Heirloom Apples

The children of some distant day, thus to some aged man shall say, “Who planted this old apple tree?” — William Cullen Bryant

At the Orchard at Altapass, the answer to that question is “The Clinchfield Railroad.” Creighton Lee Calhoun, noted pomologist and author of Old Southern Apples, defines heirloom apples as those varieties that were grown prior to the time when “groceries” became the main source of fruit for most people, which he believes was the late 1920’s. Many of our apple trees were planted by the original owners, making them heirlooms in every sense of the word.

Apple history is from “Old Southern Apples” by Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr. Learn more about Creighton Lee Calhoun in this 2011 New York Times article.

Our Apples

You may purchase apples by picking them yourself or ones already packaged in the store. If you choose to pick the in-season apples, purchase a bag at the store and go out the orchard to see the different types of apples and even give them a taste before you choose! We supply picking poles so you can get to ones in the higher branches. Apples are sold by the peck ($10), which is approximately 8 dry quarts, or a half peck ($6).

In the following section, you’ll find information about the uses and ripening periods of all of our apples, as well as a bit of history of our heirloom apples. The apples are listed in order of ripening, earliest to latest.

The geography of the Orchard is well suited for apple growing. Located on a southeast-facing slope, it is frost free most of the time. On crisp spring nights when the blossoms are susceptible to frost, cold air slides down the mountain, where it is replaced at the Orchard by warm air. The rising sun likewise helps to protect the young fruit by quickly warming the slope at sunrise. State-champion apples were once grown at the Orchard, and at its peak, 125,000 bushels of apples a year were packed and shipped via the Clinchfield Railroad.

There are over 40 apple varieties at the Orchard. The earliest to ripen, in June, is the Yellow Transparent. It has a pale yellow skin and its sour taste and relatively short shelf life make it ideal for apple sauce. The red York Imperial apple, also referred to as the “Lop-eared Johnson,” got its nickname from its crooked appearance. The Virginia Beauty is a local favorite with its deep red color and yellow “bonnet” at the top. Other apples include the Grimes Golden, Rome Beauty, Golden Delicious, Stayman-Winesap, King Luscious, and Red Delicious. Most of these varieties are available from mid-September to late October.

Lodi – Yellow Transparent

Lodi is the first apple of the season, ripening in early July. A tart apple, Lodi is known mainly for making applesauce because it cooks down very quickly.

McIntosh

McIntosh apples can vary in color from whitish yellow to greenish blushed with red. It is a crisp, juicy, aromatic variety that is ripe in late August.

McIntosh History

In 1796, nineteen-year-old John McIntosh had a disagreement with his parents over a love affair and emigrated from New York state to Dundas County, Ontario, Canada. He exchanged his Canadian farm in 1811 for a nearby farm owned by his brother-in-law. Finding some seedling apple trees on overgrown land, Mr. McIntosh moved them near his house. By 1820, one of these was bearing excellent apples, and Mr. McIntosh sold seedlings of this tree to other settlers. Someone taught Mr. McIntosh how to graft about 1835, and he then began selling grafted trees of this favorite apple, locally known as McIntosh Red. John McIntosh’s son, Allan, continued to sell apple trees after his father’s death, but it was not until 1900 or so that McIntosh became popular in the northern United States. The original tree near the McIntosh house was badly damaged when the house burned in 1894. It finally blew down in 1910.

Golden Delicious

Our Goldens have a red blush! This is because they are not picked before they are ripe and ready. This makes them crisp, sweet, and pungent – unlike most of those found in grocery stores. They are great for snacking, and very fine for pies, cobblers and baked apples. Golden Delicious hold their shape well when cooked. They are harvested in mid-September through mid-October.

Grimes Golden

People visit from miles away to pick this parent apple of the Golden Delicious. The Grimes Golden is ready to pick in early September. It’s sweet, delicate flavor is prized for eating, cider, and jelly. It makes particularly fine apple butter.

Grimes Golden History

About 1790, Edward Cranford planted apple seeds for an orchard on his farm in what is now Brooks County, West Virginia (but then part of Virginia). In 1802, he sold his farm to Thomas P. Grimes who found one of the seedling trees producing fruit of a golden color, fine quality and good keeping ability. Mr. Grimes sold fruit from this tree to traders who took flat boats down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. Despite its excellence, for half a century Grimes Golden was little known outside of its local area. It was shown at the 1855 meeting of the Ohio Pomological Society by an Ohio nurseryman but failed to attract public attention. It was not until it was highly praised in the The American Agriculturist magazine in 1866 that Grimes Golden became widely popular.

