Bringing Back Heirloom Apples

By: Erika Freeman  |  September/October 2010
What you can do to find and savor these forgotten fruits.
Red Delicious, Granny Smith, McIntosh: these names are so familiar because only 11 varieties represent 90 percent of all apples sold in chain grocery stores. Few of us know Black Oxford, a purple-black apple with crisp white flesh; or Roxbury Russet, which dates back to the early 1600s and has a guava-nectar taste; or Rhode Island Greening, traced by legend to the Garden of Eden. More than 15,000 apple varieties have been grown and named in North America, but today’s orchard keepers only have access to 3,000 (the loss of diversity is ascribed to the decline of independent nurseries). Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance has declared 2010 the year of the heirloom apple. RAFT has targeted 90 varieties in each of the three regions with highest-surviving apple diversity—the Great Lakes, New England and Appalachia—to restore. Bringing back heritage apples can require some creativity: John Bunker of RAFT put up “Wanted” posters in counties where the “lost apples” once grew. Thus alerted, old-timers have helped relocate obsolete apples. To find an heirloom apple orchard, download Forgotten Fruits Manual and Manifesto - APPLES from