Monday, November 15, 2010

Old-Timey Apples Elicit Plea from Slow Food

Does the hegimony of the mealy Red Delicious bug you?

Slow Food's got your back and has published this 16pp guide to preserving heirloom apple varieties.
Apples are endangered?

It’s true—those brightly polished rows of fruit stacked year-round in your grocery store are under threat of extinction and not in the way you would think. Apples as a species are well established, but the majority of known apple varieties are desperately close to extinction, being grown in fewer than three orchards. Just a century ago, there were over 15,000 distinct apple varieties grown on U.S. soil. Today, only 11 varieties regularly appear on supermarket shelves. Red Delicious alone accounts for 41% of all apples grown and eaten in the U.S.
Don't know if the Wandering Aengus folks visit here, but we'd love to read something about the history of apple orchards here and the current state of heirloom varieties locally. The history's not likely as rich or long as that of local prunes and cherries, but surely there is a history. If you've got a thing for 19th and early 20th century Willamette Valley apple orchards, whether eating or cider apples, we'd love a guest post! Do apple trees live a century? Are there any old orchards around?

Interestingly, the pamphlet contains a section on a Sonoma Valley Gravenstein project:
The delicate late-summer Gravenstein apple, first planted in Sonoma County, California in 1820 by Russian trappers once filled Bay area orchards, only to be pushed out of the marketplace by sturdier apple varieties that ship better and last longer. Add to that suburban development, the conversion of apple orchards to vineyards, and overall decreased apple production—the Gravenstein was soon in trouble. In 1958, 5,449 acres of Gravensteins flourished in the U.S. Just fifty years later, production plummeted to fewer than 900 acres. Determined to reverse that trend, Slow Food Russian River leads a project to build awareness about the Gravenstein apple and support Gravenstein farmers.
Gravensteins seem like they might be more popular here and in less danger. Anyone know?


  1. I was at an apple tasting at the Portland Nursery at the end of October and tasted maybe 40 odd varieties of apples, all delicious, all distinct, some were complete knockouts. Don't ask me which, I have the list somewhere I'm sure, but they made Red Delicious look like Red Disgusting (as if it didn't already).

  2. Love tastings like that! Apples, tomatoes, peaches...but we're in winter now. Sad.

    Here's an apple for you. The imagery is so pacific NW! And she's reading on Weds - will cue up a beer poem, as well.

    River Sonnet
    by Keetje Kuipers

    When the old she-salmon swam to my rock
    where I had sat to watch her moldering
    transform into a fruiting body, clock
    of flesh stretched above pale pebbles, ticking
    tail where her roe lay like scattered apple
    blossoms the rain has adhered to the road
    and her great heaving sides stained with the dull
    flowering shapes of fungus, I could not know
    what secret pain it took for her to nose
    against the current there, the large head scarred,
    flanks those of a barnacled ship: she rose
    from shallow water, a calcified shard
    bearing time’s white etchings, and one dark eye—
    lidless—that willed I mark her drifting by.

  3. Information! From The Columbian, October 2010:

    "The English Greening Apple tree dates back to the Hudson’s Bay Company, and is so much older than most other apple trees that a Seattle arborist with the National Park Service is interested in taking genetic samples from it, Vancouver Urban Forester Charles Ray said.

    “They want to know why it’s so vigorous and really keeps producing,” Ray said.

    Make no mistake: The tree is a freak of nature, in a good way.

    Most apple trees in orchards live for 30 years, Ray explained. It’s the oldest apple tree in the Pacific Northwest to be sure, if not the West, he said.

    The tree still produces apples, which work best for baking, he said. A pie made with fruit from the tree placed in the top three in a local competition last year, Ray noted."

    Articles give dates circa 1825.

    Here's a more recent piece on its tree surgery.