Heirloom Apples

Heirloom Apples

Part of Ep. 702 The Heirloom Garden Pt. 2

Take a closer look at Kenneth Weston's favorite heirloom apples: King David, Ashmeads' Kernel, Cornish Gilliflower, Strawberry Chenango, Apricot Apple.

Premiere date: May 01, 1999

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Apples have been around since the dawn of time. If you want to grow something truly ancient, consider growing an heirloom apple. We're at Weston's Antique Apple Orchard near New Berlin, Wisconsin. And this is the proprietor, Kenneth Weston. Ken, thank you for letting us invade your orchard. Tell me a little bit about the history of antique apples. I understand there used to be thousands of varieties.

Kenneth:
In 1904, I saw a reference to 7,800 varieties available in the United States alone.

Shelley:
Wow.

Kenneth:
And now there's barely 200. Shelley:
What happened to all the ones in between? Why aren't they sold commercially?

Kenneth:
Commercially, it wasn't profitable to raise them in the United States. Shipping, picking-- some required very delicate picking. They bruise very easily. Stores wouldn't tolerate that. They would sit on the shelf for quite a while.

Shelley:
And they probably don't also look like a perfect red either.

Kenneth:
A lot of them are quite ugly as a matter of fact.

Shelley:
So, they may not be great for commercial growers, but for us home gardeners they're perfect. Tell me a little bit about your orchard, here.

Kenneth:
We have 100 varieties on the 16 acres. The orchard was originally started by my grandfather, father and mother as a hedge against the Great Depression. My grandfather was a molder at Rex Chain Belt in Milwaukee. And they bought this, as I said, against the Depression. We've been here ever since. We've been here about 60 years, my family has been.

Shelley:
Can you do this for me? They're all so fascinating, but could you narrow it down to a couple favorite heirlooms that we could talk about?

Kenneth:
Yes. Of the hundreds we have, these are four of my favorites. That one is good for cider, as well as for eating. I like it to eat. It tastes like a tart-- a cherry.

Shelley:
What's it called?

Kenneth:
It's called a King David.

Shelley:
Oh, okay.

Kenneth:
It's about 1820-- it goes back to 1820. It's native to Arkansas.

Shelley:
You mentioned it's good for cider. Our modern apples, we think of as using for everything. A lot of these heirlooms had very specific uses.

Kenneth:
That's right. And some were just grown just for cider.

Shelley:
What about this one?

Kenneth:
Ashmeads' Kernel is a wonderful apple. It has a nut-like flavor. It's rated number one among-- it's growing in the United Kingdom- - it's rated number one by the general public there. And the Royal Horticulture Society has a taste test of the thousands of varieties they have available in some of their museums, and this one always rates the top among the ones of that general public.

Shelley:
How old is this one?

Kenneth:
That's about 1780.

Shelley:
Wow, that has been around awhile. And you said this one has been around awhile, too. What is this? It's beautiful.

Kenneth:
That's a Cornish Gilliflower. It's named after the clove spice. It has the flavor and fragrance of cloves. It was mentioned briefly in one of Shakespeare's sonnets in the play "As You Like It."

Shelley:
So, it's been around a long time.

Kenneth:
A long time.

Shelley:
This one is intriguing. It's such a beautiful light pink. What is this?

Kenneth:
That's the Strawberry Chenango, named of Chenango Valley in New York. That's about 1890-something, maybe early 1900s. It has the flavor and fragrance of roses.

Shelley:
The fragrance-- Wow!

Kenneth:
It's very difficult to pick that apple. We have to use gloves because the skin is so tender. It's excellent for apple sauce, as well.

Shelley:
It's beautiful. And the fragrance comes right through the skin. It's incredible.

Kenneth:
A lot of people use those in place of flowers on tables to give fragrance to a room.

Shelley:
Really? All right, one last one. Now this one is really strange looking.

Kenneth:
That's called the Apricot Apple. I haven't a clue on its history. It's very primitive, very hard, like iron. When you bite into one, it breaks apart in your mouth like a cookie. But the flavor explodes in your mouth with a beautiful perfume and wonderful aftertaste after you eat it.

Shelley:
So, it's worth growing, just chew it awhile.

Kenneth:
Just chew it awhile.

Shelley:
You know, we should mention-- we talk about saving seeds for heirloom vegetables. That's not how we would get these varieties of apples in our backyards, is it?

Kenneth:
No, you'll get the ancestors of the varieties you want and not the variety. You have to take one year stock from a tree. One of these water sprouts and graft it onto rootstock. And that's the only way to grow it.

Shelley:
Okay, thanks Ken. Weston's Antique Apple Orchard is now a foundation and is open to the public year round.

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