The conversation had started off innocently enough. I purchased a scabbed and ugly, but still interesting looking apple at the Merrimack Farmer’s Market from Tom Mitchell who runs Ledge Top Farm in Wilton, New Hampshire. His apples are certified naturally grown, offering chemical-free fruit and vegetables to local communities.
“Its a Jona-Red,” Tom said in his Yankee farmer way, as if I should have an idea what that is. I was born and raised in the city, and had, before today, mostly favored the “Macs” and “Granny” apples. The Jona-Red was amazing–crunchy when I bit into it, with a lovely sweet flavor.
I had wondered for a long time why the apple pies of today don’t taste the same as the ones Grandma used to make. Well doh! If the apples in the pie are different that might be a big reason. Being the researcher that I am, now I needed to learn more about the apples of my ancestors.
Nodhead, Jewett’s Red, Derry Nonsuch, Granite Beauty, Dinsmore, Shaker Greening, Calef Sweet, or LaFayette’s Favorite–do any of these apple names sound familiar? You’ve probably not heard of them (neither had I), yet they are all antique apples that had their start in New Hampshire. Today, with a few exceptions, they are almost rarer than hen’s teeth.
These priceless heirloom apples are now obscure because we’ve allowed the marketers and our own jaded purchasing habits to direct us to the picture perfect, symmetrical, shiny (probably waxed) fruit that we’ve been taught to believe we really want. So instead of buying fresh, local, and native, we buy apples shipped in from out West, from South America, or even China (who now is the top apple producer in the world).
—Apples in the American Colonies—
First, let it be known that the lowly crab-apple is the only true apple NATIVE to New Hampshire, and to North America. All of the larger apple varieties (actually we should instead use the term cultivars) originated elsewhere. In the early colonization of North America, the apple seeds and trees cames from somewhere in Europe.
There are several claims to apple importing greatness in New England. It is said that the Pilgrims brought apple seeds or tree with them, however the absence of an inventory of the original Mayflower stating same would seem to disprove this. I did find several reports that later voyages of the Mayflower probably brought apple trees or seeds to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Several sources state that graft plants did not survive in the earliest years, and that trees grown from seed (which is not now considered the best method) produced the initial trees. At any rate, there would not have been apple pie on the first “Thanksgiving Day,” unless it was made with crab-apples.
The Puritans also lay claim to the notion of establishing the first apple tree, with John Endecott, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as the owner. Indeed he was known to propagate fruit trees, but again proof is a bit shaky.
A third claim is that in 1625 clergyman William Braxton planted the first orchard in Massachusetts, removing to Rhode Island ten years later, and after planting an orchard there, naming one “Rhode Island Greening,” that eventually became the parent of the now popular Golden Delicious apple.
Most sources agree that records from the Massachusetts’ colony indicate that apples were grown in New England as early as 1630. Once apples trees were established here, the farmers (and almost everyone was a farmer of one sort or another in those days), new cultivars sprung up in various places, including nearby New Hampshire.
—New Hampshire Apple Cultivars—
New England is an amazing source of heirloom apples. However, due to time and inclination I am only going to focus on the apples that we know have their roots (pun intended) in New Hampshire soil. If you are interested in others, the New England Apple Association has a web site with wonderful photographs of many (but not all) of the locally grown varieties. Just below is a Concord NH video demonstrating some of these heirloom varieties.
Abbott, or Abbott’s Sweet - NH. Medium, roundish, striped; of moderate flavor. Winter. N.H., page 689, The American Fruit Culturist [see] Also listed in American pomology by John Ason Warder, Orange Judd and company, 1867. “Origin: New Hampshire; fruit rather above medium, roundish, conical, yellow, covered with stripes and blotches of red, and many white dots. Flesh white, tender, juicy and pleasant. Very sweet. Good to very good. December to March.” from Fruits and Fruit Trees of America., by Charles Downing, A.J. Downing, 2nd revision, 1872.
Calef, Calef’s Sweet, Magoon Sweet, Magoon, Magoun – NH. Described as “Very large, roundish, yellow; sweet, rich. November to January. N.H. Valuable,” on page 694, The American Fruit Culturist. More details about this apple can be found on page 61 of Catalog of Varieties, where is it called, “Magoun Apple. Originated on the farm of Robert Calef, Kingston NH.” Information also found on page 114, “Apples,” by Andrew Jackson Downing, J. Wiley & Son, 1872. [Editor's note: The aforementioned is probably Robert Calef, son of John & Judith (Challis) Calef, born 26 February 1772 in Kingston NH, and died 20 October 1838 in the same place. He married 26 May 1802 in Kingston NH to Polly Sleeper, and had two children].
