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MOTHER EARTH NEWS Spreads the Word About Unique Apples and Artisan Ciders

By Tabitha Alterman

Tags: apples, cider,

As part of our effort to decorate the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department in Washington, D.C. for the holidays (See Magazine Holiday Design Showcase), MOTHER EARTH NEWS embraced the theme "An Extravaganza of Apples." We coordinated with orchards and cideries around the country to showcase America's most beloved apple varieties and hard ciders.

Unique Apples

More than 50 apple varieties will be on display in the historic Adams Reception Room in the State Department’s Harry S. Truman Building during the month of December, and will be seen by hundreds of guests, including foreign leaders and dignitaries, diplomats, senators and congressmen. Besides being delicious and deliciously fragrant, each apple variety brings with it a unique history (learn more below).

Heirloom Apple Donors


Artisan Ciders

When the State Department unveiled the gorgeous rooms in all their holiday splendor at its Dec. 7 reception, hundreds of dignified guests were delighted to taste handcrafted artisanal hard ciders from all over the country. I was blown away by the exquisitely complex and balanced flavors the cidermakers have achieved by selecting the best locally adapted apple varieties from their regions. Plus, it's a hoot to see so many conscientious artisans preserving the legacy of rare heirloom foods for generations of cider drinkers to come.

The State Department's chef, Jason Larkin, was so pleased with the cider offering that he hopes to make it a holiday tradition at the State Department. "It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to serve such a wide variety of handcrafted apple ciders. It is our continued goal at the Department of State to showcase American artisanal food products to our distinguished guests. The President’s Guest House was a fitting venue from which to serve them. I consider it a priority to ensure that local food producers get the recognition that they deserve and am excited that there is an increased appreciation for these products. Every cider was truly unique and reflective of not only the apple varieties and techniques used but also the personality of the individuals making them," Larkin said. 

You can search for cider makers in your region through Local Harvest, but if you're lucky enough to live near one of these guys, check them out ASAP!

Artisan Cider Donors

Rare Apple Varieties

Every apple variety still grown in the United States has its own flavors, aromas and necessary growing conditions, but also an interesting history. Learn more about a few of the varieties we showcased at the State Department. (Adapted from Apples: A Catalog of International Varieties, by Tom Burford)

ESOPUS SPITZENBURG This apple originated in Esopus, Ulster County, New York, in the latter part of the 18th century, and it has the reputation of being a favorite dessert apple of Thomas Jefferson. “Spitz” is likely one of the parents of the Jonathan and is classified in the Baldwin apple group. It is a large apple, oblong in shape, smooth-skinned and has a lively, brilliant red color, approaching scarlet.

RED CANADA Large in size, this apple’s yellowish-green skin has a deep red flush with darker red stripes and is covered with light dots. The white flesh is crisp and tender, with a rich subacid flavor. It is especially aromatic. S.A. Beach, in Apples of New York (1905) describes it this way: “This is a red winter apple that belongs in the same group with Baldwin and Esopus Spitzenberg. When well-grown and in prime condition, it is one of the best apples of its season for dessert use because of its desirable size, attractive form and color, and superior quality. This variety probably originated in New England, but its exact origin is obscure.

NEWTOWN PIPPIN is the original name of the most famous Virginia apple, now called Albemarle Pippin or just Pippin. It was noted in 1759 and it is thought to have originated early in the 18th century on the Newtown, Long Island, New York estate of Gershom Moore. There is a report that the first Moore to settle in Newtown Village brought it as either a seed or a young tree from England in about 1666. The yellowish flesh is very firm, crisp, juicy and subacid, with what some describe as a clean, fresh taste. Albemarle or Newtown Pippin is an all-purpose apple that develops optimum flavor after a few months of storage. Cider made from the fruit is very clear and is considered to be of the highest quality.

HAUER PIPPIN is a seedling of Cox’s Orange Pippin that originated near Watsonville, California. Though it has similar characteristics to the Cox’s Orange Pippin, its skin is thicker and it will store for a longer period.

