Back in the mid-1990s, Lee Calhoun, author of Old Southern Apples, inspired me to plant southern cider apples. Foggy Ridge Cider’s block of Hewe’s Crabapples was the first commercial planting of this valuable cider fruit in the 20th century. Lee’s counsel—and friendship—inspired me for two decades until his death in 2020. He taught me to look more closely at the world around me and to dig deeper for knowledge.
Lee’s book is a treasure—an encyclopedic account of the almost 2,000 apple varieties that originated in the South or were widely grown in this region. In 2020, the University of North Carolina Press asked me to write a follow-on book to Lee’s opus. The working title of my 80,000 word general trade book hints at the focus of my work—Windfall: The Surprising Story of Southern Apples. Whereas Lee wrote detailed description of southern apples, my work covers the stories behind apples in the South…the people, history, and dramatic changes that caused our region to lose apple diversity.
Windfall will trace the surprising and complex history of apple cultivation in the South. From early seedling orchards grown by indigenous people to the flowering of over 1800 apple varieties unique to the region.
For over four hundred years southerners noticed and selected apples suited to the South, apples that reflected the desires of the people who replicated them. Southern apples flourished in unexpected places, such as Mattamuskeet from the North Carolina coast or Cook’s Red Winter grown in Edisto, South Carolina. Indigenous people, enslaved men and women, and white southerners of all classes chose wild apple seedlings and replicated the apples they most treasured through grafting. The South’s most influential apple nurseries in Augusta, Georgia, Washington, Mississippi, and Pomaria, South Carolina, sold southern apple trees to an international market.
Then, at the turn of the twentieth century, the South lost its apples. The rich list of southern apples grown throughout the South dwindled to a few varieties grown mostly in upland orchards for export out of the region. Windfall explores the shift in southern farming that led to disappearance of hundreds of uniquely southern apples, and documents today’s revival of southern varieties in preservation orchards, modern cideries and multi-generation southern orchards.