Derry, Derry Nonsuch, Dinsmore, Londonderry - NH. Winter, origin unknown, from Keene, NH. Described as “Rather large, oblong, conic, angular, striped; sub-acid, agreeable,” in The American Fruit Culturist, by John J. Thomas, William H.S. Wood; William Wood and Company, 1903, page 697. “Held in estimation there. Tree, thrifty and productive, a late keeper. Fruit, above medium, oblong or conic angular; skin, yellow, sprinkled, shaded, and splashed with crimson; stem, short, in a moderate cavity; calyx, large, closed, basin, shallow, uneven; flesh, yellowish, juicy, tender, slightly aromatic, agreeably sub-acid. January to April (Downing)” as described in The Western Fruit Book, by Frank Elliott, first published in 1859; Also found on page 88 Catalog of Varieties; and from page 144, “Apples,” by Andrew Jackson Downing, J. Wiley & Son, 1872. Also listed in “American pomology” by John Ason Warder, Orange Judd and company, 1867
Dusten - NH, information from page 95 catalog of varieties; “of unknown origin, but grown in Weare NH, Fruit medium, oblate, whitish yellow, few gray dots. Flesh white, tender, juicy, pleasant subacid.”
Fisks, Fisk’s Seedling - NH, page 110 catalog of varieties, Described as, “Medium, oblate, oblique, deep red; flesh greenish-white, tender, rich. Autumn, N.H.” from page 700, The American Fruit Culturist. Also described in “The fruits and fruit-trees of America,” by Charles Downing, A.J. Downing, 2nd revision, 1872, as having its origin in Keene, New Hampshire.
Granite, Granite Beauty, Aunt Dorcas, Clothes-Yard Apple, Grandmother’s Apple – NH, page 127 Catalog of Varieties. Origin on the farm of Zephaniah Breed, Weare NH, originated sometime before 1815 ; also on page 199, “Apples,” by Andrew Jackson Downing, J. Wiley & Son, 1872. Much more detail can be found at Mela Granite Beauty web site. [Editor's Note: there were three men named Zephaniah Breed who lived at some point in Weare, only two who would have lived there prior to 1815 when the apple appearance is dated. Zephaniah Breed, son of Nathan & Mary (Basset) Breed, b. 10 March 1737 in Lynn MA; saddler. Removed to Weare NH in 1776 and kept a tavern. He m1) 27 Apr 1762 Ruth Phillips; m2) Abigail Collins. He died in the summer of 1792 as his will was proved 20 Aug 1792. Their children, Abigail, Mary, Elizabeth, Daniel, ***Zephaniah (see next), Cornelia and Jonathan. ***Zephaniah Breed, son of Zephaniah & Ruth (Phillips) Breed, was b. 9 Sep 1771 Essex Co MA; yeoman, lived in Weare in 1796. Died 11 Jan 1839 Weare NH; married Hannah Wing. By 1815 the family had removed to DeRuyter, Madison Co. NY where son Benjamin was born. The third Zephaniah Breed was a son of Micajah & Ruth (Gove) Breed was b. 1819 in Henniker, Merrimack Co. NH and died 18 March 1901 in Weare, Hillsborough Co. NH. His birth date is too late to be the originator of this apple].
Hampshire – NH. One source states that this is a relatively new fruit, introduced in 1990, reported from a limb that came off a McCowan; sweeter and more elongated, propagated at Gould Hill in Contoocook NH. The Gould Hill web site states, “In 1978 another chance seedling was discovered at the orchard. This variety, “Hampshire” was patented on December 28, 1993.”
John Sweet, John’s Sweet - NH. Found on page 158 catalog of varieties. Described as “Medium, oblong or conic, striped red on whitish-yellow; sweet, of a peculiar flavor. Winter. N.H.,” on page 705, The American Fruit Culturist. “Origin, Lyndsboro [sic] New Hampshire. Tree a good grower, somewhat straggling, a prolific bearer. Young shoots, reddish brown. Fruit medium, roundish conic, whitish yellow, sprinkled, striped, and splashed with red….Flesh juicy, tender, sweet. Good. January to May [more in source] as described in “The fruits and fruit-trees of America,” by Charles Downing, A.J. Downing, 2nd revision, 1872.
