Heirloom Apples

These uncommon heirloom apple varieties are rich with flavors that intrigue and delight.

By Deborah Madison

Photography by Christa Neu


Heirloom apples are tastier than conventional varietesTasting Notes

'Pitmaston Pineapple' is not a pretty apple—small and with leathery dull green skin. But after a few bites, the words "floral, sweet smelling, with a hint of pineapple" were being spoken. A sweet, juicy little apple, perfectly lovely for dessert.

'Calville Blanc d'Hiver', a 16th-century French dessert apple, is a winter apple, one that doesn't ripen until October. It's smooth-skinned, pale yellow, but with tiny red dots and an oddly lumpy shape that reminded me of a 'Wolf River', one of my favorite pie apples. Our group determined that it had an earthier nose than 'Pitmaston' but with a hint of spice. Its faint tartness was appreciated, the acidity balancing its rather full sweetness. Yet it was early in its season and so may not have been at its best. After harvest, it should rest until it develops a gorgeous aroma before being eaten.

'Maiden Blush' was a lovely-looking apple with a rich perfume, but its texture had not held up in shipping. Putting that aside, it was admired for being not only pretty but very fruity, highly perfumed, with complexity and a fleeting tartness.

'Ashmead's Kernel' drew the comment "Now we're talking apple!" Here was another dull-looking, russeted apple that one might easily pass over, but its rough exterior concealed complex flavors that were lively with a tart, acidic edge. This is a famous old English apple that, like the 'Pitmaston Pineapple', is considered one of the finest dessert and cider apples.