Rest In Peace Tom Burford

According to his friend Ben Watson, Tom Burford, “Professor Apple,” passed away yesterday. A giant in the apple and cider world. Tom lived to a ripe old age but still had many books and projects in the works. He said years ago he was working on another book- all about crabapples- but apparently he did not get to finish it…

Tom liked to say that good apple pie and good hard cider both need apples that supply
the same four essential ingredients: sugar, acid, tannin and aromatics.

I hope a lot of you had the privilege of attending one of his famous heirloom apple tastings at Monticello where he would hold forth for two hours without notes. I learned two new words from Tom at the tasting I attended: bilious and risible, that he used to describe the apple he loathed: Red Delicious.


Bilious I knew, Risible, so lacking in quality as to be laughable, I did not.
Tom was “Professor Apple” and will be missed.


His work will live on, I’m doing my part growing Burford Pear, Burford Red Flesh, Harrison.


I have his ‘Apples of North America’.


I have an extra untouched copy of Tom’s classic “Apples of North America.”

Free to good home, first person to PM me. Will send after virus all clear.

Update: @NuttingBumpus is the winner.


I have Harrison growing for friends at their orchard. Keenly interested to see how it performs here, so far from New Jersey where it arose. And so far from where Tom Burford made his home.

I am grateful to bloom where I am planted; still hope to rub elbows with folks who have done & know more than I. God bless Tom & comfort all who mourn him.


Here is the obit:


When I was in high school in Virginia in the late 80s, UVA hosted two cross country meets a year - the state championship and the UVA invitational at UVA’s course in Charlottesville. After one of the races one year (my memory is a little hazy) my family and I attended an apple tasting at Monticello. In retrospect I believe Mr Burford probably led it. One particular apple blew my mind. I had never tasted anything like it. It was probably an albemarle pippin? Anyway, I think that experience planted the seed in my mind that grew into my current orchard obsession decades later…


Albemarle/Newtown Pippin is a good place to start. As a kid I remember those at the local grocer locally grown - never got to keep it over winter to find it at its prime for fresh eating. Not until this last winter!

Nick Botner, Lee Calhoun, and now Tom Burford. Working in orchards so long and so well, they knew as well as anyone the cycles of the seasons, the cycles of life, a new generation replacing an older one — but these three gave so much and cannot be replaced.


Beautiful article on Tom in today’s Washington Post:


Was thinking about Tom Burford today and reviewed his list of Twenty Top Dessert Apples. We have 16 of the 20.

American Beauty: a few more years before we can expect apples from it. The only apple tree from Tom’s list that we acquired because it was on Tom’s list.

Blue Pearmain: One of the first varieties we planted. Seven (or maybe even 9) years later, we discovered the tree had been mislabeled. Finally successfully grafted one in 2018 from friends’ scionwood. Really liked the fruit from their tree. Inviting aroma. Not overpowering taste, but a good mix of sweet and tart.

Cox’s Orange Pippin: Had our first fruit last year. Not yet remarkable flavor.

Esopus Spitzenburg: worthy of the esteem it has been given. Hard to wait before deciding they have mellowed in storage long enough to be ready to eat.

Grimes Golden: a favorite and consistently one of the winners in our taste tests.

Holstein: First fruits were disappointing last year. Figured that was because the tree was young. Had waited 6 years. No apples on it this year, so the wait continues.

Kidd’s Orange Red: a favorite among our sweeter apples. Having both Kidd’s and Karmijn convinced me I didn’t need a Rubinette.

Mother: another favorite, but it took me a couple years to figure out when best to pick it. Have also learned that it has much better flavor some years than others. Maybe it is something about my tastebuds, but I rate it much higher than most others do in the taste tests we hold at our annual cider pressing parties. Right now there are both small apples and blossoms on one of our Mother trees.

Newtown (Albemarle) Pippin: First tree died a year after bearing its first fruit (yes, singular), and it was a drop. Two successful grafts, so the waiting begins again.

Pitmaston Pineapple: a lot of punch in its small size. I’m not one who can taste any pineapple, but I like it.

Ralls: too far north (here in the Finger Lajes of NYS), so we are growing an Ingram instead. Ingram is supposed to be earlier, larger, but very similar flavor to its parent. I won’t know, having never seen or tasted a Ralls.

Ribston Pippin: heard it doesn’t do well in these parts, so I never bought or grafted one. Mistake?

Smokehouse: bought one for sentimental purposes. The original grew very near where my parents lived in their retirement years. Its apples have surprised us, though, by winning or finishing high consistently in our taste tests.

Spartan: figured if we had Macoun, we didn’t need a Spartan.

Summer Rambo: another tree that died, and replacement hasn’t fruited.

Virginia Beauty: because of its late flowering, thought it might have a chance here in the north. Still waiting on first bearing. Another variety we bought for a silly reason — we heard it was Doc Watson’s favorite apple. We are folk music fans, and I got to spend some time with Doc Watson when we helped put him on in concert. Not only a great musician, but a lovely, gentle man.

White Winter Pearmain: Not grown — ripens too late for us here.

Winesap (old): another favorite. Bold flavor, but not especially complex. Great keeper. Good for pies, but still prefer Northern Spy over it.

Yellow Bellflower: while young, it was nearly killed by a browsing deer that broke through fencing. That seemed to curb its development in size and productivity, but I don’t know how that could be. Years later, even on Antonovka rootstock, it remains little, and we only get very occasional apples from it. Not remarkable.

Zabergau Reinette: Read from Joan Morgan in the New Apple Book that it is probably same variety of Reinette Parmentier, and since we live on Parmenter Road, we invested in one. Still waiting for first apples, but they won’t come this year.


Lodidian, I’ve grafted 6 from that list in past 3 seasons. Already have an old ‘winesap’. Might try Pitmaston Pineapple sometime.

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That’s a good one. I recommend it.


Thanks for posting this. Good call. How I’ve wished I could hear Tom in person, but alas, he & I lived at opposite ends of the continent.

I found a video of Tom in classic form, ten years ago. @NuttingBumpus
Tom starts at 1:20 or so.

For those who missed seeing Tom in person, I hope you’ll watch this. He covers cider, American history, Jefferson, hates on Red Delicious and predicts craft cider explosion.