Along my driveway in Capon Bridge there is an old abandoned apple tree that I’ve been watching all season. Although Hampshire County may not have the number of orchards it did at one time, I bet a lot of you still have old abandoned apple trees just like the one along my driveway.

I have no idea what type of apple the mystery tree is – most likely it’s a good ol’ York, but with the vast diversity of the apple world it’s difficult to tell. There are around 2,500 types of apples grown in the United States, and 7,500 grown around the world.

Many of these apples are considered heirlooms. Heirloom usually refers to seed that has been passed on for many generations, or in the case of apples, budwood. Apples require cross-pollination so the seeds have genetic material from both “parents” and will create seedling trees with all new characteristics (just like a human child).

Apples are so incredibly diverse because each seed could represent a completely new cultivar. When growers discover or breed a good quality apple, they use budding or grafting to ensure the characteristics of the fruit are always the same.

Many apples are found as chance seedlings. A chance seedling refers to a good-tasting, valuable apple that was found growing wild. West Virginia’s own “heirloom” Golden Delicious was a chance seedling found in Clay County.

Different types of apple varieties have been passed on for generations because of the multiple uses of apples. Historically, homesteaders had apples for baking, fresh eating, storage, applesauce, cider, etc. These apples weren’t only different in their uses —but apples are diverse in their bloom time, harvest time, bloom color, disease resistance and some insects even prefer one type of apple over another.

With all this data, growers and backyard orchardists alike can plan out an entire harvest season by selecting cultivars with unique characteristics.

Due to the increased interest in local foods, antique or heirloom apples have experienced a boost in popularity at farmers markets. Many antique varieties have unusual flavor and appearance.

Many of these varieties can only be found at farmer’s markets or co-ops because they cannot be shipped and preserved like many modern apples. Although not commercially grown, many heirloom apples are great for backyard growing. Choosing an heirloom cultivar more adapted to our region could result in lower pest and disease pressure.

Increasing hard cider sales is one reason for the rise in popularity of heirloom apples. To produce high quality hard cider, it’s best to use cider apples – the ones you typically don’t find in grocery stores.

Some growers have started producing cider apples again, but the demand for cider apples has outstretched the supply. Each unique cider apple has specific qualities that lends to the taste of cider. WVU Extension researchers have established heirloom apple orchards featuring many cider and heirloom apples in Morgantown and Kearneysville.

Here they are researching apples that may be valuable for cider making in the unique landscape of West Virginia.

Look for these unique heirloom cultivars:

• Early Transparent – A favorite for apple sauce making. This apple ripens in July and is a large, culinary apple from Russia that was found as a chance seedling around 1850.

• Golden Russet – This apple was first discovered in upstate New York during the 19th century. An excellent apple for eating, cooking and for juicing. Golden Russet is back in popularity because its juice is ideal for sweet cider and hard cider production

• Grimes Golden - This West Virginia apple is almost certainly a parent of Golden Delicious. Grimes Golden was found in Brooke County in the 1800s. It is a medium to large, bright, golden yellow, all-purpose apple good for desserts and baking.

• Virginia Beauty – Found before 1820 in southwestern Virginia. A medium large, glossy red apple that ripens in October and is best for fresh eating.

• Roxbury Russet – Said to be the oldest apple originating in North America, it can be traced back to the colonial era. Roxbury Russet has some disease resistance and is a great storage apple.

• Fallawater – A popular backyard apple for West Virginia gardens, the Fallawater was found before 1842 in Bucks County, Pa. It’s a very large apple that ripens from green to yellow green. Great for applesauce, baking and fresh eating.

• Harrison – Found in the early 19th Century in Essex County, N.J., Harrison is a small round apple, yellow with light pink blush, is resistant to apple scab, and ripens in late fall. Harrison is prized for cider making and is also a great eating apple.

• Smokehouse - A large, flattish, apple yellow with red stripes. Has excellent cider flavor and is good for cooking, eating, baking and is a great keeper. Smokehouse originated on the farm of William Gibbons near Millcreek, Pa., in the early 1800s. Typically harvested in October.

Apple-Cinnamon Syrup

  • 6 cups apple juice, fresh or bottled (without added calcium)
  • 3 sticks cinnamon, broken
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 cups corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Combine apple juice and cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Simmer 5 minutes; set aside. Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan; boil to 230 degrees.

Add apple juice, cinnamon sticks, and corn syrup to sugar syrup; boil 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice. Remove cinnamon sticks.

Ladle hot syrup into a hot jar, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Clean jar rim. Center lid on jar and adjust band to fingertip-tight. Place jar on the rack elevated over simmering water (180  degrees) in boiling-water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.

Lower the rack into simmering water. Water must cover jars by 1 inch. Adjust heat to medium-high, cover canner and bring water to a rolling boil. Process pint jars 10 minutes (below 1,000 feet elevation) 15 minutes (1,000-3,000 feet elevation). Turn off heat and remove cover. Let jars cool 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner; do not retighten bands if loose. Cool 12 hours. Check seals. Label and store jars.

