According to Karen Palmer of the Washington State University Extension, commercial growers offered over 700 apple varieties in 1892, compared to roughly 50 from large, modern nurseries. These heirloom apple trees had a wide range of color, flavor and sizes, but modern shipping and farming techniques, combined with newer, disease-resistant hybrids, weeded out those apples that bruised easily or were less robust. Nurserymen selected apples that commercial orchards could easily grow, mechanically harvest and readily ship. However, many heirloom apples are wonderful in home orchards, and planting an heirloom apple preserves a small piece of history.
Although the skin is an unassuming yellow, Hidden Rose reveals mottled, ruby pink flesh inside. Many consumers don't realize pink-fleshed heirloom apple trees are available; some assume the flesh is stained with a red fruit juice. This is red-fleshed apple has a rich, sweet flavor. It is also less susceptible to scab than other red-fleshed varieties. Hidden Rose, like many heirlooms, ripens in late autumn. It stores well and is often unevenly shaped.
Upon returning home to Monticello after three years in France, Thomas Jefferson ordered 12 Spitzenberg apple trees from the William Prince Nursery in New York. This American apple tree also traveled to the London Horticultural Society, where an early botanist described it as “the finest eating apple in the world when perfectly ripe.” Heirloom nurseries also call this tree Esopus Spitzenberg, after the town of Esopus, New York, where the variety originated. The flesh is hard and crisp, and the skin is a rusty red speckled with gray. Spitzeberg ripens in September to October.
This variety, over three centuries old, is named after a Gloucester, England physician and remains popular in English gardens. According to R. B. Melrose of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Royal Horticultural Society ranked Ashmead's Kernel as first in a blind taste test. The taste is sweet and strong when fresh, aromatic and rich after storage; this is a favorite of many heirloom orchards for the distinctive flavor. Ashmead's Kernel apples ripen in fall, are medium-sized, and have yellow flesh and russet skin.