The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Heirloom apple tastings

Virginia Beauty apple

There are so many apple varieties most of us have never even heard of.  But how do you know which heirlooms to add to your orchard if you only have written descriptions to choose from?

Since heirloom apples are one of my obsessions, I keep trying to talk people into running apple tastings.  The apple gurus invariably guide me toward Monticello's annual apple tasting, but even though Jefferson gardened in the Virginia mountains just like me, I can't quite talk myself into 9 hours of driving (round trip) to taste his apples.

Cracked apple

This week, I found another reason (besides the driving) to try to keep my apple tastings closer to home.  Our most vigorous apple tree is a Virginia Beauty, and a few years ago we found some Virginia Beauty apples at a fruit stand to taste.  They weren't anything to write home about, and I stopped being as interested in my own tree.  But this year, my Virginia Beauty finally produced fruits, a few of which cracked from heavy rains and ripened early.  I took the world's ugliest apple inside and ate it myself rather than trying to force Mark to overlook its blemishes...and the fruit was probably the tastiest apple I've ever eaten!

Heirloom apples

The experience made me rethink counting on anyone else's apples to give me even a vague impression of what a variety will taste like.  When an apple tree fights insects and diseases and is fed by rotten wood and horse manure, its fruits aren't going to taste anything like those beautiful, sprayed globes from a traditional orchard.  In fact, homegrown tastes much, much better.

So, I'm no longer yearning to attend an apple tasting.  However, if anyone wants to create an online heirloom apple CSA (just enough to taste of each variety coming in the mail the month each is ripe), I'll sign up in a heartbeat.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I love seeing your daily posts next to Mark's post. I think it's how a blog would look if my husband and I ran one - my posts with pictures and explanations, my husband's with one or two lines. He's a man of few words but he loves to work on and fix things.

I planted some apple trees when we first moved in, six years ago, and this is the first time we have had fruit. Unfortunately, I got those Stark trees that supposedly have three different types grafted on to them and I can't figure out what any of them are. So I don't really know when to harvest them. They taste good but not great. Plus they're so ugly - flyspeck and some blotchy stuff. But I'm learning and it's neat to have food from our land, finally.

Comment by Karyn Wed Aug 28 10:11:24 2013

I'm sure that they will taste different from year to year as well, given the differences in weather and environment. I'm still interested in going to a tasting. I'm still not entirely clear, but I think it sounds like volunteers and members also bring apples from their own orchards to taste, which will vary in husbandry practices.

In case anyone reads who is in the Pacific Northwest, this sounds like the tasting to attend - October 19th and 20th, outside of Portland.

I'm eating plums now here on the Oregon Coast from old trees found in the back of a neighbor's cattle pasture (behind all of the invasive blackberries.) YUM! No management at all for probably at least a decade or so. (Italian Prune Plum variety of some sort.)

Comment by Charity Wed Aug 28 10:59:14 2013
We just got back from a trip that included a visit to Seed Savers ( ), just north of Decorah, Iowa. There are a lot of great reasons to visit them, but the pertinent reason to this post is their heritage apple orchard. You are encouraged to try any apple you want to if it is on the ground (no picking off the trees). I wished we would have made notes as some of the apples were incredible and some were barely edible.
Comment by Robert Wed Aug 28 12:00:11 2013

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