What is an heirloom apple? Most apple enthusiasts agree it’s an older variety passed down for multiple generations. Beyond that the possibilities are almost endless. Many of us have heard of Honeycrisp, McIntosh and Gala, but there are over 7000 varieties across the world!
Apple trees are heterozygotes, meaning that apple trees don’t resemble their parents when planted from seed. Instead, apple trees are grown by grafting the fruit of an existing, established variety onto an existing root or tree. Red Tomato works to source dozens of varieties of heirloom apples, each with their own unique flavor!
Ananas Reinette: This small, yellow-skinned apple has been grown in France since the 1500s. “Reinette” translates into English as “pippin,” an old word for dessert apples grown from seed. This apple is the “Pineapple Pippin.” It has a zesty, pineapple citrus flavor and fine-grained flesh.
Ashmead’s Kernel: Ashmead’s Kernel is an old apple, found in a garden in England in the mid-1700s. Short on shine but long on flavor, this apple takes its name from the English physician who originally grew them. A squat, round apple, it has firm, crisp flesh. Its strong, tart flavor is almost sour when first picked, turning sweet, juicy and aromatic within a few weeks after harvest. Especially good for cider.
Baldwin: A surveyor in Lowell discovered the Baldwin sometime before 1750. America’s first true commercial variety, it was the number one apple in the United States for a period in the early 1900s until over half its trees were wiped out by a terrible freeze. Baldwin is a medium sized, squat apple. Pale green with bright red to deep maroon blush, it has a lively sweet-tart flavor. It is excellent for eating fresh, good for cider and sauce, and is the quintessential pie apple.
Belle de Boskoop: A large, golden apple brought from Boskoop, Netherlands just after the Civil War, it is the apple for making authentic strudel. Belle de Boskoop’s tart flavor mellows after harvest and it keeps well. A good cooking apple, it also makes a thick golden sauce
Black Gilliflower: Black Gilliflower was first grown in the late 1700s in Connecticut. Also called Sheepnose, it is a dark red apple that really does look like a sheep’s nose! It is best loved for its unique oblong shape and pleasant aroma. Its green-white flesh is coarse with a rich, sweet taste that is best for baking and drying.
Black Oxford: Black Oxford is a New England original, found in the 1700s in Oxford County, Maine. It is so hard and crisp it was once referred to as “the rock.” Having a deep purple, almost black color, its sweet flavor is balanced with a touch of tartness. Good for fresh eating, cooking and cider.
Blue Pearmain: A classic New England variety, Blue Pearmain was well known by the early 1800s and is said to have been a favorite of Henry David Thoreau. Blue Pearmain has a tough skin and sweet creamy flesh that is tender and fine-grained. It is rich flavored and aromatic, a bit tart, and juicy. Best for cooking and fresh eating.
Calville Blanc d’Hiver: A French classic, Calville Blanc d’Hiver is a culinary delight with deep-ridged shoulders and pale yellow skin. A few can even be seen in Claude Monet’s still life Apples and Grapes. An apple that sounds like a wine, smells like a banana and has more vitamin C than an orange, Calville Blanc is a great cooking apple that is very tart and goes great in pies, sauce, and cider. Its flavor mellows over time to become sweet, rich and complex.
Claygate Pearmain: A tart-sweet, crisp, medium-sized apple, this was a popular eating apple in Victorian England. The skin is green and blushed yellow or red where touched by the sun, and the flesh has a nutty, rich flavor.
Cox’s Orange Pippin: Apples that are especially good eaten fresh are called dessert apples. Pippin is an old term for a dessert apple grown from seed. Richard Cox, a retired brewery worker, planted this one near Buckinghamshire, England, around 1825, and it was so exceptional he named it for himself. Cox’s Orange Pippin is a medium, round, golden-orange apple with occasional red stripes. Its rich creamy flesh is firm, juicy and sweet, with overtones of citrus and pear. It is one of the most popular old English apples. A very good eating and cooking apple, it makes a lovely pear-scented pie. Keeps well into January.
Darcy Spice: The D’Arcy Spice is a medium-sized apple with an irregular, oblong shape and greenish yellow skin. The apples have an unassuming appearance, but the flavor is famously spicy and winey, making it an excellent dessert apple. The apples are picked very late in the season and the flavor develops in storage. It is an old English variety that originated in the garden of the Hall at Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex in 1785.
Dolgo Crabapples: These crabapples have an intense, zesty flavor similar to cranberries. Their best use is in sauces, sorbets, and chutney, or as a condiment for meat or poultry. They make a beautiful rose-colored jelly. These tangy crabapples originally came from Kazakhstan several hundred years ago.
