Apple Varieties for Every Occasion

Discover varieties of heirloom apples that you won’t find on grocery store shelves.

  • Gravenstein Apples have an exciting and colorful history. This delicious variety was first discovered in 1669!
    Photo courtesy of
  • Herb Teichman and his wife operate Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm in Eau Claire, Michigan, where they grow more than 200 varieties of apples.
    Photo by Hazel Freeman
  • Golden Russet is one of the most famous old American russet apples. This autumnal beauty is fine-grained with yellowish, crisp flesh, packed with sugary juices.
    Photo courtesy of
  • The apples of days gone by were often used in a variety of ways. While many were multi-purpose, some were better for eating fresh from the tree.
    Photo courtesy of

Henry David Thoreau thought quite highly of apples, calling them “the noblest of fruits.” Planting apple orchards was one of the first tasks early settlers undertook. Most early apple varieties were used to make hard cider, a staple of everyday life back then, and a popular beverage making a comeback today.

From the early 1800s to the early 1900s, the United States had about 8,000 varieties of apples. Tart, sweet, complex, spicy, crisp, aromatic ... the choices were endless. Since that time, more than 85 percent of these varieties have been lost. Only about 11 modern varieties currently make up 90 percent of the apples Americans find on the grocery store shelves. The remaining 10 percent are old-fashioned varieties that are often hard to find, such as Winesap, Northern Spy, Cox Orange Pippin, and Thomas Jefferson's favorite, Esopus Spitzenburg.

Well-known varieties such as Gala, Fuji, Red Delicious, Rome and McIntosh are favored by commercial growers because they ripen consistently together, ship well, and resist bruising, satisfying the current consumer demand for a beautiful, flawless apple. The old saying, “beauty is only skin-deep,” aptly applies to apples. By considering only the perfectly skinned, shapely, shiny apples, consumers are missing out on a vast array of tantalizingly tasty, robust-flavored apples that often put the regular grocery store apple to shame.

For growers and breeders of modern varieties, old apple varieties can be a genetic gold mine, allowing breeders to capture particular traits such as an apple that stores well, breed it into another variety, and combine the good qualities from both. So, it’s important to preserve these genetics for future use.

Thanks to the locavore movement and the growing interest by consumers to know more about the food they purchase and feed their families, and a renewed interest in cider making, many heirloom apple varieties are making a resurgence. We owe a debt of gratitude to dedicated fruit growers who realized decades ago these old varieties were disappearing and made it their life’s work to find and preserve as many of them as they could. One of those dedicated growers was Herb Teichmen of Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm in Eau Claire, Michigan.

A Man & His Apples

The fruit farm, started by Herb’s parents in the early 1920s, now includes the fourth-generation in the family operation. Located 70 miles east of Chicago, the Teichmans' 400-acre fruit farm is located in Michigan’s bountiful “fruit belt.” With its rich, sandy soil, moderating lake-effect weather, and desirable elevations, southwest Michigan has almost ideal growing conditions. Here, small family farms continue to be the mainstay of sustainable agriculture, keeping Michigan a leader in fruit production for well over a century.



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