Resurrecting America's historic apples

Let's go apple picking with Serena Altschul:

In the foothills of North Carolina's Blue Ridge mountains, Lee Calhoun is resurrecting a piece of American history.

"Perhaps 100, 150 years ago there were 6,000 apple varieties that were widely grown," said Calhoun. "And now that's dwindled down to a few hundred."

Calhoun is pruning back the hands of time in an effort to save old Southern apples.

Apples are as American as, well, apple pie.

Brought over by some of the first settlers, apples were a critical part of the early American diet.

They were hardy, nutritious, delicious, and versatile.

"They were fried for breakfast, they were stewed for supper. They were dried on the rooftop to have apples in the wintertime," said Calhoun.

The apple took root particularly in Southern States, sprouting countless varieties with distinctive names like Arkansas Black, Gilmore Winesap, Swiss Limbertwig and Paragon, to name a few.

But as time went on, something happened - and these heirloom varieties started to disappear ...


"Well, you blame it on the railroads," said Calhoun. "Apples could be shipped by railroad from distant places. They didn't need to grow apples anymore."

Over 30 years ago, Calhoun decided to bring back lost apples. He's saved over 500 varieties, some of which are the only ones known to exist.

But saving these apples isn't just about history. It's also about flavor.

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"We have apples that taste like pineapple," said Calhoun, "some that taste like coconut. Some taste like raspberries."

Sixty miles north, in Dugspur, Va., Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider, shares Lee Calhoun's passion for apples.

Flynt uses primarily native Virginia apples to make her award-winning ciders, and, she says there's a reason why: "These uncommon or heritage apples have very complex flavors, and just a richness and depth that is essential for making good, hard cider."

She sees her cider as just the latest expression of an American tradition.

"Cider has been made and consumed in this country since our country's founding," said Flynt. "And I like to think that we are reinventing tradition here at Foggy Ridge."

And interest in the old-time beverage is bubbling up, with restaurants across the country quenching thirsts with hard cider.

Recipe: Cider Cocktail, from The Press Lounge, N.Y.C.

Still, to Lee Calhoun, it all comes back to the apple of his eye:

"To find an apple that I thought was extinct, to find it and then to grow it and taste it for the first time, boy, right here - gets ya'!" he exclaimed.


For more recipes from this year's "Food Issue" click here!


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