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.