Speed Reads

It wasn't all bad

A pair of sleuths in the Pacific Northwest track down 10 apple varieties thought to be extinct

These aren't your typical detectives.

E.J. Brandt and David Benscoter aren't looking for bad guys, but rather good apples. The retirees formed the Lost Apple Project in order to find abandoned orchards in rural Washington and Idaho in the hopes of rediscovering apple varieties believed to be extinct. Last fall, they collected hundreds of apples, some from orchards that were planted 140 years ago, and sent them to the botanists at Temperate Orchard Conservancy for identification.

The results are in, and Brandt and Benscoter found 10 lost apple varieties last fall, including the Streaked Pippin, Sary Sinap, and Butter Sweet — the largest number discovered during a single season. "It was almost unbelievable," Brandt told The Associated Press. All together, the apple detectives have rediscovered 23 varieties.

During their searches, Brandt and Benscoter cover hundreds of miles, and use everything from old maps to county records to track down the forgotten orchards, where some of the trees are dying. The apples they collect are then sent to the botanists, who use old Department of Agriculture watercolor illustrations and botany textbooks and reference guides from the 1800s to identify them.

There were once 17,000 named varieties of domesticated apples in North America, AP reports, but just 4,500 are known to still exist. Brandt said when he finds an apple that's lost, "I want to know who homesteaded it, when they were there, who their children were, when they took their last drink of water. We cannot afford to lose the name of even one of these landowners."