Apples of North America: Exceptional Varieties for Gardeners, Growers, and Cooksby Tom Burford
American Horticulture Society Award Winner
The apple is one of the most iconic fruits, traditionally picked on cool fall days and used in pies, crisps, and ciders. And there is a vast world of varieties that goes beyond the common grocery store offerings of Red Delicious and Granny Smith. With names like American Beauty, Carter’s Blue, and/b>
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American Horticulture Society Award Winner
The apple is one of the most iconic fruits, traditionally picked on cool fall days and used in pies, crisps, and ciders. And there is a vast world of varieties that goes beyond the common grocery store offerings of Red Delicious and Granny Smith. With names like American Beauty, Carter’s Blue, and Fallawater, and flavors ranging from sweet to tart, this treasure trove of unique apples is ripe for discovery.
There is no better guide through this tasty world than Tom Burford, whose family has grown apples in the Blue Ridge Mountains since 1715. The book is brimming with beautiful portraits of heirloom and modern apples of merit, each accompanied by distinguishing characteristics and common uses. As the view broadens to the orchard, you will find information on planting, pruning, grafting, and more. The exploration of the apple culminates with an overview of the fruit’s transformative capabilities when pressed, fermented, cooked, or dried. Beyond the polished and predictable grocery store display of Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples, a feast of beautiful and uniquely flavored North American varieties awaits the curious.
“The definitive work on our national fruit.” —Peter J. Hatch, The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello “A lovely, browsable work for apple enthusiasts.” —Library Journal “The long-awaited masterwork by America's greatest apple expert, Tom Burford, is an invaluable resource for lovers of flavorful and historic apples.” —Los Angeles Times “A fascinating account of heirloom types.” —Southern Living
Orchardist, nurseryman, and apple expert Burford (Apples: A Catalog of International Varieties) here shares dozens of varieties of heirloom and modern apples to eat and/or grow, although he says that his book is aimed primarily at the consumer. In the first section, "Apple Varieties A to Z," each one-page entry includes a brief description of the apple; its other common names; its historical interest; its look, flavor, aroma, etc.; characteristics of the tree; disease resistance; ripening season; uses; and storage quality. Each apple is illustrated with a beautiful color photograph. Burford then offers an overview of planning and designing an orchard, including variety and rootstock selection, followed by cultural information. He then presents brief sections on pest and disease descriptions, harvesting, storing, and propagation by grafting. Next, Burford covers uses of apples, from cider to drying. He concludes with his recommendations for the best apple varieties for specific purposes or conditions. VERDICT A lovely, browsable work for apple enthusiasts. For the gardener not aiming to plant an orchard, Burford leaves out some basics; beginning apple growers will be better served by Alan Buckingham's Grow Fruit or Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry's The Fruit Gardener's Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruits and Nuts in the Home Garden.—Sue O'Brien, Downers Grove P.L., IL
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Read an Excerpt
An Introduction and Brief History
The world of the apple is changing rapidly because food production and the availability of the apple’s life-giving substances are in a state of chaos and unrecognized despair. Yes, this statement is dramatic, but it is real. I am in the misunderstood but enviable position of having experienced a production and richness of the food world that today we are struggling to recapture. I am optimistic, however, that we can again make eating and the ritual of eating a joy for all. This is epitomized by what is happening to the apple.
After this somber assessment, I will tell you of my introduction to the table of delight and plenty. It began on a very hot late August day in 1935 when my mother and grandmother set off with a white oak woven basket designated for apple picking that had been woven by a Native American friend. They headed to the nearby orchard to harvest Smokehouse apples, a nineteenth-century Pennsylvania fruit, so named for growing next to a smokehouse, which ripen over a long period in late summer and early fall and are noted for making caramelized and high-flavored frying apples. On arrival my mother exclaimed they must hurry back to the house with no apples for supper. Ten minutes later I entered the world, barely escaping drawing my first earthly breath in the shade of an apple tree.
