Heritage apples are coming back to the region

GREENFIELD – There are perhaps 8,000 varieties of apples in the world. And because they easily cross pollinate, and naturally mutate, orchardists are constantly finding new varieties.

A couple dozen kinds are available at the local supermarket and maybe a half dozen more of the so-called “heritage” apples can sometimes be found at farm stands such at Brookdale in Hollis or Lull Farm in Milford. David Milton at Fitch Farm in Milford, which includes a part of the former Woodmont Orchards, said there were none left in his orchard.

But, according to Rich Stadnik, it is the older varieties that have the flavor and texture to make good cider and great pies. Most, however, don’t have the looks people have come associate with an apple: round, plump, and red- cheeked. Older apples tend to be yellow-striped, or in the case of russets, an unattractive green-brown.

Many long time residents are familiar with Baldwins and northern spies, and nurseries are beginning to stock those again. They keep well in the cellar and were grown before modern climate control. But how many younger people know about the Wolf River (said to be the world’s largest), the snow apple, the big, yellow banana apple, or a Hubbardston none-such? Or maybe a Cornish gillyflower, St. Edmund’s pippin, or Dumelow’s seedling?

“The Book of Apples,” a reference tome by Joan Morgan and Alison Richards, lists these and many more, and it Stadnik’s guidebook.

Locally commercial apples are centered around McIntosh, Cortland, red and yellow delicious, and modern varieties such as honey crisp, as well as a number of imported apples such as Granny Smith. But with the rise in pick-your-own operations and the Localvore movement, some growers are looking at the older kinds, Stadnik said..

“You can get double the money for a russet, but there is an educational factor. A Rhode Island greening doesn’t have the sheen” of a newer apple.

Stadnik, having learned in the 1990s that hard ciders were a “big thing in New York,” is developing an orchard of heritage apples at his home on East Road, many of which he uses in making specialty ciders which he markets under several names including “Great Mischief.”

The best cider, he said, is a mix of varieties, and he is trying various combinations.

Stadnik grew up in the apple country around New York’s Finger Lakes and always had an appreciation for apples. After “working in the software world for ages” in the Boston area, he returned to that interest and began grafting trees, “something to get me outdoors in the fall. I find old apple trees in fields and around old cellar holes” which he grafts onto known root stock. “I have a 30 % to 40% success rate,” he said, which he considers good. He refers top such seedlings, or wild trees, as “feral apples.”

He spoke of one interesting find – just behind the parking lot at Hayward’s Ice Cream stand in Milford. Two trees growing closely side by side, one with yellow apples and the other with red. “Like somebody dropped apple cores out there.”

The fruit is about golf ball sized, but he has grafted some to “see what they will produce under better conditions, fertilized, and sprayed.”

Defining a heritage apple is tricky, he said, since it isn’t just a matter of age.

“Macs were discovered in Ontario around 1811. Some Canadian apple hunters think they have found some early Macs.”

The Cortland, an offshoot of the McIntosh and a Ben Davis, was introduced commercially about 1915.

“The popular notion is that a heritage apple is something unusual, uncommon, a non-commercial variety. A lot of them are not grower-friendly,” he added. “They are great for the homeowner but not commercially viable” since they do not store well. The earliest varieties such as yellow transparent or red Astrikan, ripen a few at a time and go soft quickly. They were much appreciated for the season’s first pies in mid-August.

“There is a lot of interest,” Stadnik said, “but I think it is the local aspect, and farmers are getting a little more per bushel. A handful of growers are getting serious about it, like Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole.”

McLeod’s pick-your-own operations in Milford and Hancock have “the best Baldwins,” he said, and in Milford there are some golden russets.

Rich Stadnik, and Pup’s Cider Company, LLC, can be reached at 547-2000, on the web at www.pupscider,com.