Favorite antique apple varieties

Karen JurgensenAugust 10, 2005

Hello everyone!

I'm very interested in planting a couple antique apple trees. The home I'm buying (our first!)was built in 1880, and many of the existing plants are original to the home. I'm trying to find and plant varieties that would have been available at the time my home was built. I was wondering if anyone could share their experiences with antique apples, what they like and don't like about them. Especially, how the apples taste, how you use them, and how well they grow/produce. Any and all input is greatly appreciated!

Templeflower :)

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douglas14(z3/4 MN)

I've tried quite a few of the antique apples in the past.
Two of my favorites are Yellow Newtown and Golden Russet. Are they hardy in zone 4B? I'd guess marginally hardy at best. Golden Russet may be the hardier of the two. These are both late ripening apples.
I've grown Blue Pearmain, but found it too coarse for my liking.
I've fruited Black Oxford(a Maine heirloom) and Ashmedes Kernal here. They are both nice apples and late ripeners. Black Oxford seems to keep it's quality longer. I don't know if these will be reliably hardy here.
If you're looking for heirlooms that would have been available in MN in the 1880's, I'm not sure. I think Wealthy and Malinda may have been on the scene around that time. Wealthy is quite popular still. It's known as good for cooking, and is fine for fresh eating. Malinda is a sweet apple, with little to no noticeable tartness. I found that the taste kind of grows on me. These two are quite winter hardy. Wolf River may be another to look into. A very large apple.
There is a fruit forum here at GW. You'd likely get more total knowledge on the subject there.


    Bookmark   August 10, 2005 at 7:44PM
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gponder(7/South OR)

I love Kandil Sinap and Knobbed Russet. Also Caville Blanc De Hiver. We grow about 75 varieties and it's hard to say which one I like "best". I too love Newtown Pippin, it is a great storage apple with the flavor improving quite a bit during storage. Golden Russet is fabulous as is Cox Orange Pippin. I live in Oregon. I am not familar with the growing season in MN. A great way to sample heirlooms, is to order from Applesource in the fall. They're based out of IL and get their apples from both the east and west coasts. You can pick fruits grown from a similar region as yours to best judge the apple's quality.
As far as growing conditions, many of these apples are prone to disease, apple scab is my villain. We have a certified organic planting so it can be very frustrating. This year is no exception as we had an incredibly wet spring, thus the scab is abundent. Also there are some great books out there. One that comes to mind is Apples of the 21st Century. Written by a man who's own personal knowledge of growing apples is mind boggling. Good Luck!!

Here is a link that might be useful: Applesource Apple Varieties

    Bookmark   August 10, 2005 at 10:47PM
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nctomatoman(z7/8 NC)

I've also tried many old varieties, from Applesource and a place called Treemendous in Michigan. What fun to eat a Kandil Sinap, Ashmead's Kernel, Newtown Pippin, York Imperial, Smokehouse, Cox Orange Pippin, Golden Russet, Esopus Spitzenberg, Maiden Blush, Blue Pearmain - those and others I've been lucky enough to taste and enjoy. There is so much life beyond the dreadful supermarket Red and Yellow Delicious and Granny Smiths! At least the Braeburn and Cameo are, on occasion, edible!


    Bookmark   August 11, 2005 at 12:23AM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

Coincidentally, Templeflower, John Strang, who is a fruit specialist with the University of Kentucky, will be giving a talk on that very topic at the Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy fall conference.

It might pay for you to attend, if for no other reason than to hear his talk, and spend some time conferring with him.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2005 at 11:10AM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

A few comments.

First, I can put you in touch with a friend of mine in Indiana who retired from the drug industry quite a few years ago and has maintained orchards with hundreds of varieties for many years; it's his major hobby.

The reason I mention Gene is b/c he has researched the histories on all that he grows and thus knows all the dates and is meticulous in his record keeping.

Of course there are several heirloom apple books out there /

And here's my story on apple books.

About four years ago I got a terrific price on the two volume Apples of New York, 1906, which if you know your apples will know what an important resource that is, not only for text, but also for the gorgeous hand tinted color plates.

Two years ago I gave them to my brother for his B Day thinking that since I wasn't physically able to hike back in to where some of the oldest orchards are here in NYS he could, and he seemed interested and actually ordered lots of older apple varieteis from St Lawerence Nurseries which is well known for hardy rootstock.

So where are my apple books? In NC where they moved a month ago.

Aha, but I still have the one on Peaches.

