You may have been urged to eat apples when you were growing up, but consuming the fruit in question is a good idea at any age — the health benefits that come from eating apples are well-documented. But it’s also worth pointing out that apples are among the most diverse types of plants out there; if a Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apple isn’t your thing, odds are good that some other variety of apple might be.
Apple varieties have a host of origin stories, from decades-long agricultural engineering feats to a school project, as this Allrecipes article points out. That, in turn, leads to a larger question: just how many varieties of apples are there? Earlier this year, Food & Wine published a guide to 85 different varieties, including the Black Oxford (“[i]ts beautiful, dark, almost purple hue contrasts with its bright white flesh.”) and the Rusty Coat (“though they’re perfectly fine for fresh eating and baking, many like to use Rusty Coats for a sweet cider.”).
While 85 might seem like a lot to keep track of, even that pales in comparison to the number of varieties Tom Brown has sought out over the years. Sydney Page wrote about Brown’s decades-long efforts in The Washington Post, noting that Brown spent 16 years on the trail of the Harper’s Seedling.
In an interview with KCRW’s Good Food, Brown recalled how his long quest into the world of apples began — which began when he and his wife visited a local farmers market “[T]here was a gentleman there that sold Heritage apples. I was just fascinated by all the names, colors, tastes, and shapes,” he told KRCW. “I found out that he had discovered a few of them himself. And I asked him if there were any lost apple varieties in my area. He said there was one Western Forsyth County called a Harper seedling. And I started searching for it.”
As the Post recounts, Brown’s process for searching for lost varieties of apples often involves using historical documents and records, and then getting on the road to scout where they were last seen. Brown also grows apples himself, with hundreds of varieties of apples found on his property.
That isn’t to say that every variety of apple that Brown has tracked down is suitable for a snack or for use in a meal. “For every sweet one there were probably 12 sour ones,” he told the Post. Still, he continues tracking down more varieties, even as he also works to increase the diversity of apples available across the country. And if you’re intrigued by this kind of research, Brown has also written a handy guide to getting into the world of apple detection yourself.
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