Duchess of Oldenburg: Prized for its good looks and early harvest, Duchess of Oldenburg is an old Russian apple, brought to England and then the U.S. in the early 1800s. It is a medium-size fruit, with beautiful glossy red stripes and splashes over pale green skin. Duchess is very tart – an excellent cooking apple for pies and sauce, but too tart for most fresh eating.
Esopus Spitzenberg: Originally found in the late 1700s in New York’s Hudson Valley, this apple was said to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite. A large apple with a brick red color and flesh that’s pale yellow, Esopus Spitzenberg is crisp and tender. It holds its shape in cooking, and is excellent in pies.
Franc Rambour: Rambour is a French name given to certain varieties of red apples that grow to a large size. Red skin and white, very juicy flesh make the Rambour a great apple for early season eating out of hand. It also makes wonderful sauces and pies.
Golden Russett: An early American apple, the Golden Russet is believed to be a descendant of English Russet. Commercially marketed by the early 1800s, it rose to prominence as the “champagne” of cider apples. Besides cider, Golden Russett is also delicious for eating and drying. Its crisp, highly flavored, fine-textured flesh contains very sugary juice.
Gravenstein: This versatile early-season apple was brought to the U.S. from northern Europe in the late 1700s. Gravenstein is crisp, thin-skinned and juicy, and its old-fashioned sweet-tart flavor is great for eating fresh as well as in sauce, pie, and juice. A squat, yellow-green apple striped with red and pink, Gravenstein is best eaten soon after harvest in the early fall.
Hewes Virginia Crab: The Virginia Crab is a small, firm, green apple with stripes of red and an acidic taste, making it a celebrated cider apple. George Washington preferred “crab cider” to any other!
Holstein: Initially spotted in the Holstein region of Germany, Holsteins are descendents of Cox apples. Discovered completely by chance in an orchard in 1918, these apples are sweet and juicy with firm, somewhat coarse flesh. They have a unique edge of tartness and taste great in pies.
Hubbardston Nonsuch: A rugged-looking classic full of character, from the town of Hubbardston, Massachusetts, “Nonesuch” has been attached to highly esteemed apples since the 1700s. Red and gold with brown russet, it has fine, crisp flesh that is rich, sweet, juicy, and aromatic. It is especially delicious for fresh eating.
Hudson’s Golden Gem: An heirloom with a relatively recent pedigree, Hudson’s Golden Gem was introduced in 1931 in Oregon. Discovered by chance, this lumpy-looking fruit won’t win any beauty contests with its dull, rough skin and heavy russeting. However don’t let its plain look fool you, the inside is sweet and juicy with a grainy flesh and delicate flavor. Tasting almost like a Bosc pear, it is great for eating fresh.
Karmijn du Sonneville: Developed in the Netherlands in the 1950s, Karmijn de Sonnaville apples have a distinctly pronounced aromatic flavor. A cross between the Cox’s Orange Pippin and the Jonathan apple varieties, Karmijns are high in sugar and acidity. Delicious when eaten fresh, they also are well suited for juice and cider making.
Knobbed Russet: There’s only one way to describe this apple – ugly! Often said to look more a potato than an apple, the Knobbed Russet originated in Sussex, England in 1819. The dense golden flesh has a curiously pleasing flavor that is sweet and earthy. It ripens in October and is usually hard to come by.
Lady: Lady may be the oldest apple still grown today, dating back to the forests of ancient France and Rome. Its many names—Lady Sweet, Christmas Apple, Pomme d’Api—hint at its use in the courts of Europe, where it was popular for Christmas wreaths and decoration, and carried in the pockets of ladies. A very small apple with a bright red blush, its paper-white flesh is crisp and juicy. The flavor is intense, sunny sweet, almost citrus-like. A good cooking apple, especially in meat and fowl dishes, it is also good for eating fresh. Keeps well.
Lamb Abbey Pearmain: First raised in 1804 by Mrs. Mary Malcolm of Lamb Abbey, Kent, England, from a Newtown Pippin seed imported from America. Lamb Abbey Pearmain is a medium-sized apple with creamy, crisp, and juicy flesh. They have an intense flavor with a nice balance of sweet and tart. A great dessert apple
Maiden’s Blush: A red-cheeked beauty from New Jersey, Maiden’s Blush dates back to the early 1700s. Crimson red blush over a clear yellow background gives this apple its name. The flavor is brisk and juicy, becoming sweeter as it is stored. Maiden’s Blush is good for cooking, cider, and eating fresh.
Newton Pippin: First found in Newton, New York, it is the classic “American Apple,” and the oldest commercially grown native variety. Known as the apple of George Washington’s eye, it also had a special place in Thomas Jefferson’s orchard. Its pale yellow flesh is crisp and tender, sweet on the tongue and balanced by a slight tartness.
