Lee Valley & Veritas

Gardening Newsletter
  Volume 11, Issue 9 - September 2016  
Tasting Exotic Apples
Unusual apple varieties
Take time to explore and taste unusual apple varieties at an autumn festival. (Photo by Susan Poizner)
After strolling through the produce section of your local supermarket, you could be forgiven for thinking there are only about ten apple varieties in the world, including McIntosh, Granny Smith, Red Delicious and the other familiar cultivars.

But that is far from the truth. In fact, there are hundreds of different apple varieties available from specialist fruit tree nurseries across North America, each with its own distinctive flavor and texture. Best of all, some of those varieties – in particular the disease-resistant ones – are better suited to organic growing.

Many have interesting histories. The variety Wolf River, for example, produces apples that are so large that just one can make the filling for an entire pie. Fameuse is an apple discovered in Quebec in the early 1700s. And Liberty is a modern, disease-resistant apple that tastes a bit like a McIntosh.

Stories are great, but it's important to taste the fruit before you purchase any tree. In this article, I'll explore four of the top apple tasting festivals in North America to help you identify the apple of your dreams.

Salt Spring Island Apple Festival (Salt Spring Island, British Columbia)

Are 450 apple tree varieties enough to choose from? That's the number of varieties that are currently grown on scenic Salt Spring Island, just a ferry ride from Vancouver, British Columbia. Once considered the apple-producing capital of western Canada, the island's apple culture is being revitalized with the help of visionary Harry Burton of the Apple Luscious Orchard.

Burton, who grows 200 varieties of apple trees in his permaculture-style orchard, works with other community members to organize the Annual Salt Spring Island Apple Festival, which attracts approximately 1,500 apple aficionados from around the world. During the event, you can see and taste more than 300 varieties and take tours of local orchards and a local cidery. Many of the featured orchards partner with chefs to offer gourmet lunches on festival day.

Apples of Interest:
Ashmead's Kernel: Discovered in England in the early 1700s, it's a connoisseur's apple. It doesn't look like much with its yellow-rust skin, but it is considered one of the world's greatest fresh-eating apples.
Wynoochee Early: Discovered in Aberdeen, Washington, it's a red apple that's resistant to scab and ripens as early as mid-August.
Orchard tour
An orchard tour during the Salt Spring Island Apple Festival. (Photo by Michael Levy http://www.flatearthphoto.com/)
Home Orchard Society All About Fruit Show (Clackamas, Oregon)

The Home Orchard Society's All About Fruit Show is a fruity extravaganza that features hundreds of varieties of apples, as well as tasting samples of other types of fruit including pears, medlars and quinces. The event takes place at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds, about an hour's drive from Oregon City and a 1-1/2 hour drive from Portland.

The Home Orchard Society is an organization that "promotes the science, culture and pleasure of growing fruit at home via educational outreach", so instruction is a big part of the All About Fruit Show program. Each year, there are guest speakers who talk about various aspects of fruit tree care.

While you are in the neighborhood, be sure to find time to visit the Home Orchard Society's beautiful arboretum so that you can see the fruit trees. Just check ahead to make sure it will be open when you are there.

Apples of Interest:
Hudson's Golden Gem:

Discovered in Oregon and introduced in 1931, it is a russet apple with a pear-like flavor.

Mountain Rose: A small red-fleshed apple with a strawberry-like flavor that’s excellent fresh, and it's great in pies.
Buy some fruit to take home
Not sure if you want to buy your new tree just yet? Buy some of the fruit to take home and share with family and friends first. (Photo by Salt Spring Apple Co.)
Franklin County Cider Days (Massachusetts)

Interested in growing cider apples? The Franklin County Cider Days event should not be missed. Over two days, you'll have endless opportunities to taste cider apples and to sample more than 100 types of hard cider in the event's popular Cider Salon.

There are cider-making and fruit-tree-growing workshops, orchard walks and tours and more. Most of the activities are free and appropriate for the whole family. However, some of the workshops and tastings require a small fee, and it's a good idea to book your tickets early, as many of these events sell out quickly.

One popular event during this festival is the Harvest Supper. Last year, participants started their meal with bruschetta with Golden Delicious apple slices, ricotta cheese and apple-quince chutney followed by potato-leek McIntosh apple soup and barbecued pork ribs with Mutsu apple grits. For dessert? They had Ricotta mousse with Redfield apples, balsamic reduction and cider caramel.

Apples of Interest:
Black Oxford:

Introduced in the 1860s in Maine, it has a deep purple/black skin and a sweet sharp flavor.

Redfield: A cider apple widely grown in the area, this cross between Wolf River and a red-fleshed crab apple tastes dry and sour. It’s terrible for fresh eating but makes a beautiful and delicious rose-colored cider.
Tasting hard apple cider
A variety of hard ciders are available for trying at the Franklin County Cider Days. (Photo by Franklin County Cider Days)
The Tufton Farm Apple Tasting (Virginia)

Tasting apples can take you back in time, and growing heirloom apple trees can be a way of preserving our heritage. The Tufton Farm Apple Tasting is imbued with history. Tufton Farm was on the huge plantation once owned by Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president and a passionate grower of fruit trees.

At this intimate apple-tasting event that can accommodate only about 75 guests each year, pomologist Tom Burford, author of Apples of North America: Exceptional Varieties for Gardeners, Growers, and Cooks, takes you on a journey through some of Jefferson's favorite varieties of fruit.

Of course, once you're in this part of Virginia, you must visit Jefferson's home at Monticello, which has been beautifully preserved. On the site, you can take tours of Jefferson's home, gardens and orchard. You can also learn about the painful history of slavery here, as Jefferson's farm and businesses were all worked by slaves.

Apples of Interest:
Hewes Crab Apple:

A cider apple grown extensively during the 18th century in Virginia. It produces a cinnamon-flavored cider.

Esopus Spitzenburg: Thought to be one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite fresh eating apples, it has red skin and yellow flesh and ripens in late autumn.
If you're even just thinking of planting an apple tree one day, why not use it as an excuse to go on an apple tasting odyssey? Say "no" to the common varieties available at your local garden center and "yes" to boosting biodiversity and expressing your own individuality through your fruit-tree choice. Taking time to explore new apple varieties may not be as fast as picking up a familiar tree from your garden center … but it's way more fun!

Text by Susan Poizner

Susan Poizner is the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards and is the creator of the award-winning fruit tree care training website at www.orchardpeople.com.
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