Source: Iowa State University Extension

Apple Nachos

  • 1/3 cup dried, unsweetened cranberries or raisins
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, unsalted
  • 2 Tbsp. hulled, unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 3 medium apples (red or green), cored and thinly sliced (about 12 pieces per apple)
  • 1 to 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. hot water
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat, smooth peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp. honey

In a small bowl, combine dried cranberries/raisins, almonds and sunflower seeds. Core each apple and thinly slice into about 12 pieces each. Layer half of the apples onto a large plate or platter. If the apple slices will be sitting out for a while, sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent browning.

Using a microwave oven or teapot, bring 2 Tbsp. of water to a boil. In a small bowl, combine hot water, peanut butter and honey. Use a spoon and stir until mixture is smooth. Use a spoon to drizzle the peanut butter mixture over the plated apple slices; sprinkle with half the cranberry mixture. Layer the remaining apples on top and repeat with remaining peanut butter and cranberry mixture. Serve.

Adapted from: NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition

Baked Apples and Sweet Potatoes

  • 5 medium sweet potatoes
  • 4 medium apples
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 Tbsp. honey

Boil potatoes in 2 inches of water until almost tender. Cool potatoes, peel and slice. Peel, core and slice apples. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Grease a casserole dish with a small amount of margarine. Layer potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of apple slices. Sprinkle some sugar, salt and tiny pieces of margarine over the apple layer. Repeat layers of potatoes, apples, sugar, salt and margarine. Sprinkle top with nutmeg.

Mix the hot water and honey together. Pour over top of casserole. Bake for 30 minutes.

Source: University of Kentucky Extension Service

Healthier Apple Pie

  • 1-3/4 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp. cold water
  • 6 cups sliced apples (peeling optional)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. sugar (for topping pastry

For crust, mix flour and sugar in medium-sized bowl. Add oil and mix until particles are the size of small peas. Sprinkle in cold water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, and mix until flour is moistened and dough almost cleans sides of bowl.

Divide pastry in half and form into balls. Roll out each between two pieces of waxed paper cut to 2 inches larger than inverted pie pan. Peel off top papers. Place pastry for bottom crust, paper side up, loosely in pan.

Peel off paper and press in place so no air is between dough and pan. Trim off excess with knife.

For filling, toss apples with juice immediately after slicing. Add cornstarch, nutmeg and cinnamon. Mix to coat. Turn mixture into dough-lined pan. Cut slits in pastry for top crust. Place over filling, paper side up. Peel off paper.

Trim overhanging edge of pastry 1/2-inch from rim. Flute edges and sprinkle pastry with sugar. Crimp a 3-inch strip of foil over fluted edge to prevent overbrowning. Bake at 425 for 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble. Remove foil last 15 minutes.

Source: Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service

Microwave Apple Butter

  • 8 medium apples, quartered and cored
  • 1 cup apple cider or juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves

In a 2-quart glass casserole combine the apples and cider. Cover and microwave 8-10 minutes on high power. Stir every 3 minutes until the apples are soft. Press the cooked apples through a food mill or sieve to puree.

Return mixture to casserole dish and add sugar and spices. Microwave uncovered 10-15 minutes on high power. Stir often until the mixture thickens. Hint: Cover dish with paper towel to prevent spattering. Time may vary with different microwaves.

Source: OSU Master Food Preserver Program

Pork Tenderloin with Apples

  •  2 pork tenderloins
  •  Salt to taste
  •  3 strips bacon
  •  1/4 cup cider vinegar
  •  1/4 cup apple juice
  •  1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  •  2 tsp. cornstarch in 2 Tbsp. water
  •  2 apples cored and cut into wedges

Trim pork. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. In large frying pan, fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, crumble and reserve. On medium low heat, add pork to the bacon drippings in the pan. Brown on all sides and cook until thermometer reaches 160 degrees. Remove and place on platter, cover to keep warm.

Combine vinegar, apple juice, water and sugar. Add to pan drippings with apples. Bring to boil and reduce liquid until apples are tender. Add cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened. Add bacon and pour over pork.

Source: University of Tennessee Extension

Pumpkin Apple Muffins

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1-1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1-1/4 cups honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh pureed pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups Granny Smith apples, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flours, baking soda, salt and spices. In a small bowl, combine honey, eggs, pumpkin and oil; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in apples.

Fill greased or paper lined muffin cups, two-thirds full. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until muffins test done. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan.

Note: Can substitute two cups granulated sugar for honey, decrease baking soda by ¼ tsp. and increase oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Source: University of Kentucky Extension Service

(1) comment


"Increasing hard cider sales is one reason for the rise in popularity of heirloom apples. " I'll drink to that Candace! Seriously very interesting information about heirloom apples in WV and else where. I am originally from Western New York State. When I was a kid Wayne County NY was apple orchard heaven. I dont know if it still is though...

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