Are you looking to add something new to your apple orchard? Why not consider planting an heirloom variety? Heirloom apples are not only delicious, but they bring diversity and uniqueness to your orchard. They also bring with them a heritage that is unlike the apples you’ll find in stores.
Still not sure? Read on to learn more about heirloom apple trees!
What is an Heirloom Apple Tree?
Although the term “heirloom” is relatively new regarding apple varieties, the apples themselves are anything but. Heirloom apples are apples with origins that can be traced back at least fifty years or more.
Heirloom apple varieties have been carefully preserved and passed down through generations. Most apples you see in your local markets are hybrids that combine attributes from multiple varieties. Heirloom varieties exist in their original or natural forms.
Why You Should Plant Heirloom Apple Trees
You should plant heirloom apple trees for many reasons, but the most important one is that planting heirlooms helps preserve the varieties that might be lost otherwise.
In addition, planting heirlooms creates diversity in your orchard and allows you to have variety when it comes to harvesting and using your apples. Many heirloom apples have unique tastes and flavors that you’re unlikely to find in the more commercial, hybrid apples. So why not give your taste buds a treat?
21 Heirloom Varieties You Should Try
Here are twenty-one heirloom apple varieties that you should consider growing in your orchard:
Known for its dark purple, almost black skin, Black Oxfords originated from Oxford County, Maine in the early 1800s. They have a sweet flavor but also a hint of tartness to them that makes them perfect for eating right off the tree or using in recipes and making cider.
These heirloom apples do well in harsh winter weather and can be kept for up to three months.
Arkansas Black apples have a remarkable dark red hue that deepens as they ripen. Originating in Benton County, Arkansas, in 1840, these apples aren’t the tastiest right if eaten fresh.
They are hard and a bit sour/tart-tasting. However, Arkansas Black apples have an incredibly rich, sweet flavor if stored in the cold for a few months. They keep well and are great for making cider. Check availability.
Baldwin apples have a bit of an interesting history. They originated in
Massachusetts in the 1700s was considered the top apple of choice for New Englanders until 1930, when a terrible freeze wiped out most of the trees. However, the Baldwin is making a comeback. This heirloom apple variety has a sweet taste with just a hint of tartness and is excellent in pies and cider.
Belle De Boskoop
If you’re in the market for the perfect apples for making strudel, then Belle De Boskoop is exactly what you’re looking for. With their tart flavor that sweetens after harvest, these heirloom apples are excellent for cooking and for making cider.
Belle De Boskoop were originally brought over from Boskoop, Netherlands and do well when kept in storage.
Cortland apples are a favorite among home gardeners, given their easy growability. They also have a very light, sweet flavor similar to a McIntosh apple, making them great for baking and eating fresh.
Cortland apples were originally created at the New York State Agricultural Station in Geneva, New York, in the late 1800s/early 1900s. They were named after Cortland County, New York. Check Availability.
Braeburn apples came from New Zealand in the mid-1900s and quickly became an absolute favorite among apple growers and eaters!
They are considered very versatile apples, easy to grow, and produce generous harvests. Braeburn apples are especially popular because of their taste. Straight from the tree they are juicy, sweet, and have natural flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg–just like real apple pie! Check availability.
Golden Russet apples are one of the early American apples, originating in New York in the mid-1800s. This heirloom apple variety has a sweet, honeyed taste that grew in popularity for the delicious cider and juice it yielded. Golden Russets are also great to snack on and do well when dried. Check availability.
These uneven, lumpy apples aren’t going to win any beauty competitions, but they have a rich golden color and are crisp and sweet tasting.
Knobbed Russets pair nicely with cheese and work well in salads. They originated in Sussex, England, in the early 1800s and tended to have harvested in early October, making them the perfect apples to work with for those yummy Halloween treats!
The Melrose apple, which originated in Ohio, is considered to be the state’s official apple. It has a sweet, slightly acidic flavor that comes from being a cross of two other apples, including the Red Delicious.
Melrose apples are easy to grow, even for beginning home growers, and work well with cinnamon, caramel, and butter. Thus, making them a great apple for baking desserts! Check availability.
