Your local farmers market has a seemingly endless selection of heirloom apples, with each bringing its own history and interesting name.
After almost disappearing, apple varieties popular 50-100 years ago have been making a comeback. Discerning farmers market customers can differentiate between a delightfully sweet or tart heirloom apple and the waxed, shiny, almost tasteless varieties available in supermarkets. The heirlooms have distinctive flavor profiles, gorgeous skin colors and crisp bites that are sure to become favorites.
Many of the commercial apple varieties we see in grocery stores are hybrids, combining the favorite attributes of various heirlooms – namely, predictable traits of size, color, transportability and storage life. Heirlooms, on the other hand, are open pollinated and have been passed along for generations in their “pure” form.
These heirlooms are particularly important for genetic diversity, which is essential for increased disease resistance, temperature hardiness and preserving the species. Many apple growers have returned to growing heirlooms.
Gravenstein, Fuji, Pink Lady, Oh my!
Russian fur traders introduced Gravenstein apples to Northern California in the 19th century. The Danes named the variety, which means “gray stone.” It is one of most common heirloom apples and grows mostly in the Sebastopol area.
The heritage Fuji and Pink Lady apples also have long histories. Local farmers brought these apples, among others, back from near extinction because they desired to save older breeds. These farmers and local farmers markets have been first in line to offer these special apples to customers. Direct to market sales have increased their visibility and desirability.
Because they hold their shape, thick-skinned apples tend to be good for baking whole. Try Fuji, Pink Lady or Gala. You might also find the early harvest Gravenstein apple, good for apple sauce, cider and just plain eating. Tart apples are best for baking. Look for Pippin, Granny Smith, Empire or Rome.
There are some wonderful varieties of heirloom apples offered at your farmers market. Rainbow Orchards from Apple Hill in Camino grows quite a few. J&J Ramos Farm and Lujan Farms from Hughson also have nice options, and Cipponeri Farms from Turlock brings tasty apples as well.
The apples range from more common heirlooms like Pink Lady, Gala and Fuji to the delicious Jonagold, Braeburn, Mohawk, Chieftain and Heaven Sent.
Visit your local certified farmers market to find a wide range of this tasty fall fruit, with the farmers who grew and harvested them bringing them to you.
The Concord Farmers Market is in Todos Santos Plaza Tuesdays year-round and Thursdays until Sept. 29, 2022.