“People will have a taste of the apples and say they don’t care how it looks.” re-introduced,” says Burford, whose firm Burford Brothers grew and marketed hundreds of varieties of heirloom and modern fruit trees until 1997 when Burford decided to grow the education component of the business. Now he travels the U.S. conducting workshops and seminars on growing and marketing apples. Those who know heirloom apples say that many old-timey varieties just flat out taste better. “A lot of [heirloom] apples have much more vibrant flavors than what we get in the commercial market,” says Charlotte Shelton who, with her siblings, owns Vintage Virginia Apples, a 10-acre orchard in North Garden that began operating in 2000. But trends like slow food and green food are as much motivators for vintage apple consumption as simple enjoyment. “As a culture, we’re getting more interested in our food sources,” Shelton says. “We find that people are a lot more interested in foods that are not so homogenized.” The Sheltons, who got into the orchard business as a hobby, sell only about 1,000 bushels of their 250 heirloom varieties each year. The bulk of their business comes from selling heirloom apple trees to private growers and orchardists. Generally speaking, vintage apples won’t win any beauty contests. They
tend not to look like those shiny, rich-hued, perfectly shaped modern versions that we find at the grocery store. Depending on the variety, “dull,” “squatty,” and “lopsided” are some of the nicer adjectives used to describe the antiques. “It’s sad that people say they want one of those unblemished, smooth-skinned Golden Delicious that have half the flavor [of a vintage apple],” says Burford, who is known as Professor Apple at Monticello where he has been a consultant for 29 years. Fortunately for vintage apple producers, people now seem to buy for flavor rather than looks. “I think there’s a movement [away] from buying food with our eyes,” Shelton says. Burford credits farmers’ markets with raising awareness of these ugly, older apples. “They’re offering tastings,” he says. “People will have a taste of the apples and say they don’t care how it looks.” Not every heirloom is prized for its taste. Some varieties are destined to be turned into cider. “Just like you wouldn’t put a wine grape on the table,” notes Shelton, “you wouldn’t want to eat some apples that are good for cider.” Burford estimates that some 300 varieties are just for making cider. “There’s a misconception that, because it’s vintage, it tastes good,” he says. “Ninety per-
cent are quick spitters.” Huh? “You take one bite and spit it out.” According to Burford, the demand for some eating varieties outstrips the supply, led by the Albemarle Pippin, Black Twig and Arkansas Black. “People can’t get enough of them,” he says. The Pippin, also known as the Newtown Pippin, has been a standout since the early days of America. Thomas Jefferson dispatched this from France: “They have no apple to compare with our Newtown Pippin.” And when Queen Victoria was presented with two barrels of Pippins by England’s American ambassador in 1838, she was so taken that she lifted the import tax on that variety. While antique apples are making a small splash in the marketplace, there’s plenty of room to grow. In Virginia, 6th in the country for apple production, small, private growers are leading the way in re-introducing heirloom varieties. The trend to revert to simple, nonhomogenized foods has primed the market. “Today, we’re trying to get back to food the way it was back in the 1930s and ’40s.” That, Burford says, will have an enormous impact on the growth and acceptance of the vintage apple. Says Burford: “One could say they are here to stay.”