ARKANSAS BLACK originated in Benton County, Arkansas, in about 1870 and is speculated to be a seedling of Winesap. Medium in size, the color is a lively red, deepening on the exposed side to a purplish red or nearly black. The yellowish flesh is very hard and crisp, with a distinctive aromatic flavor. It appears to be less subject to codling moth larvae damage because of its thick, tough skin, and it is resistant to cedar apple rust.

GOLDEN RUSSET is a medium-size apple with russet skin that varies from gray-green to a golden bronze with a bright, coppery orange cheek. The fine-grained, yellowish flesh is crisp, with an exceptionally sugary juice. Properly stored, it will keep until April.

ASHMEAD’S KERNEL was raised by Dr. Ashmead, a physician from Gloucester, England, in about 1700. The flattish, round, sometimes slightly conical-shaped fruit is medium in size and russeted a golden brown with an orange or reddish-bronze cheek. The crisp, yellowish flesh is tinged green and is sugary, juicy and aromatic, with an acidic yet sweet flavor. Because of the high acid content, storage for weeks or months mellows the fruit and enhances it for dessert use. The dry, russet skin, lopsided shape and short stem characterize this apple. Apple expert Tom Burford describes it as “an apple not for sissies” because of its complex flavor. This classic dessert fruit ripens in late September and early October and always ranks in the top 10 at apple tastings.

BALDWIN In The Horticulturalist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste of 1847 the Baldwin origin is described this way: “This justly esteemed fruit originated in Wilmington, near Boston, in that county of Middlesex, Massachusetts. The original tree grew on the farm of Mr. Butters and was known for a time as the Butters apple. Orchards were propagated from Mr. Butters’ trees, pretty freely, about 75 years since, by Dr. Jabez Brown, of Wilmington, and Col. Baldwin, of Woburn, and their sons, to whom the public are principally indebted for bringing the fruit so generally into notice.” The year of discovery was about 1750. Large and roundish, narrowing just a little toward the blossom end, the skin is yellow but striped and nearly covered with crimson on the sun-exposed side. The yellowish-white flesh is crisp, tender and subacid.

LADY APPLE has been known in France as Nome Api for more than 300 years. It is also possibly the Appian apple of the Roman Empire. One of the first European apples brought to America, it is thought to have been found in the Forest of Apis, Brittany, France, and was recorded in 1628. It is small and flattish in shape with a shiny skin that ranges from creamy yellow in the shade to a deep, glossy crimson on the sun-exposed side. The flesh is tender, white, crisp and very juicy, with much of the flavor in the skin. The flavor has been described as effervescent.

CLASSIC RED DELICIOUS (HAWKEYE) is the most popular and widely grown apple in the world, with more than 300 variations of this apple in cultivation. A chance seedling was found in 1872 on the farm of Jesse Hiatt of Peru, Iowa, where it grew near a Yellow Bellflower, which is speculated to be its maternal parent. The other parent is speculated to be the Black Gilliflower or Sheepnose.

CALVILLE BLANC D’HIVER, or White Winter Calville, is the classic dessert apple of France and is either of French or German origin. It likely dates to the late 16th century. This large, flattish-round apple with uneven ribs extending the entire length of the fruit and terminating in prominent, unequal ridges at the base is pale green in color, with light red dots on the side exposed to the sun. It turns yellow in storage as it matures and should be stored a month or longer to develop its maximum flavor. It has a distinctive taste described by some as effervescent. It has a high vitamin C content that is often compared to that of an orange. It is a dessert-quality variety that makes exceptional cider and vinegar.