Holstein apple hail from the Holstein region of Germany and are considered to be an offspring or descendant of Cox apples.
They were discovered in the early 1900s and are known for having a sweet and sharp flavor with a bit of a citrus taste. The apples are large with orange and red skin and great for baking pies and tarts.
Originally from France, Lady apples date back to the 1500s and are considered one of the oldest varieties still grown today.
They are small with bright red skin and taste very sweet. Lady apples are enjoyed best when eaten fresh, but they also make for a good cooking apple and complement meat and chicken dishes quite well. They also keep for a long time.
Lady apples are also called Christmas apples and are popular for use in holiday decorations and dishes.
The Roxbury Russet is another of the older apple varieties. Originally from Roxbury, Massachusetts, this apple is considered America’s first and oldest apple.
It is said that even Thomas Jefferson was a fan of this spicy yet sweet heirloom apple variety. Roxbury Russets are crunchy and work well for sweet cider.
Wolf River apples are an American variety that comes from Wisconsin in the late 1800s. They are extremely popular in the Midwest, which makes sense given their origin.
This tart with a hint of sweet apple is mainly used for baking and must be picked when slightly underripe. Otherwise, the fruit will begin to sour. Check availability.
This apple dates all the way back to the early 1700s and originated in Yorkshire, England. Ribston Pippin apples boast a sweet and sharp flavor and are incredibly juicy.
Many say that the taste of these apples is similar to a pear. However, you’ll need to eat them immediately after harvest as they do not keep very well. These apples are larger, making them great for baking and eating right off the tree.
As their name suggests, Winter Banana apples have a pale yellow color and smell like their namesakes. This particular variety of apple originated in Indiana in the late 1870s and is very versatile. They can be used in cooking, baking, and juicing and eaten fresh.
They also keep well when stored in the cold. Check availability.
The Orleans Reinette is possibly one of the prettiest apple varieties. Originally from France, these apples are a beautiful rosy red with golden undertones.
They are juicy with a slightly spicy flavor, making them a great cooking apple. However, Orleans Reinette doesn’t keep particularly long, so they’ll need to be used or eaten upon harvest.
This small apple may be little, but it packs a big punch in the flavor department. Winesap apples are an American variety that originated in New Jersey in the early 1800s.
It has both a sharp and a tart taste and works well in cider. Once ripe, they sweeten a bit to balance out the tartness. They are medium-sized and keep well. Check availability.
If George Washington himself were to choose a favorite apple, Newton Pippin would likely be at the top of his list. Considered to be one of the oldest American varieties, this pale yellow apple has a sweet taste with a bit of tartness that makes it perfect for snacking, baking, or making cider.
These apples came out of New York in the mid-1800s and were a particular favorite of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It’s versatile and keeps well when stored. Check availability.
Originally from Denmark, the Gravenstein apples were introduced in America in the late 1700s. These apples are crisp, juicy, and have a taste that is a mixture of sweet and tart.
Gravensteins work well for many culinary creations and make for a sweet cider when pressed. They are yellow in color and have a late summer, early fall harvest. Check availability.
Duchess of Oldenburg
These delightfully tart apples are not great to eat fresh, but they work well for cooking pies, tarts, and other desserts.
Duchess of Oldenburg apples were first found in Russia but then taken into England and then America in the early 1800s. This heirloom apple variety keeps well in storage and tends to do well in the Midwest and up north, where harsher winter weather is expected.
Black Gilliflower apples have a distinct, not overly sweet flavor that consumers will love or hate. These dark red apples first appeared in Connecticut in the late 1700s and are often called “Sheep’s Nose” apples due to their odd, slightly oblong shape (resembling a sheep’s nose).
Black Filliflowers are mainly used as a cooking apple and can be difficult to find.
Ready to give Heirlooms a Try?
Now that you know how incredible heirloom apples can be, we hope you’ll try them! Plant a new variety in your orchard–your taste buds will thank you!
And in the meantime,, we encourage you to visit our Apple Trees page for more information on how to grow, care and maintain your orchards.