King of Heirloom Apples
We take the concept of heirloom or heritage fruits and vegetables as common place nowadays. But I was reminded how unfamiliar the concept was just several decades ago and how Herb Teichman, the owner of Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm in Eau Claire, Michigan who passed away earlier this month at the age of 88, was in the vanguard of re-introducing the fruits long ago to the American palate creating a connection to food heritage.
I met Herb about 20 year ago and over the years wrote about his family and farm many times. After reading about his passing, I thought I would re-read them. Here’s the first few paragraphs of one of the first articles about Herb I wrote.
“For most of us, Louis XIII is a hazy figure, a bewigged monarch who lived some 350 years ago and had a furniture style named after him.
But for Herb Teichman, owner of, Louis is but an apple away. Apples are historical embodiments for Teichman who can tell you the history of each heritage apple variety he grows. Take the Calville Blanc D’hiver, a favorite of Louis XIII.
“This was the classic dessert apple of France,” says Teichman. “Le Lectier, who was the procurer for Louis XIII, grew it in the King’s gardens at Orleans. When I taste a Calville Blanc, I began to feel like I know Louis the 13th a little better. Eating these apples becomes a bridge connecting the centuries.”
“Or take the Newtown Pippin, a favorite of both Ben Franklin and George Washington.
“When I bite into a Newtown Pippin, it’s like I’m sharing something with Washington or Franklin,” says the (then) 72 year old Teichman.
“Teichman, a successful second generation fruit farmer (his parents first started farming here in the 1920s), designates three of his 500 acres of fruit trees to raising heritage apples. Heritage (or antique or heirloom) is a term applying to varieties that have existed for 75 years or more.
“According to Teichman, an apple tree lives about 20 years so for these heritage varieties to still exist after all these years means that generations of men and women believed that the fruit was so good it was worth reproducing by grafting over and over again through the centuries.
Teichman is one of the few heritage fruit growers in the United States. And, as if that isn’t enough to discourage people, Teichman says that there are few antique apple growers in the United States because antique apples aren’t as commercially viable as the modern apples. Heritage apples, which are more expensive than modern varieties– aren’t always pretty—they tend to be much smaller than the varieties found in stores, are often knobby and discolored. But what they lack in looks, they make up for in flavor.
“Years ago, if an apple like Margil or Pitmaston Pineapple, which tastes like a pineapple, was growing in your yard, you possessed the best darn thing there is in the world,” says Teichman who speaks in superlatives when talking of apples. “They didn’t have candy bars; a good apple was dessert.”
Talking to Teichman is like getting a lesson in food history. “Each apple variety has a history of where it originated, who liked to eat it and why,” he says. “And each apple really tastes different.
“Teichman says he moves a little closer in time to his hero Thomas Jefferson when he bites into an Esopus Spitzenberg apple. Jefferson so loved this variety of apple that after returning from serving an ambassadorship in France, he planted 12 Esopus Spitzenberg trees at Monticello.”
Soon Martha Stewart discovered Teichman and featured a story about the heritage fruit at Tree-mendus. Makers of brandies and cordials wanted his heirlooms fruits to create old world flavors. Now the farm has more than 200 varieties of heritage apples.
And, of course, heirloom fruits and vegetables are much more common. According to the National Restaurant Association’s heirloom vegetables and fruit will continue to be one of the top food trends in the area of produce as it has been in the last few years. For that, we owe a big thank you to Herb.
One of the times I visit the fruit farm, Herb gave me a copy of Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm Family Presents Recipes and Collections which I’ve kept all these years. I thought it would be fitting to include an apple recipe from the book.
Elizabeth Teichman’s Brandied Apple Roll-ups
¼ cup sugar
1 cup chunky applesauce
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup brandy
1 tablespoon sugar
In small saucepan, combine the ¼ cup sugar and cornstarch. Stir in applesauce and brandy. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat.
Make crepes (recipe below).
On each mini-crepe, spoon one scant tablespoon of the filling along one edge of the unbrowned side. Roll up tightly. Place seam side down in greased shallow baking pan.
3 egg yolks
½ cup milk
3 tablespoons margarine, melted
¼ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup flour
¼ cup sugar
3 3gg whites
In bowl, beat together egg yolks, milk, margarine, flour and sugar. Beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form, gently fold batter mixture into beaten eggs white.
Heat lightly greased 6-inch skillet. Remove from heat, spoon in one scant tablespoon of batter, spread batter with back of spoon into 4-inch circle. Cook over medium heat for 30 to 60 seconds. Place on paper towel. Repeat with rest of the batter.
To freeze: Make stack, place wax paper between each crepe, place in plastic bag. Freezes well for up to 4 months. Thaw for one hour before using.