Northern Spy: This slow-growing old favorite was introduced in upstate New York in the late 1800s. It is reportedly named after James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, “The Spy,” which was popular at the time. It is a round, red apple with juicy, cream-yellow flesh and a sweet-tart flavor. Northern Spy is an all-around apple, excellent in pie and sauce, and admired for eating as well.
Opalescent: Opalescent is an heirloom variety hailing from the 1880s. This apple is large sized with a brilliant red color and light russet. Opalescent has a crisp, juicy flesh and sprightly flavor. This variety is primarily used for fresh eating although it lends a nice flavor to apple crisp if used in a mix.
Orleans Reinette: Descriptions of Orleans Reinette first appear in France around 1776, and the apple has spread ever since. When asked, Scott Farm manager Zeke Goodband will tell you that this is “one of the most handsome apples on the planet.” It has a combination of citrus and nutty flavors and makes for a good cooking apple as well as for eating out of hand.
Pitmaston Pine Apple: This variety grows small, round fruit that come in a russeted, yellow-gold color. As the name indicates, some say there is a hint of pineapple in the sweet and nutty flavor. The unique flavor has made this a popular dessert apple in England since the 1700s.
Reine de Reinette: Reine de Reinette is a French apple from the 1700s. Considered in Normandy the best apple for traditional hard cider, Reine de Reinette’s are one of the top favorites at the tastings on Scott Farm. Its name means Queen of Pippins. Having a high sugar content well balanced with acidity, this is a juicy apple good for eating out of hand.
Rhode Island Greening: Rhode Island Greening was grown from seed in the 1600s by Mr. Greening, an innkeeper in Rhode Island. A culinary delight, pies made with this apple have won awards all over the world. The skin is a lovely grass-green, and the crisp flesh has a greenish tinge throughout. The tart flavor mellows the longer it is left on the tree, and tastes great in culinary creations.
Ribston Pippin: Also known as the Beautiful Pippin and the Glory of York, the Ribston Pippin is yellow with red streaks and russet patches. With a sweet pear taste and thick, cream-colored flesh, this variety is medium in size and often beautifully asymmetrical.
Roxbury Russet: Born in Roxbury in the early 1600s, many consider it the first truly American apple. It even ended up a mainstay in the orchard of one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. A small apple with dull green-yellow skin, its creamy yellow flesh has a flavor that continues to develop after the fruit is picked.
Snow: Snow is one of the oldest varieties on record, an ancestor of the McIntosh apple. Also known as the Fameuse apple, its name stems from its pure white flesh. The taste of Snow is tender, spicy, and distinctive in flavor. It is delicious fresh off the tree, in cider, or in culinary creations.
Sops of Wine: A juicy, crisp, red apple, this old English apple has a wine-like flavor. With light yellow, only mildly acidic flesh, this variety is excellent for cooking or cider-making.
Winesap: Starting in New Jersey around 1817, it was a major variety until the mid 1900s. A late-season apple, Winesaps lost some of their market importance with the development of cold storage. When ripe, Winesap apples have a rich red color over a greenish to yellow base. The flesh of the apples is extremely juicy and yellow to cream in color. Winesap is a tart apple, but not excessively so.
Winter Banana: Winter Banana originated in 1876 in Cass County, Indiana. Its beautifully colored skin has made it a popular feature in fruit baskets. Pale yellow with faint pink blush, the flavor is a nice combination of sweet and tart. It has a slight banana aroma and very dense and crisp texture. A mild-flavored dessert fruit, this apple is best eaten fresh.
Wolf River: A well-known American cooking apple, Wolf River is originally from Wisconsin and notable for its large size. Spotted originally as a seedling growing along the Wolf River this apple remains popular in the Midwest. Mainly used for cooking, it keeps its shape when cooked. It is fairly sweet and juicy, and doesn’t need much sugar added.
Zabergau Reinette: Zabergau Reinette was originally grown in Germany in the late 19th century. Its name stems from the Zaber River where it was found, a small tributary of the River Neckar. This apple has greenish-yellow skin flushed orange with bright-red stripes. The yellowish flesh is fine-grained and firm, and the flavor is sometimes described as rich and nutty.
Store apples in the refrigerator, please! A lovely bowl on the table is nice for decoration or to remind you how tasty they are, but it is tough on these fruits that love to be cool and moist.
Keep in the crisper for humidity; some suggest putting them in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel. If you have an old-fashioned cool-room, root cellar, or cold basement, that’s good too. Apples will keep for several weeks, or months depending on the variety.