I decided to review some of the historic apple cultivars in my collection. By Historic, I loosely mean anything at least 100 years old, although some are a bit newer. The basis is finding images of them in the USDA Pomological Website (required attribution statement: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare
and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD
20705). Of these, only Macoun is 20th century, having been introduced in 1923. I think Macoun is also the only one of these that was part of a research program, the others having been discoveries by apple farmers over the centuries. As before, I edited the images for size and clarity, but kept original annotations. In some cases, if the info is not on the image, I added the artist and date.
Jonathan. This is a nostalgia apple for me, having been one of two apple trees that I grew up with in my parents' back yard, in Southwestern Illinois. The history of Jonathan is a but murky, either originating from cider mill seeds in Connecticut in 1796, or as a seedling of Esopus Spitzenberg in New York in 1826. When I taste these apples, I still think of them as the classic apple that I remember from so long ago. It's interesting to think that I'm tasting something that is, as much as possible, unchanged from before the time that my paternal ancestors emigrated from a Germany that wasn't even Germany yet, in the later 19th century. Of course, there is genetic drift, effect of modern training of tastes, and terroir (effect of local soils, weather, environment on flavor), but that Jonathan flavor is still there.
Duchess of Oldenburg. I'm interesting to see how this one turns out. Recent post, different image from the USDA Pomological Watercolors website.
Porter. I've only had one harvest from Porter. This was in the first group of grafts that I did from Fedco Scion, in about 2013. This yellow apple has a delightful, fruity flavor. According to New England Orchards, Porter originated in Shelburne Massachussets in about 1800; was described as one of the best of yellow fall apples, but ripened over too wide a range of time, and was too tender to ship According to Tom Burford's Apples of North America, Porter was "one of the great pie making apples of America, and was endorsed as such in early editions of the Fannie Farmer Cookbooks". I added Porter as a cultivar for my mini orchard using a graft from my previous multigraft, because the flavor is one of the nicest on that tree. Porter is described as moderately disease resistant, which is important. Porter ripens in Late Summer. Porter is also named "Yellow Summer Pearmain", and is the only tree in my orchard with that "Pearmain" designation. It's not clear what "pearmain" means, although it might designate some pear-like qualities.
Black Oxford. I added Black Oxford to the mini orchard last winter and have not had a chance to taste it. Tom Burford in Apples of North America describes Black Oxford as originating around 1790, on the "farm of a nail maker named Valentine, in Paris, Maine". Burford states that Black Oxford is moderately resistant to the major apple diseases. Fedco states that "Black Oxford is almost black, and is useful for late ciders and pies....Best eating late December to March, but we’ve
eaten them in July and they were still quite firm and tasty. They get
sweeter and sweeter as the months go by. Good cooking until early
summer." I think my mini orchard is a bit dominated by earlier ripening apples, so this seemed like an interesting choice. This was once a popular apple in Maine.
Gravenstein. I think this is one of the very best apple cultivars. Gravenstein was originally either a Danish apple, or was a gift to the Duke of Gravenstein in Denmark from Italy, in 1669. Hard to imagine, this apple has been grown for 350 years. How many people have enjoyed its flavor? Rowan Jaobson describes Gravenstein in his Apples of Uncommon Character as crisp and cidery, and as the first great apple of the year. Gravenstein has been a favorite in Sonoma County in California since immigrants from Crimea brought it there in 1812. Gravenstein is the national apple of Denmark. In my garden, this tree bears heavily, then skips a year, which makes the crop all the more anticipated. I'm not sure whether I should just leave it as a semidwarf tree in the front orchard, or have a graft of Gravenstein in the mini orchard as well. I'm leaning towards the latter, since that is where my focus has moved. Plus I can be more easily diligent about thinning fruit, which might help with the biennial bearing.
Macoun. I haven't tried this one yet. It's one season out from grafting on mini dwarf rootstock. Macoun is an early effort (1923) by NY State Experiment Station to create a planned hybrid apple, McIntosh X Jersey Black. It may have some disease and insect resistance.
King David. Discovered in an Arkansas fence row in the late 1800s. Possibly a cross of Jonathan and Arkansas Black. I like this apple, which I have on a two multigrafts. I'm thinking about making it a more prominent member of my orchard by regrafting to replace another cultivar.
Sutton Beauty is one of two cultivars that I grafted during grafting class at the Home Orchard Society class in about 2012. It appears to be on a dwarf rootstock. I multigrafted the tree, but might revert it to fewer varieties because this is such a good apple. According to Burford's Apples of North America, this apple originated in Sutton, Massachussets in 1757. This is an excellent mostly sweet, not much tartness at all, crisp, juicy, historic apple. Each year I look forward to tasting some of these excellent apples. This apple is described as moderately resistant to most apple diseases, other than fireblight. On the same tree, I have Airlie Red Flesh, which gets quite a lot of scab, while Sutton Beauty does not have any blemishes.