WINTER BANANA is also called Banana, Flory Banana and Flory. It originated on the David Flory farm in Case County, Indiana, about 1876, and was introduced by the Greening Brothers Nursery of Monroe, Michigan, in 1890. There are a number of strains, including a spur type. The variety Banana Sweet, also called Banana, is a distinct variety. When fruit baskets were popular, Winter Banana was often used as the focus fruit because of its beauty. Large in size and round in shape, the skin is a pale, waxen yellow with a rosy blush. The skin is shiny, smooth and greasy, with a distinct suture line. The yellowish-white flesh is crisp and juicy, with a mild flavor and an aroma that the pomologist Hedrick described as a “suggestion of musk exclusively the property of this apple.” The vigorous tree blooms late and bears young alternatively heavy and light crops. It has a low chill requirement suitable for planting in warm regions. Winter Banana is susceptible to cedar apple rust and fire blight, and it bruises readily. It is an excellent pollinator for other varieties, and is often planted particularly for that purpose. The bark of the tree is yellowish green and broadly folded with indistinct serrations. The mild-flavored dessert fruit ripens in Virginia in late September and early October.

CORTLAND came out of the New York State Experimental Station in 1898 and is a cross of Ben Davis and McIntosh. It was introduced commercially in 1982 and there are a number of strains, including an early ripening one called Early Cortland. The skin is dark red with a dusky blue cast over a yellow background color, and may be more than half blood red with crimson overlays. Sometimes dark red stripes may show. The flesh is juicy, fine-grained, tender and white, and it is slow to oxidize when exposed to air. The vigorous tree begins to bear early and is an annual bearer that is highly productive. The fruit hangs on the tree well after ripening. The tree grows tall and spreads, with dark red bark on old wood. The leaves are flat with the midrib, making a reverse curvature, and the leaf tips are a clear, light green color with a dull, rough surface. Ripening begins about 130 days after full bloom, which in the mid-Atlantic states is late September.

ROME BEAUTY is also known as Rome, Starbuck, Roman Beauty or Gillett’s Seedling, and is speculated to be a seedling of Westfield Seek-No-Further. It was recorded in 1848. Joel Gillett in Proctorville, Ohio, bought a number of grafted trees from Putnam Nursery in 1816. One had sprouted below the graft, and Gillett gave this tree to his son. The tree produced large, attractive apples he named Rome, for the township. The original tree was washed away in a flood in 1860. There is a sport called Rome Beauty Double Red, flatter and of higher color than the original. Medium to large in size, uniformly round in shape, and fairly smooth and well-colored, the greenish-yellow skin is mottled and flushed with bright red which deepens to a solid red on the sun-exposed side. It is conspicuously striped bright carmine. There are many strains and cultivars that vary in coloration. The creamy-yellow flesh is coarse-textured and juicy, and the skin is tough. The stem is long and thick and usually projects at an angle. The tree growth is narrow and upright, and the bark is a reddish-olive color. Leaves are small, shiny, light green, oval and sharply serrated. The tree limbs are unusually supple and are therefore less often damaged by high winds. Rome Beauty is self-fruitful and blooms late, escaping late frosts. An all-purpose apple, it is considered one of the best varieties for baking. It stores well and ripens in early October.

YORK is also called York Imperial and was originally named Johnson’s Fine Winter. There are a number of strains and cultivars. It originated on the Johnson farm near York, Pennsylvania, and was introduced in 1830. Johnson watched school children in early spring digging out leaf-covered apples that were in a remarkable state of preservation. A local nurseryman propagated the apple before 1830 under the name Johnson’s Fine Winter, which remained its name until the 1850s, when Charles Downing called it an “imperial keeper” and suggested it be named York Imperial. Medium to large in size and varying in shape from oblate-oblique to oval-oblong, the greenish-yellow skin is mostly covered with a light red flush, crimson stripes and russet dots. The yellow flesh is coarse-textured, crisp and juicy, with a subacid to sweet flavor that remains even after long storage. The tree grows upright and stocky with dark green oval leaves that are shiny and slightly serrated. The core of the apple is small and compact. There are 175 to 185 days from full bloom to fruit maturity. York ripens in October.

See also: Hard Cider and Sweet Cider