Patte de Loup (Wolf’s Paw Apple)

Patte de loup

Patte de loup — literally, wolf’s paw — is the name of an heirloom variety of apple that is chiefly grown in the Northwest of France, and is mentioned in horticultural documents as early as the Middle Age.

Small and oddly shapen, with a rugged, brownish yellow skin that often cracks and scars as if a wolf had clawed it, it is typically the kind of apple that did not stand a chance in the modern battle for glossy and perfectly calibrated specimens.

And yet the patte de loup is very close to apple perfection in my book: sweet and tart, with a firm flesh that is juicy but not too crisp, it does equally well eaten au couteau, i.e. sliced with a knife and munched on out of hand, or baked into a tarte tatin or an apple cake.

Patte de loup

With thousands of known cultivars, the apple has to be among the most diverse of all fruits, and browsing through the poetic names of different varieties brings me about as much joy as I am saddened by the depressing uniformity of supermarket selections.

This is why I make it my mission to seek out unconventional apples at greenmarkets, organic stores, and apple farms*, and I hope you do, too.

Any favorite heirloom variety with a quirky name or blissful flavor you want to tell me about?


* The particular apple pictured above I got from Alain Milliat‘s Paris restaurant the day I was invited to try out their new Sunday brunch. Milliat is known for producing remarkably flavorful fruit juices from carefully chosen varieties and origins he indicates on the label, so it made complete sense there would be patte de loup apples in the fruit bowl.

  • marieta

    Thanks for posting about this. I am always on the lookout for unusual fruits and vegetables at the Paris markets. Have never seen this. Looks kind of like a pomme clochard that had a major abdominal surgery. Any idea where to find them in the markets ? (please don’t say “right next to the kale”)

    • Thanks for making me laugh. Twice. :) In truth, I’m not exactly sure where to direct you to find these, as they seem pretty regional. I think finding them outside of their cultivation area is a matter of serendipity…

    • marjorie

      I don’t know were to find them in the markets, but I have been buying for 2 years Patte de Loup apples at Elan Nature in the 14ème, and even sometimes at Naturalia. I think they are sold from october to december/january so right now it is a bit too late (or too early ?)to purchase them there …

    • marjorie

      Forget about what I said, I just had the surprise to find Patte de Loup apples at my Biocoop (La Ruche d’Alésia, in the 14th) an hour ago, next to crispy Goldrush and delicious Dalinette :-)

  • What an interesting looking apple! I’ve never heard of this type of heirloom apple…or any types of heirloom apples actually. I’m so glad I’ve learned something new today :) I’m like you, I much prefer something different and unique than the standard fare found in the grocery aisle ;)

  • jb

    You should come to Massachusetts in the fall for Cider Days.

    They have a bunch of great events, including frequent opportunities to try 50+ varieties of apples, few of which are ever in the supermarket.

    • I would love to attend someday!

  • Thank you for introducing us to so many cool foods. I just posted my version of Radish Leaf Pesto to Healthnut Foodie after being inspired by your post. I linked it back to you, of course. You are an inspiration.
    Blessings, Katie

    • Thanks, Katie, that means a lot to me!

  • Peggy R

    A friend grafted Arkansas Black and Golden Delicious on one of our Gravenstein apple trees. The Black is a deep red that gets darker as it ripens. It keeps well and gets sweeter as it ripens. Miam!

  • I don’t have a lot of favorite heirlooms yet, but we’re just discovering this as a concept and I agree it’s really exciting/disappointing. It’s amazing the amount of creativity and variety people have grown into our food, and such a shame we don’t get to enjoy those accomplishments or even much variety. Thanks for highlighting the apple!

  • marjorie

    Thanks for sharing this Clotilde, I love Patte de Loup and I am always happy to find unconventional apples to taste. Recently I saw for the first time some “Reinette d’Armorique” in a Biocoop, but sadly they didn’t look very fresh so I didn’t bought them … Have you ever taste this variety ?

