Heirloom Apples: An American Classic

A look at the history of a Vermont apple orchard that dates back to the late 1700s, and how the orchard manager began to revive the apples trees on the sorely neglected property when a historic preservation trust acquired it in the mid-1990s.  

By Rebecca Martin
Winter 2018

Americans consume a lot of apples — an average of 45 pounds of the fresh and processed fruit per person per year in the United States — so you’d think we know how the fruit should taste. The flavor of ‘Red Delicious,’ ‘McIntosh,’ ‘Gala,’ and other supermarket apples is often described the same way, as “sweet” and “mild.” Therein lays the problem. Beneath their perfect peels, these fruits are uniform, uninteresting, and even bland.

Photo by Scott Farm Orchard

The flavor profiles of heirloom apples, though, stand in stark epicurean contrast. “A lot of our cultivars have pineapple and citrus notes, and one has a nutmeg flavor,” says Zeke Goodband, orchardist for the Scott Farm Orchard in southern Vermont, where 40 acres of trees are in production — more than 3,000 trees. “If we lined up all the trees,” Goodband says, “we’d have 20 miles of rows in our orchard.” Most rows include at least three cultivars, and, in total, the orchard holds more than 125 different apple cultivars. Most are of American provenance and date from the 19th and 20th centuries, but a number of older French and English trees are also protected.

History of the Scott Farm Orchard

The Scott Farm Orchard is a short drive from Brattleboro in southeastern Vermont. You turn off a busy highway onto Kipling Road — named for Rudyard Kipling, who wrote The Jungle Book and Captains Courageous while living there in the late 1800s. The dirt road meanders for a couple of miles past Kipling’s restored home, granite outcroppings, and thick groves of trees. The landscape opens onto a broad meadow dotted with weathered farm buildings and pristine stone fences. A creek spills down the hillside into several small ponds. The scene is quintessentially Vermont.

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