Monday, March 30, 2015

Old Southern Apples

Since I've been delving into the southern apple world lately a lot of information has come to light. It's a shame that we southerners have, for the most part, lost a lot of our heritage in the food department.

"The modern fast paced urbanized South has moved so far from its agrarian past that large parts of its heritage have been virtually forgotten. Southerners delight in restoring old houses and urban neighborhoods, and many city dwellers buy old farms and restore the buildings for a weekend retreat. But our unique southern heritage is more than Victorian houses and heart-pine floors, mahogany furniture and Coin silver; it is also Bloody Butcher corn, Red Ripper peas, Ledmon watermelons, Greensboro peaches, upland cotton, Gold Dollar tobacco and James grapes. These are living threads that lead directly back to three hundred years of southern agrarian past." - L. Calhoun

By some estimates, the south had upwards of 16,000 apple varieties. Today there are maybe five varieties in the grocery store, all shipped in from Oregon, and completely useless for nearly any purpose.

Old Southern Apples is a book written by Lee Calhoun in 1982. It was re-issued in 2010. I just received a copy of it. I'm always amazed when I find out things that I didn't know. This book is truly an eye-opener.

Until lately I've always just assumed an apple was an apple, however that's not the case at all. Depending on the variety, apples have specific uses. Some apples are good for eating whole but most aren't. Some apples are perfect for baking because they hold up well and don't turn to mush in the oven. Some apples you wouldn't want to eat at all but make great hard ciders. Some apples are harder than baseballs and don't seem to be good for anything but become perfectly ripe just in time for Christmas dinner. They call these "keepers". Some apples were grown strictly to feed to livestock. There is also apple brandy, cider vinegar, and apple butter.

In the acknowledgements of Old Southern Apples, Lee thanks Tom Brown of North Carolina for his dedication to apple hunting. Many of the apples listed as extinct in the 1982 edition have been found in the latest edition thanks to Tom. His yearly newsletters alone are worth a visit to his website.

I recently bought 8 apple trees from Tom and I can't wait until summer to order some more from him.

I didn't specify which trees I wanted so I left it up to him. Here is what he sent me. Betcha never heard of these before;

Betsy Deaton
Camack's Sweet
Red June
Red Kane
Winter Banana
Magnum Bonum
Jelly Flower

If you start looking for them you'll find lots of websites about southern apples, here's a few:

Big Horse Creek

Century Farm Orchard

Urban Homestead

Vintage Virginia Apples

NY Times article on Lee

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