That orchard, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, contained about one hundred varieties and reflected the history of the apple in America. The trees in the orchard included varieties intended for dessert, cooking, cider, drying, applesauce, apple butter, and even livestock food. The apples ripened from June until November and came from storage until the crop was ready the next year.
In these isolated mountains with limited communications one became naïve, unaware that but few had access to the hundreds of varieties readily available that could be grafted, grown, and eaten. I was later to learn that not many people had the necessary skill or inclination to make an apple tree or explore a different variety. It became the classic negative axiom “let someone else do it” and indeed the wrong ones did, destroying the apple culture of America in the process.
For fifty years I painfully watched the disappearance of the apple culture and the emergence of so-called beautiful apples, a source of malnourishment that even posed a consumption risk from chemical contamination. Eating with the eyes of this cosmetically disguised, tasteless object brought exotic fruits, many equally tasteless, to the fruit bowls of America. And the diversity of available varieties dropped to a few dozen. One look at the apple display in a supermarket should bring tears and an exclamation of “what have we done to you?”
The response from apple connoisseurs, some fanatical like I, and organizations like the North American Fruit Explorers (founded in 1965 out of a round-robin correspondence group on uncommon fruits) was to begin distributing lesser-known apple varieties and teach grafting classes. These efforts would launch the unending search, once again, for apples of flavor instead of beauty and market value. Now, varieties that are left are not only retrieved from our rich American heritage, perhaps the greatest apple diversity in the modern world, but science has intervened to provide modern varieties that meet the challenge of the onslaught of pests and diseases that have emerged. The apple is zooming to the forefront as a food commodity in a new American agriculture.
I have presented nearly 200 North American apple varieties in this book, but this is just a handful of the thousands that deserve recognition and adulation. As you explore this world, be aware and understanding that every apple has its moment when it expresses itself at the zenith of flavor. Seldom, however, do we have this sensory experience. Most often, the apple is trying to define itself and will be less sweet or tart or crisp or melting than it holds the potential to be, but it will still satisfy our longing for the apple-taste experience. In the hundreds of apple tastings I have conducted, the same apple variety can bring the countenance of pleasure to one (“the best apple I ever ate”) and distaste to another (“are you sure this isn’t a green persimmon?”). Think of each apple as distinctive and strive to escape the ones that all taste and look the same, as most from the supermarket do. It is an adventure.
This book is intended to be practical instructions, history lessons, folklore, and particularly, inspiration and motivation—not necessarily to grow your own apples, but as an apple consumer to demand what has been denied. Above all, it is to encourage and support others to produce apples in great abundance. Then apples can, once again, be bartered, shared, and bestowed as gifts to nourish the mind, body, and soul: an unending, joyful adventure.
Meet the Author
Tom Burford, “Professor Apple,” is a horticulturist, orchardist, and nurseryman. He is also a consultant specializing in the restoration, recreation, and design of orchards at historic sites and private estates, as well as backyard and commercial orchards. He is the coauthor of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s The Best Apples to Buy and Grow. Tom presents lectures, seminars, and workshops nationally, and has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered to discuss heirloom apples.
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Exploration of the Little-Known World of Apples Written by a renowned apple expert, Apples of North America is the quintessential reference book this iconic fruit. Detailing nearly 200 varieties of apples, Tom Burford explains the uses, history, tree, season of ripening, taste, and any other distinguishing characteristics of each type. He also covers how to plant, prune, and graft your own apples for the ambitious reader. Not only is this book a treasury of information, but it is also fun to browse as it is visually appealing and includes a photo of each apple variety (some of the heirlooms are absolutely breathtaking) . From this book, I have gained a new-found respect for apples and have begun trying flavors outside the grocery-store regulars. If you love apples, or fruit in general, this book belongs in your library.Another great that I recommend for fruit enthusiasts is Fruits of Warm Climates by Julia Morton.