A Celebration of Heirloom Apples and Artisan Ciders

To promote American artisan foods, the U.S. State Department hosted an event in 2009 featuring heirloom apples and a diverse sample of hard ciders.

| December 2010/January 2011

Concerns about the quality of supermarket fare are prompting interest in heritage and artisan foods. For example, the nonprofit Slow Food USA declared 2010 “The Year of the Heirloom Apple” in an effort to shine a spotlight on the numerous apple varieties we’re on the brink of losing. North America was once home to about 15,000 apple varieties. In the late 1700s, hard cider was North America’s most popular beverage. During 1767, the average citizen of Massachusetts drank more than 35 gallons of cider. Now an estimated four of five apple varieties unique to the continent have been lost from commerce. And these days most Americans have never even tried a fine, fermented, dry cider.  

So when MOTHER EARTH NEWS was invited to participate in a coordinated effort of national magazines to decorate the President’s guesthouse and the State Department building in Washington, D.C. last holiday season, we focused on the beauty of heirloom foods. We coordinated with orchards and cideries around the country to showcase America’s best heirloom apples and hard ciders to fit with our theme: “An Extravaganza of Apples.” 

Unique Apples

We displayed more than 50 apple varieties in the historic Adams Reception Room in the State Department’s Harry S. Truman Building throughout December 2009, and these were seen by hundreds of guests, including diplomats, senators, representatives, and foreign leaders. Besides being delicious and wonderfully fragrant, each apple variety brought with it a unique history. We provided information about each variety, courtesy of Apples: A Catalog of International Varieties by apple expert Tom Burford. Here are just a few of the scrumptious varieties we featured:

Arkansas Black originated in Benton County, Ark., in about 1870 and is speculated to be a seedling of Winesap. Medium in size, the color is a lively red, deepening on the sun-exposed side to a purplish-red or nearly black. The yellowish flesh is hard and crisp, with a distinctive, aromatic flavor. It’s resistant to cedar apple rust, and appears to be less subject to damage from codling moth larvae due to its thick, tough skin.

Ashmead’s Kernel was first raised in about 1700 by Dr. Ashmead, a physician in England. The medium, flattish, round, sometimes slightly conical fruit is russeted golden brown with an orange or reddish-bronze cheek. The crisp, yellowish flesh is tinged green and is juicy and aromatic, with an acidic yet sweet flavor. Storage for weeks or months mellows and enhances the fruit for dessert use. Burford describes it as “an apple not for sissies” because of its complex flavor. This classic dessert fruit ripens in late September and early October, and almost always ranks in the top 10 at apple tastings.

Cortland, a cross of Ben Davis and McIntosh, came out of the New York State Experimental Station in 1898. It was introduced commercially in 1982 and has a number of strains, including an early-ripening one called Early Cortland. The skin is dark red with a dusky blue cast over a yellow background, and it may be more than half blood red. Sometimes dark red stripes show. The flesh is juicy, fine-grained, tender and white, and it is slow to oxidize when exposed to air. The highly productive, vigorous tree begins to bear early.  

1/4/2011 1:44:16 PM

Neat article! More info on tasting specific varieties is available at Adam's Apples (http://www.adamapples.blogspot.com). Also, if folks are interested in raising their own apples (which they should be!), the following nurseries carry a wide array of heirloom and modern varieties: http://www.fedcoseeds.com/trees.htm http://www.sln.potsdam.ny.us/apples.html http://www.greenmantlenursery.com/2008revision/fruit2008/fruitordering-info2008.htm

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