Skip to main content

Heirloom Apples: Poverty Lane Orchards Shares What Makes Them Unique and Delicious

Sep 27, 2012 04:17PM ● By Erin Frisch

Heirloom Apples: Poverty Lane Orchards Shares What Makes Them Unique and Delicious

Apples have started rolling in by the peck at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, NH. Family owned and maintained, these orchards grow not only the classic varieties like Cortland, Macintosh, and Gala but also lesser known, equally flavorful “heirloom” apples. I asked Louisa Spencer, wife of owner Steve Wood, what heirloom really means when it comes to fruit.

Louisa explained that heirloom apples are simply varieties of apples that have been around for a long time. As wholesale suppliers grew in the 20th century, supermarkets opted to sell mass-market varieties of apples (think huge, waxy Red Delicious from California). “[People] forgot the merits of the kinds of apples that were so common in the previous 200 years,” she says. Instead of tasting with their mouths, consumers began to “taste with their eyes.” They wanted those shiny, perfect red apples all year-round because, with new bulk refrigeration, they could have them. “There was a . . . feeling that if it was old, there was something wrong with it,” says in reference to the classic species of apples that were pushed  out of the way to make room for the bigger and bolder  versions that looked good sitting in a bowl on the coffee table. Thankfully, people, like the original planters of Poverty  Lane Orchards, appreciated the unique flavors, textures, and aromas of  the older, forgotten fruits.

And that’s not even the most exciting part of what heirloom apples have to offer. When you bite into that “Pomme Grise” variety, French for “Grey Apple,” ponder this—you may be experiencing the same flavor that Louis XIV enjoyed in his courts . . . in the 17th century! There is much to be said for classic taste; these little grey apples have a flavor all their own, a world apart from their mealy and bland supermarket cousins (twice removed, shall we say, by genetic mutation).

Louisa also shared with me Thomas Jefferson’s woeful apple tales. An ardent lover of “Esopus Spitzenberg,” a popular variety in Esopus, New York, during the late 1700s, the president wanted to grow these Northern apples at his Monticello home, where the winters are much shorter and warmer than in New England. Five times he tried in vain to plant and harvest his Esopus Spitzenbergs in Virginia, and five times he was left apple-less. Here in New Hampshire is where Spitzenbergs were meant to be grown, and here is where they hold their own against any supermarket knock-off. We can still enjoy this particularly potent and dense variety, thanks to Poverty Lane Orchard’s "“uncommon apples.” This line includes about thirteen rare varieties, each with a history of its own. These lucky thirteen were revived during the last century, right in our own backyard, because they have stood the test of time and apple-lovers of all ages.

Heirloom apples aren’t great just because they are classics; they’re great because they taste so good. As Louisa puts it, “When people talk about heirloom apples now . . . they’re talking about the ones that deserve to be on the market.” So don’t eat that Esopus Spitzenberg or Pomme Grise because of the big wigs who made them famous. Enjoy them because right here, right now, in New Hampshire’s auburn autumn, they taste the best!

What's the first thing you do after you go apple picking?

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Image's free newsletter to catch every headline