Old Fruit, New Light
The resurgent cider industry is also reviving interest in old fruits and old books. As cider making continues to develop there is a need for apple varieties different from the popular stars in the culinary apple market. When researchers like Greg Peck cast about for varieties that support better cider production, out-of-fashion and even forgotten varieties of past centuries offer some promising possibilities. Here is where old books can be useful - helping to identify varieties at hand and to confirm their important properties.
Given that grafted apple trees on a dwarfing rootstock take between three and five years from planting to start bearing fruit, it is critical for growers to narrow down the precise varieties of apple that will provide the characteristics that a given cider is intended to embrace. Identifying the specific tannin, sugar, and acid combinations of each varietal is the first step toward making informed growing choices for the future. Auguste Truelle's 1896 Atlas des meilleures variétés de fruits à cidre is a nice example of the way fruit inventories from past eras can yield useful information for this process.
Truelle’s volume highlights forty apple varieties, selected for their value as cider fruit. In addition to beautiful renderings, his study reports on the results of chemical analyses for the different varieties. Eight of the apples in these plates (above) from Truelle's work are in the germplasm repository at Geneva. These specific varieties are ones that have been part of the Peck Lab's research into apple chemistry. Combining 19th century identifications with 21st century science makes it possible for the modern cider industry to tap into apples that might have been ignored otherwise, strengthening profitability for farmers and cideries alike and quenching our thirst for years to come.
The slideshow below contains more plates ("planche" in French) from Atlas des meilleures variétés de fruits à cidre. For a closer look at them, enter the image title (e.g., "Planche IX") in the search bar above.