Few people know that our garden heritage contains a rich diversity of thousands of apple varieties. The limited variety of modern commercial apples leaves little room to experience the diversity with which we were at one time endowed, with varieties grown for specific purposes like pressing cider, baking, storing, and making sauce. SSE has obtained a majority of the pre-1900 varieties still in existence for its orchards, where hundreds of different apple varieties that flourished in the 19th century and before are on display.
On Sunday, October 6, Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) held Forgotten Tastes, An Heirloom Apple Event in Johnston, Iowa, at Grade A Gardens. Operated by Jordan Clasen and Thomas Burkhead, Grade A Gardens grows SSE vegetable varieties for a CSA and many progressive Des Moines restaurants.
Despite rain and cold weather, the event attracted 200 guests from Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota. Forgotten Tastes provided a rare opportunity to taste and enjoy over 70 heirloom apple varieties from SSE’s historic apple orchards. Guests recorded their notes as they proceeded through the apple lineup, tasting apples with whimsical-sounding names and curious histories, including Northern Spy, Sops of Wine, and Zuccalmaglio’s Reinette. Wine, artisan cheeses from The Cheese Shop, heirloom apple tarts from Tami’s Tarts, South Union Bakery bread, and cured meats from La Quercia were specially selected to pair well with the apple varieties. Two delicious versions of hard cider were available for tasting, and guests enjoyed music by members of Cousin Eddy while they mingled. Meanwhile the lecture tent was packed with eager learners enjoying talks on heirloom apples, orchard management, grafting, and cider. Speakers included SSE’s Diane Ott Whealy, Dan Bussey and Steve Carlson.
Happily for Seed Savers Exchange, Kari and CJ Bienert organized a “Happy Apples” event at The Cheese Shop (Shops at Roosevelt) the following evening with SSE’s Orchard Manager Dan Bussey talking heirloom apples and CJ suggesting exquisite cheese pairings. What a perfect way to top off the apple weekend!
Slow Food Des Moines was instrumental in making the event a success, through help with planning, food, and enlisting some 30 volunteers. Also assisting were Paul and Lori Rottenberg, of Orchestrate Hospitality, the marketing partner for Gateway Market and other “fresh and local” restaurant businesses.
Forgotten Tastes was sponsored by Wells Fargo. Ticket sales provided much needed revenue to support the work of Seed Savers Exchange.
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.