    • I don’t think I’ve ever had a Reinette that said specifically it was from Armorique, but reinettes in general are lovely apples, especially for tarte tatin. And that’s true, we are reaching the tail end of keeping apple season, and it’s becoming more difficult to find crisp ones…

  • Cool! There was this gorgeous book that came out last year called Apples I Have Eaten that was just full of photos of all these different kinds of apples.

    • That book has my name all over it, what a cool concept!

  • I’ve never seen an apple like this, and if I did it would certainly catch my eye… so unique. Thanks for sharing.

  • Hope

    We have a fabulous annual apple festival on one of our little islands just off Vancouver’s coast. The island is Saltspring Island, and last year’s festival featured over 350 varieties of heritage apples–all organic!

    They display them along one great long table in a historic town hall: one whole and a slice of each, so you could see what’s inside (many varieties have a rose coloured flesh!). Local ladies bake pies that are labeled as to variety of apple.

    And as a part of the festival, many of the small orchards open their farms to the public, so you can walk amongst their groves, see the trees and buy some unusual heritage varietals.

    You can see more about this at the website of one of the festival’s organizers, Harry Burton.

    The Apple Festival is a real local treasure!

  • Maria

    Hi Clotilde,

    Apple festivals are becoming popular in England in the autumn too. The biggest one is probably at Brogdale Farm in Kent, home of the National Fruit Collections. Borough Market in central London sells some of their heritage apples.

    Selfridge’s food hall in London was selling several varieties of French apples, including Patte de Loup, last autumn. Unfortunately I didn’t buy any because we had been to several apple festivals and had too many apples at home already.

  • Wynne

    From your description, I very much want to try a wolf’s paw apple too. I think you might like the Goldrush variety our local grower brings to the farmer’s market. Yellow and rose, crisp, juicy, tart, and sweet. I’ve been stocking up on last year’s crop (they’re good keeping apples) before the supply disappears over the summer.

    • I think I may have had Goldrush apples while in Canada last fall, and indeed, they were wonderful!

  • Kristin

    I would love to taste a Patte de Loup! I am lucky to divide my time between two of the best apple producing areas in the United States: the Pacific Northwest (Portland, OR) and western New York State (in the Finger Lakes). Every year I visit apple orchards in one or the other region and taste as many heirloom varieties as I can, the more obscure, the better. I love the pippins, of course, and some of those rosy fleshed varieties are incredible. Spitzenberg is spicy and good for fresh eating or baking. It was also Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple. Elstar (Dutch variety) is excellent for pie and munching. Snow and Baldwin are two other favorites. I could go on and on. My sister swears by Gravenstein for her sauce, so aromatic and smooth. I’ve been eating apples all winter and it’s just about now that I start to tire of them and long for berries and stone fruits, but this post brings my apple appetite back to a sharp pang.

  • what an amazing looking apple!
    tart and sweet is my fav and so hard to find.
    I am continually curious how much le loup turns up in French culture…
    Certainly in many children’s books, toys and cafes(musee des arts decoratifs) but an APPLE!
    will definitely look for this a la prochain

  • Pascale

    I live in a place where old varieties of apples are much sought after and I think they are trying at the “Faculté Agronomique” (in Gembloux-Belgium)to find and protect as many of them as possible. I buy mine from a local grower using some of the cultivar collected by the university in question. My favourite one is the Rubinette; every year I’m sad when they’re no longer available and I have to wait for six months until I can crunch on the new harvest !
    I love this Patte de Loup and will certainly try some when I’m in France.

  • adsum-iam

    We have a “Lane’s Prince Albert” which is a dual eater/cooker (not that old, dates from the 1840s) and also – for contrast – a very new apple indeed, “Bradley’s Beauty” which was found by Mr Bradley in our village, checked out by Brogdale (home of the UK’s National Fruit Collection) and declared to be a new variety!

