Despite its reputation for punishing winters, northern Utah's Cache Valley has had apple trees thrive here since the time of the early settlers in the 1870s. Our farm is located at the extreme north end of the valley, but when we moved here in 1969, we discovered evidence of what must have been an early -- and optimistic -- planting of three old apple trees. An offspring of one of these three -- an early yellow -- is still going strong on the side of a hill. But apple trees are well known as not only ubiquitous but tough, and adaptable to just about any climatic condition. Today, especially, the northern gardener and orchardist can chose among a huge number of cold-hardy and gourmet varieties, including heirlooms. This wide choice is the reason we decided, a little over a decade ago, to plan our own orchard here at DragonGoose Farm.
MacIntosh Apples in Late September--
produced on DragonGoose Farm's Low-Spray Orchard
The Joy of Orchards
There's not much money in gourmet and heirloom apple orcharding, and it's a lot of work, but it comes as a terrific accomplishment to see your trees starting to come into full production. Even more of an accomplishment is to turn out good apples without spraying them to death, and to offer apples with exciting new tastes -- both heirloom types and new introductions based on the rich flavors of the old apples. Most of these old apples, now being offered to fledgling orchardists by specialty nurseries, have been left behind by the needs of mechanized handling and shipping. They're odd shapes, they're not red enough, not pretty enough. But, Heavens, they do taste great!
Originating in 1937 -- Sweet Sixteen
Take the new introduction, "Sweet Sixteen," shown at right. When perfectly ripe, the skin color of Sweet Sixteen has rose-red stripes laid over a green to yellow ground. Bitten into at this time, the mouth fills with a unique blend of sweet-tart juiciness. This apple originated in the University of Minnesota as a Northern Spy cross in 1937. It stores for up to three months at 30-32 degrees and makes for excellent eating fresh, is great for applesauce, and is becoming increasingly popular among apple faniers from the midwest eastwards. One long-time orchardist from further south in the state assured us during our visit to his orchard a few years ago that "people just won't buy apples that are only half-red." But "Sweet Sixteen," which ripens mid to late September, is turning out to be a winner here in Cache Valley.
Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple
Another apple that takes a while for people to start buying is "Spitzenberg," shown at left. When ripe--that is, in mid to late October when red with freckles--this apple is unexcelled in flavor and quality, and it stores at 32 degrees for three to five months. Spitzenberg was discovered in the early 1700s at Esopus, on the Hudson River, 80 miles north of New York City, by an early Dutch Settler named Spitzenberg. The all-purpose Spitz is excellent for eating fresh, for baking and drying, and for applesauce. It was one of the apples chosen by Warren Manhart in his Apples for the 21st Century as one of his four favorites. I can testify to its making excellent apple sauce since, one year when we sold zero baskets of Spitzenberg--this was the first year of production--we cooked the entire season's production up into sauce.
Mr. Manhart has personally grown and evaluated 140 different varieties of apples during a lifetime of experience in fruit growing. If you're thinking of starting a speciality orchard yourself, Manhart's book is a must-read. It's filled with first-rate photography, it's engagingly written, and it's packed with information found nowhere else about the future of apple growing.
An apple for the connoiseur--Ashmead's Kernel
One of the apples we planted here early on and which Mr. Manhart recommends as one of the fifty apples he sees as important in the 21st century, is "Ashmead's Kernel," shown at right, and ripening here in Cache Valley mid to late October.
As grown here in our orchard, these apples are flattish, about the size of a Gala or Jonathan, half-russetted over gold, and outstandingly rich and tart. Walking among the apple-laden trees here in our orchard invariably transports me back to Old England when apples were nowhere near the perfectly shaped, waxed and polished to a mirror finish supermarket product. In short, the" Ashmead" is an exquisitely homely apple. Nevertheless, its taste is absolutely amazing. Our ten trees of "Ashmead" took a while to come into production. We had our first crop of apples last year. We're anxious to see if we can convince some apple connoiseurs to give a half-bushel of them a trial. And though the apple sweetens as it stores and, indeed, is described as storing successfully and increasing in sweetness for up to twelve months, nevertheless for those preferring mild, sweetish apples (as Mr. Manhart points out) "Ashmead's" will probably give taste buds a serious jolt.
As to its history, Ashmead's Kernel was among the 200 cultivars brought from Europe by the well known American horticulturist of the time, Robert Nitschke. The original tree came from a seed planted by a Dr. Ashmead who practiced in Gloucestershire, England, in the 1700s. Aside from the few we saved for cooking, we put the entire production last year into our cider apples which improved to near one-hundred percent an already excellent blend.
Melrose--a wonderful lunch-box-size apple
One other apple deserves mention and that's "Melrose" an apple developed in 1931 that ripens here mid to late October. A cross of Jonathan and Red Delicious, Melrose has the white flesh and rich flavor of Jonathan and the shape and sweetness of tree-ripened Red Delicious. It stores well, too. Even when well ripened (to rosy red over yellow-green), it will store at 30-32 degrees for up to five months. Breeding of Melrose was begun in an Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station in 1931, selected in 1937, and released in 1944. It's a fine multiple-use apple for those who would like a slightly larger, better keeping Jonathan, but that's still small enough for a lunchbox apple.
Many people buying apples today in the supermarkets don't know what a really good apple tastes like. By the time many of these commercial apples reach the customers' shopping baskets, they're about as bad as apples can get. Myself, after a childhood of enjoying apples, I turned against them as soon as I grew to adulthood and no longer had the opportunity to eat the ones from my great-grandmother's trees. A more tough-skinned, mushy, tasteless apple than the "Red Delicious" offered so enticingly in the supermarket produce bins since the start of the 1960s would be impossible to find.
So, try growing a few apples yourself, if you feel so inclined. We have some twenty-five varieties here, bought from several different nurseries (listed below). What we've learned about growing apples has been from books, other orchardists, and trial and error. If you live in Cache Valley, below is a map to DragonGoose Farm. You're welcome to visit, and try out some apples and, after late October, jugs of gourmet apple juice which we have processed in a local, government-inspected press. This juice is processed from sound, tree-picked, washed fruit and is sold frozen, in plastic jugs. The juice is not pasteurized, though we may have to do this eventually. Inevitably, however, pasteurizing diminishes taste.
For those wishing to try orcharding
themselves, I recommend, besides Apples for the 21st Century,
The Book of Apples by Joan Morgan and Alison Richards,
The Apple grower , a Guide for the Organic Orchardist, by
Michael Philips, and
Apples by Roger Yepsen (A lovely book!). There are
numerous others on pests, like
Rodale's Color Handbook of Garden Insects by Anna Carr,
The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect & Disease Control
, edited by Barbara Ellis. There are also pamphlets and books
available at local
Agricultural Experiment Stations and Extension Offices and, in some cases, classes and lectures.
The cold-hardy apple varieties used at DragonGoose Farm are listed on the next page, if you'd like to take a look at them. We've started some new ones, so some of those listed are not yet producing. A few of them are one of a kind and, therefore, the availability of apples from these is limited.
Apples are good for you,
Joan Katherine Shaw
September 22, 2000
Online sources for apple tree catalogs and online ordering:
Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery
Helpful books on apples and apple growing:
Apples for the 21st Century, Warren Manhart
The Book of Apples by Joan Morgan and Alison Richards
The Apple grower , a Guide for the Organic Orchardist, by Michael Philips
Apples by Roger Yepsen
Rodale's Color Handbook of Garden Insects by Anna Carr
The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect & Disease Control, edited by Barbara Ellis
Link to browse for apple books:
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All contents copyright (c) starting 2000-2009 by Joan K. Shaw. All rights reserved.