But for advice on what to gvrow I think I might also contact the U of MN Ag Experimental Program where theyu have a very active apple breeding program with lots of excellent newer releases.

it's their job to know what germplasm to have around in terms of winter hardiness so I assume that someone there would be able to help/

The link below is about Honeycrisp, one of the U of MN's recent releases which I absolutely LOVE.

Carolyn, who also received a box of apples from Applesource but they were sent as a gift and right now I don't remember which ones I ate. I do remember my father waxing eloquently about Westfield Seek No Further and something with Strawberry in the name

Here is a link that might be useful: Honeycrisp/U of MN

    Bookmark   August 11, 2005 at 11:56AM
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gponder(7/South OR)

The apple you father enjoyed was probably Chenago Strawberry, another great one.

NCTomatoman: I forgot about Spitzenberg and Ashmeads Kernal. As far as Granny Smith goes, if you leave it on the tree until it develops a pink/red blush, the sweetness appears and it has an entirely different flavor that those green balls they sell in the stores. It really can be a great apple. Also, Golden Delicious if grown and ripened correctly is a superb all purpose apple. A great golden delicious type, called Mollies Delicious has grown incredibly well for me. Large, fairly disease resistant and wonderfully flavored.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2005 at 6:50PM
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Karen Jurgensen

Thanks so much for the advice on St Lawrence Nursery! What a great resource- and they actually carry trees that are known to survive the brutal winters! Great! This is really helpful- and how much fun to hear about everyone's memories and experiences!

Craig (and anyone else who has taken a bite of those antique varieties) what did you think of the taste of all the varietes you tried? The only thing I don't particularly care for is a mealy/mushy tasting apple, I like a nice firm flesh in my apple. Certainly- mealy/mushy is the epitome of winter grocery store apples around here! Mcintosh are my favorite, anf I'm definitely planting a tree of Macs, but I'd like a sweeter desert apple to mix along with them in my cooking. Nothing better than a Mac and sweet apple combo for apple crisp! Yum!!!!

Templeflower :) (Who can't wait to get out in her new garden!)

    Bookmark   August 12, 2005 at 11:12AM
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maryinpnw(z8 OR)

Pretty much everything I have tried in heirloom apple varieties has been listed here. One of my favs is Spitzenberg. Luckily, we have some local apple producers who grow a lot of this one. It is sweet/tart or tart/sweet. You'll just have to try it if you can. I have made pies from them. Sometimes I blend them with other apples. Also love MacIntosh, so I compare it to everything else.

Best wishes,


    Bookmark   August 12, 2005 at 4:09PM
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douglas14(z3/4 MN)

There are some excellent non-antique apples that have been developed at the University of MN.
Two of my favorites are Chestnut Crab and Keepsake(late keeping apple). The U of MN Applehouse in Chanhassen is a great place to sample varieties. You can even try(and purchase) some numbered varieties, that haven't been released to the public. One of the finest apples I have ever had, was a numbered variety there. It's one of the parents to Keepsake and Sweet 16. Not very big, but packed with a very pleasing and unique flavor(I'd say berry-like, don't ask what kind of berry?).

Douglas(who's interest in antique apples, slightly pre-dates his interest in heirloom vegetables. You gotta love those terms-antique and heirloom).

    Bookmark   August 13, 2005 at 4:44PM
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Nushka_IA(4b IA)

Hi Templeflower-

I too am in 4b (down in Iowa) and am also interested in planting an heirloom apple or two, and I'm finding that not all apple varieties are equally hardy. Catalogs will list apples as hardy to -40 or so, but some apparently aren't, or they bloom too early, etc.. Trouble is, it's hard to find out just how hardy specific varieties are! I may just take my chances on a 4-way grafted tree from One Green World, with a Spitzenburg, Cox's Orange Pippen, Caville Blanc d'Hiver, and a Braeburn (don't know how that last one snuck on, but at least it's supposed to be hardy). Another thing I've found out (the apple lady at the farmer's market told me this a.m.) is that Macs aren't terribly disease resistant. But sometimes you just gotta grow what you love! Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2005 at 5:14PM
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Karen Jurgensen

Hey Nushka- Can you give me some info on that nursery? I've seen 4 way grafted trees, but none with varieties I'm interested in... It sounds like that has a nice mix of apples I'm actually interested in trying out! I'm going to try to get the "new" more disease resistant variety of macs, I just hope they taste the same as the old fashioned ones! I think the variety is called "Mac-free" (as in carefree- yeah right!)

