How to learn to ID old apples?

Hi again -

Now I’m getting crazy(-ier) for apples, and have started testing the old ones I see around here in the eastern UP.

Most are still a wee early, but a few I’ve tried are fantastic (even if the seeds aren’t brown yet). One I’ve been visiting has apples with the most beautiful smell - vanilla and marshmallowy to my mind (caveat: store marshmallows are disgusting!).

The scent of apples is new to me and I didn’t think of it at first - the ones sold in stores are destroyed with wax (or worse yet, as I found last spring, perfumed wax! I had to throw the whole bag out).

The one (yellow transparent-looking maybe) in my neighbor’s yard is good too. After reading & fretting all the apple-villains (moths. curculio, etc.) I’m amazed/relieved to see that most feral trees are pretty pest-free. If my trees do as well I’ll be satisfied!

Anyway, I see lots of ‘identify this apple for me’ posts here, but nothing on trying or learning the skill of amateur apple ID - like what qualities to document, when, etc.

There’s probably (maybe eh?) some consistency in which apples were planted here 100 years or so ago based on availability & source I guess, so could be the old apples are largely of documented types thus possibly easy to find described, or so I hope/think.

I have been buying some of the apple books old & newer (aboot to spring for Bussey & Whealy I think), but wonder if there’s a best ‘how to (learn to) identify apples’ book (or website or pdf if need be).

I’m far from any source of specialists to consult and most people ignore these old apples as litter (the real garbage is in the stores!) or ignore them, the fools!

My further goal is to (after reading & learning how) getting some scions & grafting some of my favo(u)rites onto my tree(s). I have a pretty husky-looking 3 year-old Wolf River on standard rootstock (near as I can tell, the drawback of buying from the conservation district’s tree sale!) that looks like it’ll have ‘space’ for some guests…


There are 1000’s of apple cultivars. I believe it is a matter of experience.


This is what you seek:

Have fun, you’ve officially entered the rabbit hole!


Beach’s “Apples of New York” provides pretty detailed descriptions and pictures for many varieties, and is likely to cover many of the named varieties that you’d be likely to come across in old orchards in the UP. 1 - The apples of New York - Biodiversity Heritage Library

For a local-history perspective, you might also want to check out Russell Magnaghi’s “Apple Culture in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Wisconsin Border” (2019), Google Books