Stow Independent... Online
Oct. 12, 2011
The Antique Apple of Your Eye
By Nancy Arsenault
Those who buy apples primarily in a
supermarket have become accustomed to the perfectly red and shiny orb
that is blemish free, and often, according to some apple aficionados,
without taste or character. If you are looking for something different
in your next apple, try out some of Stow’s antique apple varieties.
In generations past, apple varieties identified a region, with local
orchards growing apples that were native to this area and thrived in
this climate. The west coast and the Great Lakes regions grew other
varieties, making the regional harvests something special for those who
were seeking out a unique taste or texture.
Later, genetic engineering and other agricultural advancements
allowed farmers to all grow the same varieties of apples coast to coast
and mass produce those that supermarkets could sell most successfully.
According to orchard owners, the preference for pick your own apple
varieties is quite predictable today, reflecting the same varieties
offered year round in the grocery store. “Ninety percent of our sales
are for twenty percent of our varieties,” said Andrew Martin of Honey
Pot Hill Orchards. “People like the Macs, Cortlands, Red Delicious,
Empires and Macouns,” he said, the latter a cross between a Mac and a
Jersey Black, developed at a genetic engineering lab in New York State.
Comparing Apples to... Apples!
While the general public is
seeking out the familiar, the trees off the beaten path may be the truly
hidden gems of the orchards.
Liz Painter of Shelburne Farm said
that apple trees live maybe one hundred years at the very oldest, so
many of the earlier apple varieties of centuries past have disappeared
because farmers did not continue to graft and keep the lineage alive.
Today, growers have retained some of the old favorites from the early
part of this century, and according to Painter, people still seek them
“We have the Baldwins which are an old favorite pie apple,” she
said. “We also have Golden Russetts, which are primarily a cider apple,
Rhode Island Greenings and Winesaps.” Like every local orchard, there
are a few trees at Shelburne that produce a very unusual apple which
seems to persevere without any attention from the grower. “We have a Cox
Orange Pippin,” said Painter, born from two trees which are usually
completely handpicked by one customer, a British native, who seeks out
Shelburne Farm every year for his harvest of this old English apple.
“We also have the Sheepsnose apple,” said Painter. “When you turn it
on its side, it has a nose like a sheep.” She said these old apple
varieties usually have much tougher skins but their flavor is what keeps
people coming back. “We will go pick the antiques ourselves for people
as we keep that area closed off to the public,” said Painter, except for
their English customer. “People really like knowing these old varieties
are still grown locally,” she said.
At Carver Hill, Chuck Lord presides over an orchard that grows the
perennial customer favorites, but for those special requests and for his
own enjoyment, he has a grove of antique trees both in Stow and at his
Like at Shelburne and Honey Pot, many people coming to Carver Hill
still request Winesaps, a small, tart apple that dates back to the 19th
century. Quite hardy, it will keep for up to three months after picking.
Northern Spy is also one of Carver Hill’s heirloom varieties, an early
century favorites that is just coming into full ripeness. Its tree may
take a full decade to mature before bearing fruit and when it does, this
native northeast apple is considered a favorite for baking and cider
making, and due to late maturation, is hardier and will keep longer than
As for his most unusual apple, Lord says an old champagne apple
refuses to die out, with an unattractive skin around a fruit that was
grown primarily for hard cider production back in the days of the old
Derby Ridge Farm is a popular stop today for cider mavens, where
owner Linda Mikoski knows that antique apples often provide the old
fashioned apple flavor that many remember from the cider they tasted
growing up. Mixing those heirloom apples with the Macs, Cortlands,
Russetts and others that Derby gathers, gives their cider a special
kick. Their blend is also one of the very few that is marketed
unpasteurized, meaning it will last only about two weeks, gathering a
stronger taste and thickness as the days progress.
While Columbus Day weekend is usually the pinnacle of the apple
harvesting season for the local orchards, there are still a few weeks
left to find fresh pickings. An antique apple pie could be in your