Templeflower :)

    Bookmark   August 22, 2005 at 12:10PM
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Nushka_IA(4b IA)

Here's the url for the 4-way tree:


If for some reason that doesn't work (their website was just reconstructed, and on top of that I'm a bit of a clueless Luddite at times), their homepage is:


They've got a lot of the varieties recommended above by posters but, again, being in Oregon they seem a little blase about the hardiness issue. They do have a fabulous selection of obscure fruit, though!


    Bookmark   August 22, 2005 at 5:17PM
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Decisions,decisions.There are so many wonderful apples available to try. I grew up in an area of Maine that was solidly zone 4 and we had a tremendous variety of apples to pick from. Some of my favorites were and are: Early apples:Duchess and Red Astrachans (very cold hardy, good for eating and cooking until fully ripe...then soft and mealy), Mid season apples: Snow, Mother, Hubbardston Nonesuch, Golden Russet, Wolf Rivers, Holstein, Tompkins County Kings, Ashmeads Kernels, and Chestnut crabs. Some are better for eating and some are better for baking and sauce. For late varieties I prefer Pomme Gris, Melrose, Calville Blanc and Black Oxfords. One confounding problem that you will have if you go by other people's favorite lists is that some of these apples vary in flavor and character depending upon the soil type and climate, so your best bet may be to scour the local orchards trying everything you can find in your area, then make your own choices. If you want to try a number of varieties but want to limit your number of trees, then start grafting. It's easy to do and quite practical since you may not want a whole tree worth of one variety. My backyard currently has 7 trees holding 16 varieties. Whatever you do, it's all fun and rewarding.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2005 at 3:19PM
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I have 104 antique apple trees (55 varieties) growing here in East Central Minnesota outside of Hinckley. It does get to 40- here so the ones that have survived and fruited truly grow here. They are planted on various rootstocks. I do experimental plantings in this area of the country for a large heirloom apple supplier to check out hardiness on very old varieties. If anyone would like to discuss these trees and varieties, send me an email

    Bookmark   October 20, 2005 at 11:01AM
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This thread is just what I needed! We are looking to put in a small orchard this spring- have my order ready for St. Lawrence- I am wondering if 20 trees is too big of a job for one year. Also, water. How much water is needed for a new tree? We are planning on drip system.. It is dry here, and cold- 90 day growing season. Any suggestions? Do I go with early, (last frost about June 1), mid, or late? Another thing- what about pears, plums, and apricots? We have some plum trees in our yard now, tiny, great for jam- but I would like an italian type to dry. Does anyone know of a late blooming apricot? I plan on planting plums and apricots by the house for extra warmth- but need a variety for short season. Thank you so much for the great advice on this forum thread!!!!!!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2006 at 12:06AM
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Does anyone know of any other sources for combination apples. I have been considering the onegreenworld combo for a while, but the braeburn seems like a waste of a limb.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2006 at 5:49PM
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Personally I consider Wolf River good for apple sauce and not much else.
Agree with Carolyn about Honeycrisp - a truly delicious apple even if it is modern.
And how about Northern Spy? I had one for lunch and let me tell you, the flavor, crispness and juiciness is hard to beat. Makes an excellent pie as well.
However, if I was going to plant an apple tree, I'd go for one of the new resistant varieties - Empire, Macfree or Liberty. Trying to keep some of those old varieties disease free is uphill. Some of my earliest memories are being told to stay out of the orchard because the spraying rig was in action (in those happy days we used arsenic and lime sulfur).

    Bookmark   January 10, 2006 at 6:49PM
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How much work are the heirloom apples going to be? Have ordered a mixture of old varieties and new ones - so guess we'll find out. About harvesting apples, how exactly does one know when the apple is to be picked? I have the hardest time with the tree in my yard! Is it a matter of taste? How hard of a frost can they withstand? If necessary, can you pick them before they are perfectly ripe?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2006 at 8:14PM
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redbrick(z6a PA)

You may be able to find a local fruit growing club in your area. Either do a web search, check with Nafex (North American Fruit Explorers), or contact living history museums in your area. When I joined Backyard Fruit GRowers (based in Lancaster PA) I got to learn to graft, as well as gaining access to about 300 varieties of apples, pears, small fruits, et cetera. They also host an apple tasting meeting for members every fall. perhaps there is a local group in your area?