Where to Find Heirloom Variety Apples in Virginia Dickie Brothers Orchard Nelson, 434-277-5516 DickieBros.com Stayman, Winesap, Rome
Marker-Miller Orchards Winchester, 540-662-1391 MarkerMillerOrchards.com Rambo, Jonagold, Rome, Stayman, York
Graves Mountain Farm Syria, 540-923-4231 GravesMountain.com Stayman, Winesap, Rome, York
Morris Orchard Monroe, 434-929-2401 MorrisOrchard.com Stayman, Winesap, York, Arkansas Black, Albemarle Pippin
Hartland Orchard Fauquier, 540-364-2316 HartlandOrchard.com Grimes Golden, Cortland, Jonathan, Smokehouse, Winesap, Rome Ikenberry Orchards Botetourt, 540-992-6166 IkenberryOrchards.com Jonathan, York, Winesap, Stayman, Rome
Vintage Virginia Apples owners Chuck and Charlotte Shelton
Vintage Virginia Apples North Garden, 434-297-2326 VintageVirginiaApples.com Arkansas Black, Bishop, Pippin
Richard’s Fruit Market Middletown, 540-869-1455 RichardsFruitMarket.com Jonathan, Grimes Golden, Stayman, Rome Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse Timberville, 540-896-7582 ShowaltersOrchardandGreenhouse.com Rome, Winesap, York, Arkansas Black Urban Homestead Bristol, 276-466-2931 OldVaApples.com Gilpin, Lowry, Red Horse, Seek-No-Further, Henry Clay, Ladyfinger, Reasor Green
Every year, on the third Saturday in October, Tom Burford’s Apple Tasting is held at Tufton Farm, a mile from Monticello. After 20 years, it is the oldest formal apple tasting in America, and draws apple lovers from all over the country. Tickets are $15 and usually sell out in advance, so get yours now for next year at Monticello.org or by calling 434-984-9822 or 434-984-9881.
Both Shelton and Burford note that the sometimes quirky names of vintage apples add to their appeal. Here are just a few vintage varieties that sprung up in the eastern half of the country in the 18th and 19th centuries: Ben Davis A 19th-century staple; the most widely planted apple variety in the South after the Civil War; large, dull red. Smokehouse Originated in the early 1800s; mild flavor; juicy; flattish shape with red and green stripes; crisp and tender; good for cooking. Winter Banana First appeared in the mid-1800s; also known as Banana and Flory; large, round; pale yellow skin with a rosy blush; crisp and juicy, and unusually aromatic. Summer Rambo First recorded in 1535 in France; also called Lorraine and Rambout Franc; large and lightly ribbed with pale greenish-yellow skin, flushed with pale red and streaked carmine, scattered with russet patches; firm flesh with a slightly sweet flavor. Northern Spy Discovered around 1800; believed to have originally been called Northern Pie; also known as Red Spy and Red Northern Spy; large, streaked with a clear, yellow shade and a bright red tint; juicy, crisp and tender; high sugar content makes it a good candidate for hard cider. Northwestern Greening Originated in 1872; big, green; good for pies; tough skin; firm, juicy and mildly tart. Woodpecker Discovered in 1750; also called Baldwin and Butters apple; once the third most popular in the U.S.; tough skin, yellow with red; crisp, tender and subacid; stores well. Winesap One of the more common vintage varieties; also called American Wine Sop for its wine-like flavor; originated around 1817; stores well. Stayman Another of the more common vintages; also a wine-like essence; discovered at the home of Dr. J. Stayman in the mid-19th century. Rome Also known as Rome Beauty, Starbuck and Gillett’s Seedling; first discovered in 1816. Paradise Also known as Paradise Sweet; originated in the early 1800s. Northwest Greening Discovered in 1872; a cross between Golden Russet and Alexander; green, good for pies. Cortland Introduced in 1898 by the New York State Experiment Station; a cross between McIntosh and Ben Davis. Jonathan Introduced in 1820; eventually became the sixth most popular variety in the U.S. Abram First noted in a Virginia newspaper in 1755; greenish-yellow skin shaded with dull red; flavor improves during storage; good for cider-making. Arkansas Black Originated in 1870; dark red, almost black; improves in flavor in storage. Calville Blanc Also known as Calville Blanc d’Hiver or White Winter Calville; classic French dessert apple dating to the 16th century; large, oblong with pale green or yellow skin with a pale red blush. Maiden’s Blush Originated in 1817; also known as Lady Blush and Red Cheek; sharp, tangy flavor, suited for cooking and, when fully ripe, for eating. Virginia Pilot Originated in 1830; disappeared and re-discovered by Tom Burford in 1989; large, roundish; pale yellow skin striped and shaded with dull red.
V i r g i n i a
L i v i n g
8/25/11 4:07 PM
Published on Sep 1, 2011
The October 2011 issue of Virginia Living is the tastiest yet, featuring our favorite pairings of cheese and wine, with every crumb and drop...