Lafayette, Lafayette’s Favorite – NH, page 171 catalog of varieties; Originated in Chester NH on the farm of William Jenney, and first fruited in 1824 the year of General Lafayette’s visit to this country, hence its name. Also information on page 247, “Apples,” by Andrew Jackson Downing, J. Wiley & Son, 1872.
Ledge Sweet / Portsmouth Sweet – from the 1852 Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and All Useful Discoveries and Improvements in Rural Affairs, Volume 18, by Charles Mason Hovey; Hovey and Co.; page 254 describes the fruit as follows: “LEDGE SWEET. Late in the spring of last year, and also of the present one, specimens of a most excellent sweet apple have been placed upon the tables of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, from Mrs. Haven, [A.H. Haven] of Portsmouth, N.H. They were perfectly sound and fresh, as if just gathered from the tree. Proving for two seasons so fine, the Committee, at the request of Mrs. Haven, recently named it the Ledge Sweet. [read remainder of description here]. Another reference to this apple can be found on page 254 of the Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and All Useful Discoveries, by Charles Mason Hovey, 1852. Described as “Large, roundish-oblate, yellowish-green with a blush; sweet. A good keeper. N.H.,” on page 707, The American Fruit Culturist [see] Also listed in American pomology by John Ason Warder, Orange Judd and company, 1867. “Rambles about Portsmouth” speaks of a Joseph Haven (who) erected a mansion on his father’s orchard.
Marshall – NH. “Largely grown in some parts of New Hampshire, as a profitable market apple, on account of its productiveness and very late keeping. Fruit above medium, roundish, a little flattened, deep green, mostly overlaid with a fine thick sprinkling of whiting green specks, a little blush and crimson specks next the sun. April, May.” (originally described in Me. Rep.) — The fruits and fruit-trees of America, by Charles Downing, A.J. Downing, 2nd revision, 1872.
Marston’s Red Winter – NH; Listed in American pomology by John Ason Warder, Orange Judd and company, 1867. Marston’s Red Winter. “Origin: Greenland, N.H. Tree hardy of moderate growth. Young shoots reddish brown, slightly downy. Great bearer, and keeps as well as Baldwin. Fruit above medium size, roundish conic…. December to March. [more in source] The fruits and fruit-trees of America, by Charles Downing, A.J. Downing, 2nd revision, 1872.
Milden, Milding – NH. “By reason of handsome fruits of good quality, Milden has won a place in New England…the apples are bright red on a pale-yellow background of large size and shapely in form…Milden originated at Alton, New Hampshire about 1865.” Additional description in page 45 of Cyclopedia of Hardy Fruits, by U. Hedrick, 1922. “Another good variety is the Milding. This apple originated in Alton, N.H. The first scions set in Piscataquis county [Maine] were in the orchard of H.L. Leland, who received them from brother Gilbert, the president of this society. The tree is a vigorous, upright grower which in our snowy county is an important point to be considered. The fruit is large and usually good color when the trees are properly pruned. It must be sprayed to insure against loss by scab, and should be gathered early as it drops badly when allowed to fully ripen on the tree,” from Agriculture of Maine: Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, By Maine. Dept. of Agriculture.
Nodhead or Jewett’s Red – NH. A great deal has been written about this apple. Most agree that it originated in Hollis NH early in the 19th century. Also known as the Nodhead, it is “an early winter apple of the Blue Pearmain type… handsomely colored–dark red covered by a heavy, blue bloom.” from Cyclopedia of Hardy Fruits, by U. Hedrick, 1922. Although all sources seem to agree that the Nodhead apple first appeared in Hollis, New Hampshire, there are three separate people who have been given credit, namely Ephraim Woods (1908), Rev. Mr. Emerson, and Samuel Jewett, (two sources state this, but they are the most recent) or Dea. Stephen Jewett (from the History of Hollis NH, 1879). [Editor: I tend to go with the last so-named, and the oldest source.]
President – NH. “The President apple originated in the part of Pelham near Salem, and the original tree had been in bearing ever since General Washington was President. ” from Hillsborough County Meeting at Pelham, Farmer’s Cabinet, 02-24-1853, Vol 51, Issue 29, Page 2, Amherst NH
Red Russet - NH; a large apple. Winter. Listed in American pomology by John Ason Warder, Orange Judd and company, 1867.
Rock Apple – NH. Origin, Peterborough NH, recommended by Robert Wilson of Keene, as an excellent fruit. page 338 from “Apples.” “Rock Apple. Large, roundish, striped; sub-acid, very good. Autumn. N.H., page 716, The American Fruit Culturist [see] Also listed in American pomology by John Ason Warder, Orange Judd and company, 1867.