Stayman Winesap

Cooks and cider makers make annual visits to The Orchard to pick our Staymans (locally called Stayman-Winesaps). They are also the choice of people who like hard, crisp, medium tart eating apples. No matter how many Stayman we are able to harvest, we always wish we had more. Available late September.

Stayman-Winesap HIstory

This apple originated with Dr. J. Stayman who planted seeds of Winesap at Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1866. When the seedling trees were two years old, Dr. Stayman selected the best dozen young trees and moved them near his house. The tree now called Stayman bore its first fruit in 1875, and the other seedlings fruited soon thereafter. Dr. Stayman sent out scions of several of the most promising of these seedlings to nurserymen in various states for further testing. The numbering system Dr. Stayman used for these scions produced considerable confusion at first, but this one variety was so superior that it eventually became known as Stayman’s Winesap. The original tree in Leavenworth was destroyed in a storm in 1899.

Magnum Bonum

Magnum Bonum is called the “king of fall apples” because of its fine flavor. The skin is yellow and mostly covered with light red. It begins ripening in late September and may be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Magnum Bonum History

An 1856 North Carolina nursery catalog gives the most information about the origin of Magnum Bonum: “Raised by Mr. John Kinny from a seed of the Hall apple, in Davidson County, North Carolina, in 1828. Named by Dr. W. R. Holt of Davidson.” (Mr. Kinny is referred to in another catalog as Squire Kinney.) The original name of Magnum Bonum was officially shortened to Bonum by the American Pomological Society in its misplaced zeal for single names for apples. Most southern nurseries continued to list it as Magnum Bonum, and this is the name universally used by Southerners.

Rome Beauty

Rome is the classic pie apple – firm and tart, and holds its shape. Our supply of Rome Beauties is limited. Romes are available in late September.

Rome Beauty History

In the spring of 1817, Zebulon and Joel Gillett and their brother-in-law, Nathanial Pritchard, bought some fruit trees from Israel Putnam, a nurseryman in Marietta, Ohio. The young trees were carried by flat boat to newly purchased land in Quaker Bottom, Rome Township, Lawrence County, Ohio. Because Mr. Putnam’s practice was to graft very low and pull dirt up over the graft, many of the young trees had thrown up sprouts from the seedling rootstock below the graft. The legend is that Joel Gillett pulled off a partially rooted sprout and handed it to his young son Alanson, saying: “Here is a democrat, you can have it.” Alanson planted the ungrafted sprout in the corner of the orchard, and within a few years it began bearing large, red apples. It was named Rome Beauty for Rome Township and was first described in an 1846 issue of the Magazine of Horticulture. The original tree was washed away by the Ohio River in 1860.

Virginia Beauty

Locally this is the favorite! With a tender fruit, a very heady apple taste, and aroma that deepens after it is picked and wrapped in newspapers for several weeks. Its color is wine with gold russeting at the stem. Locals make milk shakes from very ripe Virginia Beauties. It is also good for cobblers, pan-fried apples, and extra-sweet eating. Available late September.

Virginia Beauty History

Virginia Beauty is a good example of an apple grown for many years in a local area before its qualities were widely recognized and larger nurseries began selling it. The original tree grew from a seed planted about 1810 in Zach Safewright’s yard within the Piper’s Gap District of Carroll County, Virginia (at that time still part of Grayson County). This original tree began bearing apples about 1826. A man named Martin Stoneman, who did grafting for local people, took scions from the tree and grafted it throughout Carroll, Grayson, Wythe and Pulaski counties. It was first called Zach or Zach Red, but about 1850 Mr. Stoneman began calling it Virginia Beauty. It was not until 1869 that a major nursery, the Franklin Davis Nursery of Richmond, began selling Virginia Beauty and extolling its many good qualities. The original tree stood until 1914.

Wolf River

Wolf River apples are our second largest apple. Only a fair eating apple, it is best as a cooking and drying apple. It is prized for making apple butter. Wolf River begins to ripen in late September.

Wolf River History

Wolf River originated with William A. Springer, a Quebec lumberman. About 1856, Mr. Springer moved his family by wagon from Canada to Wisconsin. On the way, on the shore of Lake Erie, he bought a bushel of large apples, probably Alexander. Mr. Springer saved some seeds and planted them when he reached his new farm, which was located on a little stream called Wolf River near Fremont, Wisconsin. Wolf River originated from one of these seeds. Mr. Springer is reported to have sold the tree (and probably his farm) to a man named Henry Riflen before it fruited.

