A Southern Apple Tale
The surprising story of apples in the South as told in Diane Flynt’s new book, Wild, Tamed, Lost, Revived.
When Diane Flynt opened the doors to Foggy Ridge Cider in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia after growing apples for five years, she was ready to tell her story and talk about the fruit. “I was just so proud of what I had worked so hard to do,” she says, “but when I opened the doors, people wanted to tell me their stories. Everybody had a story or a memory about apples. People are connected to this fruit for lots of reasons.”
Maybe you watched your mother bake apples pies as a child or helped your grandmother make applesauce every year. Flynt heard the story of a customer who used to sit in their father’s lap and watch him peel an apple in one long piece.
The cultural memories attached to this fruit run deep. Some apple varieties were grown by a single family with the help of enslaved labor and passed down by generations over hundreds of years. All in all, Southerners cultivated more than 2,000 apple varieties from Virginia to Mississippi.
“For thousands of years, the tiny sour southern crabapple, Malus angustuifolia, the most ancient apple species, flourished throughout the South, providing hard green fruit for birds, mammals, and Indigenous people,” Flynt writes.
Flynt goes on to explain that Southern apples were both sweet, tart and tiny with complex flavors and names like Early Strawberry, Beauty Shop Road, Carolina Red June and Lady Sweet. But, in less than 50 years, the South’s bounty of apples vanished. What happened? Flynt was on a quest to find out.
She was working with Lee Calhoun, author of Old Southern Apples, to archive his research materials at the University of North Carolina. UNC Press approached her about a book, and she spent the next three years researching and writing about Southern apples.
“I learned so much,” she says. “There are so many surprises, the largest being that apples grew throughout Mississippi to Alabama. People don’t think about those states as being apple territory.”
Flynt’s own apple territory was in southwest Virginia, where she purchased a farm with her husband in 1995. At the time, Virginia wine was starting to make a name for itself, and Flynt thought “Why not a Virginia cidery?” She launched her plan to build the first 20th century cider apple orchard in the South and the first modern cidery.
I gardened with ghosts in those early days at Foggy Ridge Cider. Though my orchard was new, I keenly felt the spirits of Appalachian farmers who preceded me.”– “Tamed”
Flynt says that almost every state has a cidery now, with Virginia claiming over 30 alone. There are also plenty of orchards throughout the South, some with apples that were never lost or have been rediscovered. She mentions Horne Creek’s Southern Heritage Apple Orchard in North Carolina with more than 425 varieties of old Southern apples, many of which are on the brink of extinction; Heritage Orchard in Georgia, where the state’s lost apple varieties are being replanted; and Southall Farm & Inn in Tennessee’s heirloom apple orchard has 43 varieties.
Find out about more apple farms, you-pick experiences and upcoming festivals here.
If there’s one thing Flynt wants readers to take away from this book, it’s being open to trying new flavors—especially when it comes to apples.
“There’s a world out there that is worthy of being noticed and experiencing more deeply,” she says. “When I go to grocery store, I want to buy something I’ve never had before. People love Honeycrisp, but there are lots of apples out there that are delicious and have different flavor profiles. If you try one and don’t like it, try another one.”