We’re all familiar with the apples readily available in the supermarket and at local orchards this time of year: red delicious, gala, granny smith, jonathans. But what about the lesser-known varieties that have—for one reason or another—fallen out of the spotlight?
The Preservation Orchard at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, is full of these obscure apple varieties — 65 varieties, to be precise — some of them dating as far back as the 1500s. Some have interesting back stories that rival their appearance and flavor, while others just simply fell out of favor. Unlike today’s common apple varieties, which are bred for beauty and to withstand the rigors of modern food transportation and storage, these vintage apples are a sensitive, finicky lot — with delicate skins and flesh, a short window of ripeness, and the heirloom apple trees themselves often times have not survived the gradual changes in climate where they once thrived.
Not only is this very special orchard at Arbor Day Farm focused on preserving the unique apples of yesteryear, but it’s a living record of some of the finest known apples and a genetic repository that may one day help create varieties well-suited to a changing climate. The Preservation Orchard is one of just a handful of orchards in the United States where these rare heirloom apple varieties can still be found.
A visit to Arbor Day Farm this time of year — when a plethora of apple varieties are ripe and ready for picking — offers visitors the rare opportunity to taste the wonderful flavor of some of these old varieties. Heirloom apple tasting is a huge hit with visitors on fall weekends, as Nature Interpreters first show-and-tell about the Preservation Orchard itself, then slice and serve the rare fruits of its branches.
A few antique apple varieties worth noting:
- Almata: red to the core, and not much more. This apple with reddish flesh has an interesting look but is not particularly flavorful.
- Claygate Pearmain: common in Victorian-era gardens, this heirloom apple has a nutty aroma and a potato-like appearance.
- Kandil Sinap: tall and cylindrical, this vintage apple originated in Turkey in the early 1800s. Crisp and juicy with a sweet and sour flavor.
- Arkansas Black – a medium-sized apple from the 1840s. Glossy, dark red skin almost turns black when stored.
This apple season, be sure to visit Arbor Day Farm’s Preservation Orchard for a unique look at — and perhaps even a taste of — the apples of yesteryear.