For several weeks now, area farmers markets have offered North Carolina mountain apples. Most of these are the popular varieties also available in grocery stores: Red Delicious, Gala and Granny Smith. But some vendors carry heirloom varieties, such as Black Arkansas, Hoover and the ever-elusive Grimes Golden. The heirloom variety to look for in November is Limbertwig. You may be able to find them in Building B at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market (1801 Yorkmont Road).
The prolific Limbertwig, a late harvest apple, is actually the name for a group of 20 apple varieties. All Limbertwig trees have a similar growth habit: The apples bow the limbs. Thus, the stature of this apple tree is closer to a weeping cherry tree than the upright apple tree.
Limbertwig is the kind of old-timey heirloom apple that was enjoyed by North Carolinians a century ago; in fact, in 1908, the USDA suggested that the Limbertwig apple was the only variety grown in many North Carolina orchards. Today, Limbertwigs are rarely available and typically only in November.
In the late nineteenth century, Southern orchards grew 1,400 varieties of apples. Now, it is thought that less than 200 heirloom apple varieties exist. Sadly, each year fewer heirloom apple trees remain. Unlike their mass-distributed, shiny, swollen, bright red or green supermodel cousins, heirloom apples have a pied beauty — flecked with spots and ranging in color from mottled rust to almost black. Some, like the Sheep's Nose, have a conical shape. In a blind taste test, though, the heirloom will beat out its glamorous supermarket kin every time. The Limbertwig is thought to be one of the premiere American apples. The muted red, old-fashioned Limbertwig has a rough skin, and is juicy, firm and very aromatic with a lemony flavor. This apple stores well, is delicious to eat out-of-hand and makes a splendid apple pie.
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