Nova Scotia

Heritage apple lover aims to preserve rare varieties from the past

David Maxwell admits he’s not exactly sure how many varieties of apples dot the orchard behind his home overlooking the LaHave River in Lunenburg County. He puts the number at about 50.

David Maxwell grows about four dozen types of apples in an orchard behind his Middle LaHave home

David Maxwell picks a Williams' Pride apple from his orchard in Middle LaHave. (CBC)

David Maxwell admits he's not exactly sure how many varieties of apples dot the orchard behind his home overlooking the LaHave River in Lunenburg County. He puts the number at about 50.

The retired doctor has been an apple lover for half a century, cultivating what are known as heritage varieties. He is part of a small group of aficionados fascinated with older types of apples that were once common at farms across North America, but have now faded.

"These are apples that have disappeared from commerce," he said. "People even don't remember the names of many of them."

Maxwell's orchard is miniscule compared to larger commercial operations. His hope, however, is that by preserving unusual and rare varieties, new types of apples can emerge and a diversity in taste and use can be maintained.

In the spring, he offers grafting workshops in the hope what he grows can also flourish elsewhere.

Grocery store apples are 'bland, sweet, watery'

And while he considers himself a hobbyist, Maxwell's orchard is a small pushback against the broader industrial food industry where only a handful of varieties make it to grocery store shelves.

"Arguably, if you've only got five choices in the grocery store, your tastes, your individual tastes may not be catered to those five varieties," he said.

"If you like a highly-flavoured apple, you won't get it in the grocery story because virtually everything that's sold in the grocery stores now is bland, sweet, watery."

There's not much that's bland in Maxwell's orchard. Bramley's Seedling, a well-known British cooking apple, is a gift to pie-makers, he says, with a taste that sticks to the tongue half an hour after eating.

There's a German juice apple he adds to his cider mix, while the Williams' Pride is a delicious early season variety Maxwell's already picked from his orchard and is storing in his fridge. 

Then there's the Pomme d'Api, a small French variety that Maxwell says ladies once kept in their purses as a breath freshener.

With more than 100 trees, Maxwell admits he has more apples than he knows what to do with. He freezes some, dries others, and makes pies and jelly. He even brews apple cider in two containers in his study.

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