Tom Burford is a seventh-generation Virginia orchardist once aptly described as “the prince among antiquarian apple enthusiasts.”
He gave up his own orchard and nursery in Amherst County 16 years ago to concentrate on his genteel, but dogged, public advocacy of the heirloom pome.
At 78, Burford has just published a commendable book titled “Apples of North America,” in which he profiles 192 apple varieties. Some of those are available from North Carolina growers.
I met him near Charlottesville, Va., in the orchards of Vintage Virginia Apples and Albemarle Ciderworks, where he is a consultant. There, Burford will present a three-hour workshop on grafting on Feb. 22, 2014.
One of the lessons from Burford is that the apple has threaded its way through American history unlike any other fruit. Since the 17th century, apple varieties have defined the regions that spawned them and brought successive generations emotional, as well as physical, sustenance.
Helped by the local food movement, new generations are rediscovering the diversity of the apple and its links to regional culture and history.
Across the country, a cadre of small-scale commercial orchardists have revived hundreds of neglected varieties.
For the home orchard, some specialty mail-order nurseries sell antique apple stock, including Vintage Virginia Apples and, in North Carolina, Big Horse Creek Farm and Century Farm Orchards.
With that skill, you can become a master of your own apple destiny, as long as you are able to wait a few years before grafting and reaping the fruit.
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