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Fresh Things Video: What is an Heirloom Apple?

You may be wondering, what is an heirloom apple?

While there is no true consensus on what defines an heirloom apple, most botanist and food scientists tend to agree that any variety released from 1945 or earlier qualifies as an heirloom.

You may wonder why 1945?

There’s a watershed moment in history, World War II had ended, commercial refrigeration was becoming readily available, and more importantly to us, agricultural scientists started developing and releasing hybridized seeds in a more massive way.

A few of the early varieties:

  • The first one is the Winter Pearmain. This apple was first discovered as a seedling in the 1800’s in Indiana. The name Winter Pearmain has two definitions. First Pearmain originally referred to the shape and flavor of the apples. While this variety doesn’t look like a pear, it certainly doesn’t taste like one, so most people think it comes from the French word “parmaindre” which means to retain. Which given the name Winter Pearmain, it’s a wonderful keeping apple, so that’s what we tend to agree that it is. What do I mean by “keeping apple”? Well, in the days before refrigeration, apples were stored in cellars and this was one of the varieties that lasted a very long time when cured. The flavor of this is honey sweet, it’s got a light texture, it’s a wonderful eating apple, and even great for baking.
  • The second heirloom apple is the Esopus Spitzenburg. This apple was first discovered in Esopus, New York in the 1700s. It was a very highly regarded apple in the 18th century, so much so, that Thomas Jefferson decided to plant it in his orchards in Monticello in Virginia. This apple’s kind of got a Jekyll and Hyde personality. When picked young, the acidity hides the sweetness making it a wonderful cider apple, but as we allow it to cure and let those acids and tannins mellow, the true character comes out with notes of lychee and roses, making this one of the preeminent baking apples and even a great eating apple.
  • The last apple is the Lady Apple. While small in size it’s certainly not small in flavor. This is actually the oldest of all the commercial apple varieties originally discovered in Brittany and northern France in the 1500s. This apple has long been prized by the British and French both originally calling it the “Api”, naming it after the forests in Brittany where it was discovered. It’s got a long association with Christmas because that’s when it became available. It’s a great eating apple, but even more fun, core the bottom out and fill it with a little caramel for an inside-out caramel apple treat.

Check out the full video below:


Various heirloom apples are available during the fall months, they are sporadic in what variety is available and you will want to call your FreshPoint representative before you place your order. Find out your location here.

Content provided by Chef Daniel Snowden, the Director of Culinary Development for FreshPoint Central Florida. He has been in the produce industry years almost 20 years, and loves getting geeky about food. Follow FreshPoint Central Florida on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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