Spent Sunday pruning our Arkansas Black apple tree. It hadn't been pruned for a couple of years, so it was due. We planted it about 20 years ago when I worked at Gold Hill Nursery. It's an old variety from 19th century Arkansas. Apparently you can keep the apples for up to six months under the right conditions. That would have been an important attribute back in the day when you didn't know when the next taste of fresh food might be after a long winter.
I brought home two new apples for the garden. The two varieties we are going to plant are antique varieties, "Cox Orange Pippin" and "Snow". Apparently, Cox Orange Pippin accounts for up to 50% of all dessert apples planted in The United Kingdom. It was first planted in 1825 in Colnbrook in Buckinghamshire, England, by the retired brewer and horticulturist Richard Cox. Wikipedia say's, "The flesh is very aromatic, yellow-white, fine-grained, crisp and very juicy. Cox's flavor is sprightly subacid, with hints of cherry and anise, becoming softer and milder with age. When ripe apples are shaken, the seeds make a rattling sound as they are only loosely held in the apple flesh. One of the best in quality of the English desert apples".
The other apple variety we are planting is "Snow". Snow was introduced to the US from Canada in 1739, but can trace it's heritage back to France and the 1600's. It "is delicious for eating out-of-hand. Popular in the United States for more than 150 years. Deep crimson, tender, aromatic, juicy, sweet and tart, hardy and long-lived. Snow white flesh." Interestingly it is one of the few apples to reproduce true from seed.
Why don't we plant more of these antique varieties? Why do people come to the nursery asking for "Fuji" , "Pink Lady", or "Red Delicious"? I can go to the store or Apple Hill and pick up those varieties. We should look back to see what we might be missing in flavor and qualities of the forgotten fruit varieties. Did you also know the antique apples are also more healthful than modern hybrids? One of the benefits of heirloom apples is they help control blood sugar levels, which some have found contribute to obesity.
There can be issues growing these trees commercially in North America. Certain non-fatal diseases can make it harder to grow than some of the newer bred for disease resistance varieties. Never-the-less heirloom vegetables have many of the same issues when it comes to commercial growing. That doesn't mean the individual gardener cannot have success growing these delicious reminders of summers past.