Heritage Apples Make a Flavorful Pie

Heritage Apples

As apple pie season is upon us, I’d like to share a few thoughts about this wonderful fruit and how I love to use it in my pie making.

I put as many different varieties of apples in a pie as I can; six to eight is not unusual—some for sweet, some for tart, some that hold their shape when baked and some that don’t. With so many flavors in the filling, each bite is new and fresh, delighting the senses with medley of aroma, color, taste and texture.

We are lucky to have a number of heritage/heirloom varieties in the farmers markets in my area. Here is a short and by no means complete list of some of my favorites:

Cox Orange Pippin
Golden Russet
Bramley’s Seedling
Black Twig
King David
Prairie Spy
Thompson King
Belle De Boskoop

Undoubtedly you will find some regional favorites where you are as well.

I am often asked if I were to put only one variety of apple in a pie, just what would it be. Without hesitation I will choose a Gravenstein. Although usually known for making full flavored applesauce or juice since they are not a great keepers, Gravensteins have a wonderful tart/sweet flavor that is just perfect for pies. They are an older variety and lucky the pie maker who has inherited a tree in his/her yard or knows a neighbor who has one.

I keep the skins or “jackets” as Henry Ward Beecher calls them in his 1863 essay on Apple Pie (see pages 251-255) on, as I feel there is flavor that can add to the pie. Do take a bite of the unpeeled apple. If the taste of the skin is not appealing to you, then slip that “jacket” off with a pairing knife or apple peeler. Rev. Beecher prefers his without.

For further information, here are several articles and books you may find interesting.

“Apples, Apples, Apples”  Verlyn Klinkenborg (NY Times 11/6/09)
“Before the Mac, Vintage Apples”, Anne Marie Chaker (Wall Street Journal 10/27/10)

“The Apple Lovers Cookbook” by Amy Traverso has a listing of 59 varieties of apples, with pictures, flavor profiles and cooking & baking suggestions.

And, the classic two volume set, “The Apples of New York” published in 1905, lists over 400 different apples!

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  1. Emiko says

    I can’t wait to make my first apple pie, now that I’ve taken your class! Thanks again, Kate!

    • says

      Emiko- It was a pleasure making pie with you yesterday in class. You did a great job and I think there will be many more pies in your future. Please keep in touch!

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