Rediscovering a Forgotten World of Apples

08 Nov 2010

In North America alone, there were once more than 15,000 varieties of apples grown and eaten. However, today most consumers would struggle to name a few varieties beyond the ubiquitous Granny Smith and Red Delicious – whose attractive color, long shelf life and ease in transport have allowed it to become the predominant variety sold in US supermarkets.

Slow Food has been working to bring back this lost world of apple varieties with initiatives that support producers in a number of countries. In Piedmont, Italy, a wide variety of apples have been cultivated since the High Middle Ages, however the introduction of industrial agriculture in the early 20th century caused a great decline in apple biodiversity. The Heritage Piedmontese Apple Varieties Presidium is working towards saving a large number of apple varieties, such as the Grigia di Torriana, Buras, Runsè, and Gamba Fina, and has so far succeeded in re-introducing eight varieties back into the market.

The Almaty Slow Food Convivium in Kazakhstan is working to protect the wild Siever apple trees, the last wild apple varieties in the world and considered to be the birth pool of almost all varieties of domesticated apples. The forests’ territory has diminished by 20%, and only three of the eight different Siever apple varieties remain. Siever apple trees will soon be added to the Ark of Taste, Slow Food’s catalogue of quality at-risk foods.

Meanwhile the RAFT group (Renewing America’s Food Traditions), managed by Slow Food USA have declared 2010 the Year of the Heirloom Apple and in 2009 organized the first ever gathering of grassroots apple conservationists with the aim of saving thousands of endangered varieties. RAFT has also published Forgotten Fruits Manual and Manifesto – Apples to detail the history, decline, nursery practices and local restoration efforts designed to bring back the most endangered heirloom apple

Encouraging and supporting these initiatives is fundamental to the conservation of these ancient varieties and constitutes an important step towards the safeguarding of biodiversity.

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