Of the many fruit species Thomas Jefferson cultivated in his Monticello gardens, his collection of apple trees were one of his most consistently successful crops. Peter J. Hatch, the Director of Monticello Gardens and Grounds for over 34 years, said, “The apple was a standard, every-day fruit at Monticello…Jefferson’s cultivation of the apple was exceptionally discriminating as he concentrated on only four varieties.” Jefferson’s eight-acre Fruit Garden, called the “Fruitery” in Jefferson’s Memorandum notes, yielded a wide variety of fruit trees and special fruit plants. Included within the Fruitery was the North Orchard, a grove of about two hundred apple and peach trees. These trees were propagated from seed, which often resulted in interesting variations that remained unnamed and were unique to Jefferson’s garden.
With Jefferson’s favorite apple trees cultivated by the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants and featured at The Shop at Monticello, you can plant your own Fruitery. Each hardy variety produces a unique and delicious fruit that you can enjoy year after year.
Description: Vintage variety. Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 10 to 12 feet high. Extremely productive variety, stores well through the winter.
Taste: The fruit has a greenish skin and a crisp, tart taste which ripens in early fall. Great for eating fresh, cooking, homemade cider and juice.
History: Jefferson planted several “Roxbury Russet” trees in Monticello’s South Orchard in 1778, referring to them as “russetings” because of the distinctive flaking russets on the skin of the fruit. These were one of the more popular apple varieties in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Description: Heirloom variety. Limited distribution in United States. Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 1o to 12 feet high. Stores well during cold months in a cool cellar or refrigerator.
Taste: The fruit flesh is greenish-white, juicy, crisp, tart, and with a fine aroma. Considered one of the best keeping apples.
History: The “Albemarle Pippin” was one of Jefferson’s two favorite table apples. He planted as many as 50 Albemarle Pippins in the Monticello Fruitery between 1769 and 1814. Benjamin Franklin reputedly introduced the variety into England as an example of superior American fruit.
Description: Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 12 to 15 feet high. Bears handsome red apples which ripen in late autumn.
Taste: Fruit features a firm, juicy yellow flesh with a delicious, brisk, rich flavor. Particularly excellent for baking pies.
History: The “Esopus Spitzenburg” was Jefferson’s other favorite apple variety. He planted 32 of these trees in the Monticello Fruitery between 1807 and 1812. This apple variety is still considered one of the world’s finest today.
Description: Hardy fruit tree that can be grown as an ornamental. Grows to eight feet. Yields small rounded fruits of a dull red streaked with green, which ripen in early autumn.
Taste: Fruit produces a delicious cinnamon-flavored cider that is both sugary and pungent. Considered the finest cider apple by apple connoisseurs.
History: This was the most common fruit variety grown in eighteenth-century Virginia. Jefferson planted his entire North Orchard exclusively with this variety from which several batches of homemade cider were made over the years.
Made at Monticello
Even if you don’t grow your own, you can still bring ‘apples’ to your table! Monticello Handcrafted Apple Spoons are created from branches pruned from apple trees in Monticello’s Orchard. The spoons are beautiful and functional, perfect for serving salad or a delicious fruit cobbler dessert.
Our collection of fruit butters are the perfect addition to a breakfast or lunch spread. Wonderful on biscuits, toast, and sandwiches, Monticello’s Apple Butter, Peach Butter, and Strawberry Butter are staff favorites. Our fruit butters contain no preservatives and are truly versatile spreads.
Monticello kitchen records reveal that apple cider was a staple beverage at most meals. Jefferson’s extensive apple orchards were vital to the production of his homemade cider. The non-alcoholic Monticello Sparkling Cider is reminiscent of the third president’s preferred beverage.
For more information on Jefferson and apples, check out these staff favorites:
Apples of North America is brimming with beautiful portraits of heirloom and modern apples of merit, each accompanied by distinguishing characteristics and common uses. As the view broadens to the orchard, you will find information on planting, pruning, grafting, and more. The exploration of the apple culminates with an overview of the fruit’s transformative capabilities when pressed, fermented, cooked, or dried.
The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello details Jefferson’s extensive Fruitery and orchards. Jefferson cultivated over 170 kinds of temperate fruits; this book explores his methods and research that helped him become a successful fruit farmer.
The Best Apples to Buy and Grow provides plenty of information on growing and cultivating apples in your backyard, as well as tips on purchasing and cooking with apples. It’s handy to take along when visiting farmer’s markets and roadside stands, and will help buyers choose from the bounty of treasured heirloom breeds and tasty new types.