Local farms offer rare apple varieties | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Local farms offer rare apple varieties

"People need to be adventuresome. You'd be surprised what's out there."


Try this: Walk into your supermarket and ask for a Goldrush apple. Chances are, you won't find it. But that's Don Kretschmann's "hands-down favorite" apple.

The owner of Kretschmann Farm describes the Goldrush's complexity as "sweet, but with tart overtones ... an apple you want to savor because you can't easily figure out why it tastes so good."

But with the proliferation of grocery stores after Word War II, jarred applesauce became the norm, apple pies became packaged and customer preferences shifted toward blemish-free, shiny fruit — a cosmetic ideal many varieties can't meet. So names like Red Delicious and Gala have come to signify America's fruit, while sales are bittersweet for varieties like Stayman, York, Baldwin and Winesap — subtly nuanced apples that are rarely sold commercially.

Fourth-generation farmer Reed Soergel tends the 31-variety apple orchards of his family's 1850 farm. Soergel wistfully recounts people buying apples by the bushel, purchasing them directly from farms to be stored and used as a "main food product." Apples were selected for distinct properties and specific uses: one type for pies, one for applesauce. "The attitude was, why buy it when you can make it fresh?" says Soergel.

Now, Americans favor convenience: Why make it fresh when you can buy it? The trend threatens lesser-known apples with a vicious cycle: The fewer varieties of apple that are offered, the fewer the public desires — and the fewer that are grown.

Help change the cycle by visiting a farmer's market or orchard to stock up on Empires, Goldrush (coming in now) or "Soergel's Special," a variety grafted from a sapling that sprouted under Mary Kay Soergel's window — from her discarded applesauce seeds.

"[People] need to be adventuresome," Kretschmann says. "You'd be surprised what's out there."

And luckily, the process seems to be a win-win for consumers.You can try tasty fruit while repopulating produce aisles and orchards with a diverse selection of America's apples.

"It's like restoring old cars," says Soergel. "Some of the older ones are a higher quality than the new. The paint job just isn't as nice."

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