August 30, 2009

Antique Apples

I just came in from picking some apples in my small apple orchard, which have ripened earlier than normal. The fifteen trees are all antique varieties that were planted many years ago. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful arborist, Padma Meier, who brought the trees back to life and health by careful pruning each year. Now I've taken over that job, which is very satisfying.

There are two varieties that are most numerous in the orchard, and most productive, though they bear only every other year: Duchess of Oldenburg, in the pictures above, and Peach apples, which ripen later in the season. Duchess are a great apple pie and sauce apple, with a nice tartness and crisp texture. I'll be making some apple butter tomorrow with those apples in the old basket. Peach apples are softer, juicier and sweeter, so I imagine they were planted for cider production. I've got three winter apple trees, but they don't bear well. Other varieties in the orchard are Sops of Wine and Sheep's Nose.

These are not beauty queen apples: they're misshapen and blemished, but for cooking and eating at home are a real treat. I don't spray at all, so perfection cannot be had, especially in this wet year. I love having the orchard not only for its fruit, but also for its beauty; it is a connection to the past, and a continuation of tradition.


  1. I just love anything to do with apples, the blossom in Spring is full of sweet Irish memories for me. My parents planted an apple tree for each of us when we were born. Tacita Dean an English artist recently had an amazing exhibition of her work here in Melbourne. Among the work was a beautiful film about the poet & translator Michael Hamburger's orchard. He loved to plant apple trees, even from seed. When he visited the poet Ted Hughes he admired an apple called Devonshire Quarantine. Ted gave him one & from the pips he grew two trees. Then he wrote the lovely little poem "For Ted Hughes".If you ever get the chance to see this little film, you will love it Altoon! Thank so much for sharing your beautiful photographs & thoughts on life.
    (Rosemary in Melbourne).

  2. I first began reading about (and doing a bit of writing about) antique apple varieties in the early 1980s. The names alone are so evocative. If you've read much about them, you know how many varieties were readily available in 1900 that have all disappeared over the years. As a former New Yorker myself (Buffalo), I am still partial to apples like Empire and Cortland with their associations of home.