Rum Apple – NH. Medium, oblate, yellow, shaded crimson; sub-acid. Winter. N.H., from page 716, The American Fruit Culturist [see]
Shaker Greening, Hampshire Greening, Shaker Pippin. Origin Enfield NH; Tree vigorous, upright etc.”Apples” by A.J. Downing, page 350
Sparkhawk – NH. “from B.V. French Esq….originated in Walpole, N.H. and is known in the family of Mr. Sparhawk, on whose farm it was found as the “Gall” Apple. It was introduced to our society by A. De Copen, of Dorchester, and the Society gave it the name of Sparhawk. It is a large Apple; oblate; skin smooth and glossy; color, yellowish, ground, striped with red; abundant bearer…September October…” [additional info at source] from Elliot’s fruit book, by C.M. Saxton, 1854, page 161. The Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and all Useful Discoveries, Vol 8, 1842, on page 379 mentions the submission to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, “from Dr. Sparkhawk, Walpole, N.H., by Aaron D. Capen, large striped apples (beautiful) name unknown.” [Editor's note: this Dr. Sparhawk is probably Dr. Jonathan Hubbard Sparhawk, son of Thomas and Rebecca (Stearns) Sparhawk, who was b. 12 February 1781 at Walpole NH. Graduated Dartmouth College. He died in 1819. He married Clarissa Porter. Three children: Elizabeth, John Stearns and Thomas Porter.]
Twitchell’s Sweet, Twitchell Sweet Medium – NH. Described as “conic, red and purple; flesh white, stained; sweet, pleasant flavor. November, N.H.,” from page 731, The American Fruit Culturist [see] Also listed in American pomology by John Ason Warder, Orange Judd and company, 1867.
— As for the Jona-Red (not a NH apple) —
And what of the ancestry of that Jona-Red apple that was tasty enough to be an inspiration for this story? The Jona-Red is a ‘sport‘ of the Jonathan apple, whose history is convoluted. The Jonathan apple apparently either 1) started with seeds from a Connecticut cider mill, and ending up in Ohio, or 2) was grown on a Woodstock, Ulster Co. NY farm). Both stories state the apple was named after a man named Jonathan.
As for the sport, Jona-Red, The Register of New Fruit and Nut Varieties, 1920-1950 by Reid M. Brooks and Harold P. Olmo, 1952, states: “Jonared–originated in Peshastin, Washington, by William Uecher. Introduced commercially in 1934. Patent no. 85. January 16, 1934; assigned to Stark Brothers Nurseries and Orchards Company, Louisiana Missouri. Bud mutation of Jonathan; discovered in 1930. Fruit: earlier coloring than parent; all-over red color.” An advertisement for the Jonared apple in the 1940s states that the apple was “supreme new double-red bud sport,” and indicated that the trees were patented and sold only by Stark Nurseries in Louisiana, Missouri.
The book, “Enduring Roots: Encounters with Trees, History, and the American Landscape,” by Gayle Brandow Samuels states, “With 7,500 apple varieties available, there is an ecstatic experience….awaiting every palate. At the rate of the prescribed apple a day, it would take one person twenty years and two hundred days to try them all. Where to begin?” I suggest an uncommon variety, grown in New Hampshire.
— Inspiring Blogs or Blog Posts—
Adam’s Apples (blog)
— How to Find Local Apples in New Hampshire —
New England Apple Growers: New Hampshire
New Hampshire Fruit Growers Association: Click-able Map
— Articles About Vintage Apples and Current Day Buying Practices —
Why your Supermarket Only Sells 5 Kinds of Apples (Mother Jones News)
Before the Mac, Vintage Apples (Wall Street Journal)
The warty, drunken, heirloom vegetables of New England (Boston Globe)
Eastman’s Antique Apples – not in NH but carries some NH Antique Apples
Trees of Antiquity – another company not in NH but offering Antique Apple tree for sale.
—Resources for Heirloom Apples—
Elliot’s Fruit Book, or, The American fruit-grower, by Franklin Reuben Elliott; C.M. Saxton, 1854
The Western Fruit Book, by Frank Elliott, first published in 1859.
American pomology, by John Aston Warder, Orange Judd and company, 1867.
Apples, by Andrew Jackson Downing, Charles Downing, J. Wiley & Son, 1872
The American Fruit Culturist, by John J. Thomas, William H.S. Wood; William Wood and Company, 1903.
Cyclopedia of Hardy Fruits, by U. Hedrick, 1922