Yates

Yates is a small apple, but it is prized for the excellent cider it produces. It is juicy and keeps well. Yates apples being to ripen in late September.

Yates History

Yates originated about 1844 with Matthew Yates of Fayette County, Georgia, and was often called Red Warrior in the South.

King Luscious

The largest apple we grow (it’s huge) is very juicy and sweet – fine for eating and for light cooking. The King Luscious are best picked in early October.

Royal Limbertwig

Royal Limbertwig apples somewhat resemble Red Limbertwig but they are larger and do not keep as well as Red Limbertwig. The fruit is large and the skin is greenish yellow with a slight red blush on the sunny side. The flesh is yellowish, juicy, tender, and slightly acidic. Royal Limbertwig is begins to ripen in early October.

Royal Limbertwig History
[Limbertwig] is not a single apple variety but rather a very large family of apples. It is difficult to say what exactly holds this family together — what trait the various kinds of Limbertwigs have in common. … The late and lamented Henry Morton had his own idea of what holds together the Limbertwig family, and he did more than anyone else to save old Limbertwig varieties. Mr. Morton was a full-time Southern Baptist preacher and a part-time nurseryman living near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Gatlinburg was important Limbertwig country at one time when there were commercial orchards around Gatlinburg and in the adjacent Smoky Mountains. … Mr. Morton said, “Limbertwigs vary in size, shape, color, quality and tree habit, but they all have one distinguishing characteristic and that is their distinct Limbertwig flavor. No other apple that I have ever tasted has this particular flavor of Limbertwig. Once a person has tasted a Black Limbertwig or a Royal Limbertwig, one can then be able to determine if a variety is a Limbertwig”

Arkansas Black

Arkansas Black is a beautiful apple and a good keeper. The fruit is medium size, nearly round. The skin is yellow, covered with deep red, almost black on the sunny side; dots numerous, small, white. Arkansas Black begins to ripen in early October.

Arkansas Black History

The original tree is thought to have been a Winesap seedling in the orchard of a Mr. Brattwait, one mile northwest of Bentonville, Arkansas, and bore its first fruit about 1870. Arkansas Black is a beautiful apple and a good keeper, but the tree is not very productive. The apples are rock hard when first picked but soften and improve in flavor with storage.

York Imperial

York is lopsided with a dull skin, but has a fabulous flavor and firm texture that improves when kept for months in a cool place. (Its odd shape is responsible for the alternative name “lop-eared Johnson.”) It contributes heavily to the great taste of our late fall cider and apple butter. Fine for eating and all cooking purposes. This apple gets sweeter the longer you keep it. Available early October.

York Imperial History

York Imperial originated near York, Pennsylvania, on the farm of a Mr. Johnson. It was a chance seedling which grew up near the turnpike. Mr. Johnson was an invalid and spent a lot of time at his window watching people on the road. He noticed that schoolboys would stop at the seedling tree in the early spring to gather apples from under the leaves on the ground. Fascinated with this keeping ability, Mr. Johnson notified a local nurseryman named Jonathan Jessup who began grafting and selling trees about 1820 under the name of Johnson’s Fine Winter. There were few buyers for these fruit trees, so Mr. Jessup discarded his surplus trees near a road on his place. Nearby farmers who scavenged up the discarded trees soon realized the many good qualities of this apple. About 1850 or so, Johnson’s Fine Winter was brought to the attention of the famous pomologist Charles Downing who pronounced it “the Imperial of Keepers” and suggested it be named York Imperial. (Even so, many southern nurseries continued to sell it under the name Johnson’s Fine Winter until after the turn of the century.) In 1871, the American Pomological Society recognized the merits of York Imperial, and it began being sold by many nurseries, eventually becoming the leading variety in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. It seems to have really taken hold in these states about 1895, being grown as a high-quality, good-keeping apple to compete with Ben Davis, then flooding eastern markets from the Midwest and Arkansas.

A bronze plaque commemorating York Imperial is located in the Apple Hill Medical Mall about two miles from the York Hospital in York, Pennsylvania. This site was part of Jonathan Jessup’s farm and nursery.

Red Delicious

Our “Red” Delicious is a favorite lunch box apple. It is a long lasting, sweet eating apple. We also grow a few of the old-fashion Stark Red, an ancestor of Red Delicious. Available mid-October.