The Poetry of the Forgotten Orchard

Rappahannock County, Virginia produced nearly a million bushels of apples in its peak year. But what kinds of apples did we once grow? Here’s a partial listing…and some are still available, if you know where to look!

Albemarle Pippin, Arkansas Black, Baldwin, Ben Davis, Black Twig, Bonum, Cheese, Crab, Early Harvest, Early Red June, Early Ripe, Fall Rambo, Fallowater, Fink, Gano, Genitan, Golden Delicious, Greening, Grimes Golden, Huntsman’s Favorite, Jonathan, Kentucky Sweet, King David, Lady, Leather Coat, Macintosh, Maiden’s Blush, Milam, Mother, Paradise Sweet, Pearmain, Pilot, Pound Apple, Pound Pippin, Queen, Rambo, Rappahannock Beauty, Rebel, Red Delicious, Robinson, Rome Beauty, Russet, Smith Cider, Snow, Stayman, Striped June, Sweet Annet, Transparent (now known as Lodi), Waggoner, Wealthy, Winesap, Wolf River, Yellow Transparent and York (also known as Johnson’s Fine Winter and York Imperial)…just to name a few!

And in 1871, a nursery in nearby Rockbridge County stocked 193 varieties of apples.

Apples Past, Present and Future

From time to time, we look across the Piedmont and mourn the slowly disappearing orchards, displaced by development, suburban sprawl and changing trends in agriculture. We recognize the homely apple as an American staple, and Cider as our National Beverage. But it may come as a surprise to find that while homestead orchards have a long history, commercial apple growing in Rappahannock County only appeared following the Civil War. Following the war, Mr. C.B. Wood founded a nursery in the county, and eventually sent a barrel (3 bushels) of ‘Albemarle Pippins’ to Queen Victoria. They met with the Queen’s favor, and thus an international market for Rappahannock apples was born.

Within just a few decades, there were reported to be nearly 200,000 apple trees in the county, and a local industry sprang up to get them to market. From the late 1950s to the early 1960s, Rappahannock County ranked third in the state for apple production, and in its peak year, produced nearly a million bushels. But by the 1970s, the apple industry began its decline, and since then, many old orchards have been torn up or abandoned to their native state. As you travel the county, you can still see the remnants of that industry in the large cold storage buildings and packing sheds which have been repurposed to other commercial uses. As Virginians, we treasure the bloom of the apples in spring, the taste of the first apple in summer, and the first draft of cider in the autumn. We promise to do our part to keep Rappahannock County’s apple heritage alive for the foreseeable future. Source: “Rappahannock County, Virginia: A History” Johnson, (1981)

We are fortunate to live in an area with a rich history of family-run orchards, many of which are still in business after generations. When we press cider, we think of those long-ago optimists who planted their trees and pressed their cider when the leaves had turned red and gold and the air was getting crisp — kind of like the apples…