I like trying out old apple varieties as well, or even better than, the newer ones. I think a lot of the new ones are great, although there is a tendency to highlight crunchy sweet / tart apples that sometimes seem too assertive to me. Whatever that means. The oldest ones usually don’t have so much crunch, and often not the candy sweet / tart that I see more of in new apples. I think there is a lot of diversity in older apples, and I like the idea that I’m tasting history. I like that some could be what my grandparents or great, great grandparents grew and enjoyed.
I thought I would share my experiences with the older varieties I’ve grown here. I’m in a maritime Pacific NW climate, chilly Spring, generally very dry summers with long summer days and cool nights, and early fall with more chill and, finally, lots of rain again. My soil is former fir forest, then orchard, then abandoned. The soil origin is highly weathered basalt with minerals leached out, very high iron, high potassium, low calcium and magnesium, high organic matter. There may be some old volcanic contribution.
Most of my old apple varieties are on multigrafts, the scion either from Fedco in Maine or Home Orchard Society scion exchange in Oregon. A few are “one variety” trees - Liberty, Gravenstein, Jonagold. I may convert a couple of others to either one or just a couple of varieties, now that I’ve had a chance to try so many. I’m currently creating a new garden with espaliers and miniature forms for my future, more accessible garden.
Here are my thoughts on some varieties. I called them “old” if a car introduced when they were found or developed would now be a classic or “vintage” car. Some were grown centuries before cars were invented. Just a few are younger than I am. There is a very big difference between an apple grown in the 1600s vs. one from a breeding program in the 1950s or 60s, but I view these as kind of “classic” either way. Some are probably better in the Northeast, or South, or Midwest, than they are here.
Old Apple Varieties
Akane - 1970. (correction - probably 1930s) I know I’m really pushing it by calling 1970 “old”, but this apple doesn’t seem to have the “modern” flavor like the latest varieties. Vigorous, quite productive, no disease issues. Nice clean red apples, Jonathan-like flavor. I think in the top 10 for me, I have a preference for Jonathan and McIntosh - type flavors.
Baldwin - around 1750 - An OK apple, nothing to write home about. No disease issues for me, average vigor. I might remove it, just nothing special for me.
Chehalis - 1937? 1955? Quite a lot of scab. Apples didn’t have much flavor. Bland and soft in my garden. Most is top-worked now with other cultivars.
Granite Beauty - Before 1815. Not much production, apples bland and soft. I think I’ll remove this branch this Spring.
Gravenstein - 1600s. Early apple, tender flesh, wonderful flavor, vigorous tree. Not tart at all for me. I think this is in my top five for flavor, not just “apple” but something more.
Jonathan - 1820s - My nostalgia favorite. My parents had this in their yard. Less vigorous than most apple trees. Smaller apples, great flavor. Jonared is same but redder. Sweet and tart and flavorful. Even though these are not huge apples, that’s fine with me. One of my top five.
Jonagold - 1953 - One of my top 5 favorites. If it’s older than me, it’s an old variety. Vigorous tree. Tends to be biennial. Big, juicy apples with a slight tendency to apple scab. I love this apple. Sweeter than Jonathan, bigger apples with a little tartness.
King David - Late 1800s - Nice smallish apple, somewhat crisp, quite good flavor a bit like Jonathan although I like Jonathan better. I don’t see any disease issues with this one.
Liberty - Does 1955 count as an old apple? Household favorite, no disease issues, great apple flavor with hints of McIntosh. Highly reliable and productive, even on M27 rootstock,
Newtown Pippin - 1750s - I could never get this to grow that well or produce much, and the apples weren’t as good as the ones at the roadside stand. I wanted to like this one. I removed this branch (actually still there but top grafted with Prima).
Porter - Around 1800 - Very nice flavor mild yellow apple. So far seems biennial. Late summer apple. Old fashioned texture. I like this one a lot. No disease issues for me.
Sutton Beauty - 1750s - Average vigor, mild soft tender flesh. Tastes like an old fashioned apple. No disease issues.
I have others but not much, or nothing, to describe yet - Hawkeye, Opalescent, Fameuse, Macoun, Black Oxford maybe a couple others. One of these days I might try Golden Delicious. My goal is a few bowls of apples, some pies, sauce, or dried apples, some fresh eating and some to share, a variety of textures and flavors, from August to November. And not much disease to frustrate me.
Edit: I dont know where I got 1970s for Akane, Wikipedia states introduced to US in 1937. Sorry for the error,