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Spitzenburg Apple

Gwenyn Hill’s Heirloom Apples: Worth the Wait

by Kaylee Richards | As you drive past our curious laying hens and happily grazing cattle along Bryn Drive, you may notice a towering fence set on a hillside, south of the road. It seems out of place, protecting what looks like nothing. I assure you, however, that this fence is protecting seedlings of history. A season of foraging critters and deer nibbling at our orchard buds have offered us here at Gwenyn Hill Farm an opportunity to take out the new and bring in the old. We’ve re-planted our orchard with heirloom varieties of elderberries, peaches, pears, plums, and of course, apples.

The Definition of Heirloom

Ask anyone to define what “heirloom” means to them and you’ll likely hear different responses. In general, when a species is considered to be an heirloom variety, it often refers to historical or cultural significance, and is passed down through generations. The magic of heirlooms, from my eyes, comes from the historical selection for flavor. Each is chosen and cherished rightfully for its complex sweetness or the little zing of spice just before you swallow. Every bite should make you say “Wow, I never knew apples could taste like that!”

The Spitzenburg and the Bramley Seedling

Spitzenburg Apple

When our fruit is finally ready to harvest, (in about 5 years) you’ll be able to twist off and enjoy all the wonderful varieties we’ve selected for the orchard. The Spitzenburg apple dates to the late 1700’s, originating in New York. This yellow-fleshed, candy-striped and freckled fruit is rumored to have been one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorites. He loved them so much he even had them planted in his gardens in Monticello.  Their flavor is known to be unparalleled–sharp, spicy and sweet all in one taste–and sweetens more after a period of storage.

Another lineage you’ll find is the Bramley Seedling, resembling the infamous Granny Smith with its bright green shell rosy from the sun, and greenish flesh. Its firm texture and tart taste made it England’s favorite cooking apple. The seed was planted by a young girl named Mary Ann Brailsford in Nottinghamshire, England, and was named after Mr. Bramley, the landowner and nurseryman who propagated the variety.

Next time you’re wandering the produce section at your local grocery store, take a moment to notice the selection of apples. I’m guessing you’ll find the same ones in the grocery store across town as well. While beautiful and valuable in their own way, big box grocery stores and growers typically choose varieties of apples that grow large, have balanced coloring, and ripen consistently to make production as easy as possible–for good reason! Apples are susceptible to a myriad of pests and diseases. Apples that have cosmetic quirks like scabbing and small, misshapen fruits don’t make the cut for grocery store shelves. These traits make growing organically an even greater challenge, but one that is worthy of the effort here at Gwenyn Hill Farm. With good monitoring and proper training, our trees will bear healthy fruit after 4-5 years of patience, and the reward will surely be delicious!

Kaylee Richards is a new face at Gwenyn Hill this year. She is excited to meet all of the wonderful people who support the farm at each upcoming CSA pickup and Farmers’ Market.

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