Last fall I attended the tasting meeting and tried a wonderful apple called Ditlow's Hardwinter, which tasted like the perfect candy-apple apple. You know, the perfect blend of crisp, sweet, and tart, and big, too. Unfortunately, the only member who lists the tree just passed away in December. His name was Bob Ditlow. Somehow, I don't think the names are a coincidence.

If you learn to graft, you can make your own multi-variety trees with YOUR choice of varieties. You can also grow dwarf trees and espallier them to walls, fences, trellises...well you get the idea. Dwarf trees are also much easier to care for, since you can reach the tops much easier. I spray mine with an organic horticultural oil (when I remember). Of course, I'm not selling them and I don't mind a few bug spots. If I did, I'd be more diligent with the oil.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2006 at 7:56AM
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If you are interested in antique apples and what earlier Americans did with them and customs associated with them, you might be interested in the chapter "Comfort Me With Apples" in the book "Old Time Gardens" by Alice Morse Earle, just reprinted. Some good photos too, like strings of apple slices drying on the side of an old barn in New Hampshire. Apples were one of the most important foods for early Americans--for both eating and drinking. It's great so many people are interested in growing these antique varieties.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2006 at 9:31AM
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brandywine_pa(z6 PA)

I have four antique apples on my small property.

No contest, "Wealthy" is the favorite. It is just unbelievably, cry-with-joy, good.

It is early and does not keep -- you just have to eat 'em fast. Also good for freezing for pies.

My husband is allergic to raw apples and stone fruits. Yes, I know that's weird. He just doesn't eat them, hasn't for decades. I grow berries so he can have some home-grown fruit. But when the Wealthy tree is bearing, he will pop several allergy pills and dig in.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2006 at 1:29AM
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If you are still looking for apple varieties, I have one to suggest that is called Wealthy for the time period you were asking about. It is a mid October apple and keeps fairly well, and, it is one of the best in crispness, sweetness and being a red eating apple.
It is zone 3 and a foundling just north of you in Canada.
(The Minnesota apples of Connell Red, Fireside and Honeycrisp tend to be so sweet that if you constantly eat them as in a box full that you will tire of them. They though are recent introductions not of a 1880 origin.)
The older apples tend to be bland like the Prairie Spy to sour like Wolf River. I have Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple Spitzenberg, and while I am almost zone 3 here it is a zone 5 apple listed. It though like it's description does not produce alot of apples.
Some people like MacIntosh for an early eating apple in September as a pollinator for Wealthy. They though are not keepers and loose their appeal when the later apples come along. Mac though does make wonderful jelly.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2006 at 8:09PM
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foolyap(z5 MA)

redbrick, I recently subscribed to The Heirloom Gardener, and read with interest your article about the "Ditlow's Hard Winter" apple. Google led me here. :-)

I'm curious how things have gone for your grafts?

And, how long will it be before you're selling trees? :-)

--Steve in central MA

    Bookmark   August 18, 2007 at 9:03AM
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I friend of mine said that his Dad always claimed that the Gravenstein apple was the best. But he never actually saw his Dad eating one. So he thinks his Dad just likes to say "Gravenstein."

Here is a link that might be useful: The Heirloom Orchardist

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 7:10PM
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Just found this site and had to join up...A lot of great stuff here.I have some property in western NYS where I grew up and have a very old Weathy apple tree. I will second some above comments regarding the singular and superior flavor of that apple. I have never met an apple I didn't like and have probably sampled hundreds of varieties in my life. but I've always gone back to the wealthy variety. I think it was one of the first hybrids out of MN and developed a reputation as a great cider apple, though it is also a great pie apple and makes an almost too potent to eat apple sauce. It's one drawback is that it does not keep, as someone had already mentioned. you need to pick it and do something with it right then as it turns to mush after a few days. I don't know about other trees, but my tree seems to be long-lived. I have a photo taken in August, 1899 of a sunday social and the tree is there in the picture, though it looks to be only 4-5"DBH and maybe 12-15' tall. I would definitely recommend this variety as well as varieties others mentioned, including Northern Spy and Spitzenburg. Best of luck in your apple growing adventures!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 1:21AM
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Cinnamon spice and summer banana are 2 of my favorites.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2013 at 4:56PM
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My favorites are King David, Snow apple, NW Greening (makes a great pie), and Jonathan.

A lot of people like Tolman Sweet and Caville Blanc too.

Lots to try. I once tried Winter Banana and found it was not
my favorite for fresh eating although it was very nice as
a cooking apple.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 11:23AM
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