,” says Betty Mayfield, a grower from Rainier, Oregon. “But the green ones sold in stores are not ripe. Extra time on the tree until red stripes appear pays off in superb fruit.”

“Betty, a member of the North American Fruit Explorers, is one of many throughout the United States, Canada and other parts of the world who are committed to the discovery, cultivation and appreciation of exceptional varieties of fruits and nuts.”

Antique and Ultramodern Fruit in America

You’ll find some of the most delicious and oldest varieties of fruit in the orchards and back yards of NAFEX members, and in preservation orchards such as Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa, where the Seed Savers Exchange is based, and Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Worchester, Massachusetts.

Newer fruit varieties created by Purdue University and the University of Minnesota have exquisite flavor, too, but are not widely in commercial production for various reasons, such as their inability to store well for lengthy periods.

Many of these new varieties withstand harsh climates and are resistant to major diseases and pests, making them especially suitable for the backyard grower.

With all the antique, standard and new varieties they can choose from, NAFEX members grow a wide array of fruits not commonly found in grocery stores. Their collective recommendations for the most delectable apples, pears, peaches and plums are listed in fruit articles from this issue, followed by reference numbers for the nurseries that sell these wonderful, flavorful varieties.

Fruit Mail Order Sources

Numbers on the fruit charts images in the apple, pear, peach and plum article links at the end of this list refer to the companies listed below.

1. Bay Laurel Nursery — Atascadero, CA

2. Edible Landscaping — Afton, VA
Fall shipping available

3. FEDCO Trees — Waterville, ME

4. Johnson Nursery — Ellijay, GA
Fall shipping available

5. One Green World — Molalla, OR

6. Rain Tree Nursery — Morton, WA

7. Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery — Healdsburg, CA

8. Stark Brothers Nursery — Louisiana, MO
Fall shipping available

9. St. Lawrence Nursery — Potsdam, NY
Fall shipping available

10. Rocky Meadow Orchard — Lawrenceburg, IN

Follow these links for more on the North American Fruit Explorers as well as specific pages from this article on apples, pears, peaches, and plums.