Last fall, Dave Benscoter traveled to a remote corner of Oregon in search of an apple that hadn’t been identified in over a century.
Benscoter is the founder of the Lost Apple Project, an organization that tracks down apple varieties deemed extinct. This week, Lost Apple Project and Oregon-based Temperate Orchard Conservancy announced they had found seven more types of apples though lost to time. Two of those apples were found in Oregon.
That includes the Kay, a red and yellow variety that Benscoter found in Flora, Ore., an unincorporated town in the far northeast reaches of the state.
“It’s basically a ghost town,” says Benscoter, who lives in Washington’s Spokane Valley. “There’s a church and its steeple is half fallen over.”
Guided by a Flora resident who contacted him about the potential discovery, Benscoter arrived to find a small orchard with only two trees.
Benscoter doesn’t identify apples himself. He sends them off to Joanie Cooper and Shaun Shepherd of Molalla, Ore.’s Temperate Orchard Conservancy, one of only a few organizations in the country with the capability to identify obscure apples. But one on-the-ground indicator is how the fruit tastes.
“It’s very hard to get a good apple from seed,” says Benscoter. “Sometimes they’re so bitter, you want to spit them out. We call those apples ‘spitters.’”
When he bit into the Kay, he suspected he had found what he came for—the apple tasted delicious.
The Carlough, the other thought-to-be-extinct apple discovered in Oregon, was found west of Salem by Cooper. The 130-year-old variety has a yellow-green skin and was once prized for its long shelf life.
After the Lost Apple Project helps discover a missing fruit, Benscoter grafts the tree so two can be planted at the Temperate Orchard Conservancy. Over the past few years, Lost Apple Project has located 29 varieties that were thought to have disappeared. Benscoter often revisits trees after he finds and grafts them, and helps sell some trees locally.
“We just try to get them in the public again,” he says. “We do not want these apples to be lost again.”