In my area, apple harvest can begin in the summer with apples such as Transparents or Sunrise, but the real bountiful harvest begins in autumn, usually in September and can last into November. On farms where the farmers harvest for the finest taste, nature dictates harvest-time which can move forward or backward weeks each season. Nothing is better than an apple picked at the peak of flavour, when not only its taste is best but its nutritional content is at its highest.
There used to be approximately 15,000 different varieties of apples grown worldwide, but as the big agricultural companies take over more and more land and the small farms are pushed out, the varieties are on a sharp decrease with now only 7,500 grown and one report claiming that 4 out of 5 apple varieties are in danger of disappearing. However in quiet orchards, older more obscure varieties still survive and often flourish. What could be more important than helping support and save these lesser-known varieties and at the same time widen our choices as consumers?
While visiting an island near to where I live, I was able to gather some vaguely familiar to completely unknown apples to me, and I wanted to share their stories. If you are an apple connoisseur like I am, you might be intrigued. Some of them have a fascinating history ….
An unexpected but delicious newcomber, the first Ambrosia tree was discovered in British Columbia in 1990. A cross between two different varieties (possibly a Starking Delicous and a Golden Delicious which grew nearby), this firm apple has a very smooth almost pinkish skin and has a fresh, lightly honeyed taste. It’s considered a low-acidic apple, making it easy to digest.
This small apple is a variant of Orange Pippin and is a very old variety first originating in England in the early 1700s. It has a drab russet-type appearance Yet this small apple has remained popular for hundreds of years for its unique flavour; often tasters cannot agree on what it tastes like but it can perhaps be described as having a sweet tang of pear. It is a very versatile apple and can be used for almost everything. It contains vitamin C, vitamin A and trace amounts of potassium and iron.
The first Bramley Seedling was thought to have originated in 1809, grown from pips by Mary Ann Brailsford in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, UK and the town still holds a Bramley Apple Festival in October. Because of its sour taste, Bramley apples are mostly used for cooking, baking and cider, and when cooked become golden and fluffy. It has a high-acidity, which therefore means it contains a high amount of Vitamin C, and a sharp, fresh apple flavour. They are notoriously long-lived and the original tree is still alive in Southwell.
Fameuse (Snow Apple)
Originating in Quebec in the early 18th century, the Fameuse, or Snow Apple, is thought to be the pre-cursor of the McIntosh apple. From 1700 to 1850, Fameuse were grown in proliferation and shipped in large quantities to England. Yet around 1860, with the introduction of new apple varieties, a disease wiped out the Fameuse orchards and upon replanting, the McIntosh apple was chosen. The Fameuse is a crisp apple with a distinct sweet taste. With an impressive nutritional content, they contain vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, riboflavin, potassium, copper, manganese and magnesium.
Discovered in the U.S. around 1804, it is also thought this apple may have originated in Germany. It is mainly used for cooking as its flavour is somewhat tart and its irregular appearance makes it uniquely distinctive. They can also grow to enormous proportions; one apple weighed in at a whopping three and a half pounds.
The Gravenstein apple was first described in 1797 and is thought to have originated in southern Jutland, Denmark. It is a hardy tree, but can be prone to disease which, despite its excellent flavour, curbed its popularity. With a white, creamy flesh, it has a very sweet and present taste and is known as one of the best baking apples. They contain vitamin C and potassium, as well as some iron, vitamin A and boron which are found close to the skin.
Developed in the 1940s, this apple is a cross between a Jonathan apple and a Golden Delicious apple. It is a highly commercialized apple, large in size with a lovely white flesh and a sweet flavour that is balanced in acidity. They contain small amounts of vitamin C and A, as well as pectin.
Introduced in 1907 in Bedford, England, this apple was propagated by the Laxtons Brothers. For a small apple, it has a surprisingly crisp distinct taste, with a nice balance between sweet and sharp. It is an easy apple to grow and produces good yields.
Similar to Gravenstein apples (above), the Red Gravenstein are often larger and have a (of course) redder tinge to their skin. They also tend to ripen on the tree at different times. They are very crisp and juicy but I found them more tart than the Gravenstein; you have harvest at the premium time for the best flavour. As the Gravenstein, they are good for baking and eating.
The Russet, or Golden Russet, are considered the best flavoured of all the russets. Originating in upstate New York in 1845, it is possibly derived from an English variety, as there is also mention of a Golden Russet in England which is similar. Its intense flavour is particularly good for making cider, but it is also an excellent baking or eating apple. The Ashmead’s Kernel, above, is another example of a russet.
I hope you’ve enjoyed being introduced to some new and interesting apple varieties and that you’ll keep a look out for them at farmer’s markets and roadside stands. And perhaps ask your local grocer to carry some different varieties of apples. Together, we can all have a positive impact in diversifying our food choices!
For a delicious Journey to the Garden recipe that contains apples, please see our Apple Quince Harvest Crisp.