Episode Guide: Apples in Virginia Img

While you may only find a half dozen varieties at your local grocery store, this universal fruit has a deep and varied past rooted in American history. In this episode, we visit the state of Virginia, where the story of the apple reveals why it’s referred to as our “most democratic fruit.”

Recently, there’s a movement underway to return to some of the original varieties that apple connoisseurs say taste better than what is typically found in grocery stores today. This episode is a spotlight on the lessons we can learn about our nation from the apple’s legacy, variety, and history.

Thomas Jefferson and the Monticello Mystery Apple

 Capri meets with Peter Hatch, former Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, to learn about Thomas Jefferson’s passion for cultivating his gardens and growing apples. 

Hatch is renowned for his deep connection with the 330 plant varieties once nurtured by Jefferson at his esteemed garden in Charlottesville. Over his 34-year tenure, Hatch meticulously restored Jefferson’s terraced 1,000-foot vegetable garden, a project born from Jefferson’s own horticultural passion. His profound knowledge and dedication are showcased in his book, “A Rich Spot of Earth” Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello, where he explores the garden’s historical and botanical significance.

Like many early Americans, the apple is not native to North America. Apples were brought to America from Asia, and became popular among the new nation of immigrants.The founding fathers and early Americans loved the apple, because of the importance of fermented cider as a universally shared libation. 

Here’s an interesting apple fact: When apples are planted from seed, it basically creates a new variety of apple, which is why there were thousands of varieties at the time, all grown in backyard orchards. The 1905 book The Nomenclature of the Apple lists 17,000 American apple varieties. There was an apple for every region and for every season.

The Liquid Art of Cider Making

Many of the historic apples grown at Monticello and in the area today are sent to be made into cider — many to a local cidery called Castle Hill Cider. There’s a growing interest in cider, and especially in central Virginia, there are a number of cideries making national award-winning ciders. It’s an exciting industry that brings so much of the past into the future. 

Colonel Thomas Walker introduced the Newtown Pippin apple to Central Virginia in 1777 after the Battle of Brandywine. Planted at his Castle Hill Estate, these apples became known as Albemarle Pippin apples and rose to popularity, eventually becoming a major export crop for Virginia. Today, Castle Hill Cider and the historic home and gardens occupy 1200 acres of the original estate, which was named to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2008 and to the Virginia Landmarks Register in 2013. 

Capri visits Castle Hill Cider where General Manager Rob Campbell and cidermaster Don Whitaker talk about the history of cider making in America. Don and Rob show and involve Capri in several steps of the cider making process. A lot of people think cider is made the same way beer is made, but it’s actually made more like a fine wine. This cidery uses Qvevri (pronounced kev-ree), which are egg-shaped terracotta vessels, 9 feet tall, and buried in the ground for fermenting. 

After prohibition, Apple guru Dianne Flint resurrected cider in Virginia, sleuthing for heirloom apples to restore the quintessential beverage of the American founders. 

Ciders like the ones made at Castle Hill were a big part of everyday life in early America. Sampling these flavors is like sipping history from a glass!

Heirloom Apples Education

Vintage Virginia Apples is a cidery (Albemarle Ciderworks) and educational venue, a family business run by Charlotte Shelton and her brothers. Vintage Virginia cultivates numerous rare, old tree fruit varieties. These fruits, often overlooked for modern commercial demands of aesthetics and storage, represent a rich assortment of heirloom textures, flavors, and scents.

Charlotte is CEO of Vintage Virginia Apples and educates people about heirloom and vintage apple varieties and why it is important to bring them back for consumers today. Capri samples some of the very special varieties, many of which are perfect for making historical ciders. 

Orchard Kitchen Cooking and Bringing History to Life

Dontavius Williams, a historical reenactment chef, in the orchard kitchen of Point of Honor, a historic home in Lynchburg, Va. Dontavius shares stories that connect the history of enslaved people in America with apples and shares how the apple plays a role in Black American food culture.

Dontavius takes us back to colonial times with a sweet and savory recipe for buttered onions with apples, a dish that transcends time and location. Dontavius acquired the recipe from historical records from Williamsburg, one of the first settlements in colonial America, which originated through oral history passed down through enslaved generations of skilled workers, since slaves were not permitted to read, so they had to commit it to memory. The meal is simple and delicious, but it tells an ugly story, and while we eat we remember that many times this dish was made, its enslaved creators wouldn’t be permitted to partake. 

Buttered Onions, Another Way

  • 4 Granny Smith apples
  • 2 large white onions
  • 1/2 cup currants or raisins
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter
  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. Peel the apples, then slice and cut them into small wedges.
  3. Peel the onions and slice them into thin rings.
  4. In a Dutch oven, combine the apple wedges, onion rings, currants (or raisins), sugar, and cinnamon.
  5. Cut the butter into small pieces and dot them over the apple and onion mixture.
  6. Stir everything together to ensure the ingredients are well-coated with butter and the sugar and cinnamon are evenly distributed.
  7. Place the Dutch oven in the preheated oven and bake, uncovered, for about 40-45 minutes, or until the apples and onions are tender and caramelized.

Serve hot, ideally with a roasted pork loin and a side of chutney for a complete family meal. Enjoy this delicious blend of sweet and savory flavors, perfect for a hearty dinner!

For dessert, Dontavius shares his family recipe for fried apple pies. Dontavius’ family taught him the beauty and art of storytelling and the importance of carrying on history to honor our ancestors and our origins. 

Fried Apple Pie

  • 4 tart apples, peeled and sliced
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Water, as needed to make a paste
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
  1. In a large bowl, combine the sliced apples, lemon zest, brandy, white wine, and cinnamon. Let the apples marinate in this mixture for about 30 minutes to absorb the flavors.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and eggs. Gradually add enough water to form a thick, smooth paste.
  3. Heat the vegetable oil in a deep frying pan or Dutch oven over medium heat.
  4. Drain the apples from the spice mixture, but keep some of the marinade clinging to the slices for flavor.
  5. Carefully spoon the apple slices into the hot oil. Drizzle the dough mixture on top of the apples. The bundled ingredients will resemble fritters or funnel cakes.
  6. Fry until they are golden brown and crispy, about 4-5 minutes on each side.
  7. Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
  8. While still warm, sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.

Join Capri’s List

Follow along with the latest news and episode updates from America The Bountiful, sign up now for exclusive updates and be the first to know!