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Tom Brown, Heritage Apple Saver

“I kept thinking how neat would it be to find an apple nobody’s tasted in 50 or 100 years.”

And now Tom Brown has saved over 1200 varieties of apple that would have otherwise been lost to time. The retired engineer travels thousands of kilometers a week across the USA to find trees that are close to extinction. Apple trees with names like Black Winesap, Candy Stripe, Royal Lemon, Rabun Bald, Yellow Bellflower, and Night Dropper are now growing in his orchard.

“These apples belong to the time of my grandparents and great-grandparents generations,” says Brown, who was raised in western North Carolina.
He says that there are still thousands of varieties out there but it is a race against time to save them. Tom’s two-acre orchard of Heritage Apples, contains 700 of the rarest varieties he has found.

The apple-detective has many apple hunting tales to tell although ironically he didn’t know what a heritage apple was until he stumbled on them at a historic farmer’s market in 1998.

“There was a little stand with a bunch of strange-looking apples laid out in baskets,” says Brown.

Colors ranged from bright green to yellow-streaked, sunset pink, and purplish black. Some were plum-sized, others as big as softballs. They had names like Bitter Buckingham, White Winter Jon, Arkansas Black and Billy Sparks Sweetening. Having a taste of the apple from tasting trays brought a smorgasbord of flavors and textures.
Talking to the vendor Tom learned how the apples had come from old homesteads across Appalachia and it occurred to him that there would be many more if he cared to look. The rest is history.

Commercial orchards in the U.S. grew about 14,000 unique apple varieties in 1905, and most of them could be found in Appalachia, says William Kerrigan, author of ‘Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard’ and a professor of American history at Muskingum University.
The reason there were so many varieties was because drinking water was often unsafe to drink and so cider became to ‘go to’ drink to use instead.

The complete story about Tom Brown, the apple detective can be found HERE.

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