  • Clothilde, there are some stalwart orchard growers in various corners of the world still cultivating very old varieties of apples. We know of a farm (Christmas Cove) about 1.5 hours away from us, with apples that date back to the 1600’s! It is amazing that they have held to the traditions, and oh, the flavors! Gravenstein, Wolf River, Spitzenburg (said to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite!)…and they will ship a box of mixed apples anywhere in the world, so that people can discover the pleasures! Keep promoting heritage foods, they are wonderful!

  • I’ve never heard of this one! My absolute favorite is Pink Lady. I tried to see if I could grow it, but this variety of pommier is highly protected and growing it from seed will not produce true.

  • Doro

    Next time you’re on Eurostar, you might be interested in the Brogdale Horticultural Trust in Kent, England, which has the National Fruit Collection, including over 2000 (really!) types of apples. You can wander around the orchards and buy some extraordinary ones in season. It’s incredible.

  • Rosemary

    No heirloom apples I can report (I opt for the usual Empire or Sparta that we get in Ottawa grocery stores (Canada). But last September I did go to a melon and pepper festival in town. I was staggered to see the variety of melons and to learn how few show up in our stores because, with their thin skins, they don’t transport well (especially across continents). These melons were fragrant and beautiful, with hints of pine, spice, caramel, just amazing. And they are growing practically in my backyard! Also had about 10 varieties of eggplants! Amazing!

  • Interesting, I shall look out for that apple.
    The RHS garden at Wisley featured apples at their Taste of Autumn event last October. There were many types of apple to taste and the chance to bring an apple to have the variety identified.
    I took a favourite one from my garden it was identified as Allington Pippin. It develops a wonderful pineappley flavour as it matures.

  • I love that you seek out the imperfect- it is refreshing to see! I found in the store about 2-3 mnths ago something called a Golden or Valentine Plum. Probably not rare, but I had never seen it before, and the flavor was unbelievable! It had a soft, sweet flavor, faintly honey-like. All too soon, it wasn’t available anymore!

  • Admiring the flavor of an apple – what can be better? Thanks for your advice. Can’t wait to cook something special with apples.

  • Elle

    You would love Michael Pollan’s documentary, “The Botany of Desire”, have you seen it? It has a great segment on the origins of apples in the valleys of, I think, Turkestan? Somewhere in that area.

    Here in Hawaii, our ‘apples’ are mangos, and we have so many different varieties, including a new favorite I just discovered called: The Apple Mango! It really does taste like apples in the most delicious way.

  • Joanna

    I am writing a PhD at the University of Essex on the social and cultural significance of the apple in Victorian England, and I have learned something from this discussion. It is amazing and brilliant to see how much interest there is in apples all around the world.

  • Jacquie

    All this talk of apples, takes me back to my childhood – growing up in Ontario there was always an apple in my lunchbox, there has to be some truth to ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’! One of my favs from back then that I don’t seem to see much anymore was the Russet – small, greenish-brown with this rough skin and a sweet sort of nutty taste & crunch. Perhaps it became a fav of mine as was a fav of my British parents. Here’s hoping your son finds many food favs like his parents- Congratulations!

  • Pamela

    Felicitations et bonjour Milan!

    Very good news about your new son….Enjoy your
    new status as parents….and this will open up new food interests and passions, j’en suis sur.

  • leeann

    I have an apple that has a swollen stem.. still trying ot get id on it.. Taste is sweet tart, smells of cotton candy and roses.. yellow with a russet or pink blush… mid size to small apple.. More unique than the wolf paw… Flesh of my apple is white like the wolf paw… have you seen such a thing? send me your email and i will send picts.

  • citic101

    Today I bought 2 wolfs paws apples , i have never seen them before and the first one that i ate the flesh was very soft , it had a texture of soft bread , i wouldnt say the taste was great the outside looks like a canadian grise

    • It sounds like those apples were past their prime. They should be crisp, not soft…

  • citic101

    Thats a pity ! I adore apples , you just cant find any good apples varieties now , its all gala rubbish etc

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