Interesting Apples

Don’t let the supermarket apple selections fool you into thinking these are your only choices. There are thousands of different kinds of apples. Only a few of them are grown in large enough quantities to be produce. Some of the apples in your store are nowhere near as good as apples you never see.

Our supermarket Nob Hill over the year offers up to fifteen or sixteen different apple varieties. Most other supermarkets offer considerable fewer. Sometimes you can get different kinds at farmers’ markets or roadside stands, but even here, knowing the limited experience of their clientele, the selections often duplicate what is common available.

One solution is to grow the more unique apples yourself. Rather than duplicate the fruits that are readily available (and unfortunately also offered in nurseries), try to get varieties that are not common. Usually these are available through mail order. Here are some less common apple trees.

One of my favorite apples is Pixie Crunch. It’s a small apple, rarely larger than a crabapple. The operating word is “crunch”; this is one noisy apple to eat. I can never have only one of these little beauties because they are so good. Whenever I walk past the tree in season, I pick one or two to crunch on and I’ll take more on the way back. The tree is prolific, but we always want more. A common reaction from someone who tries one is, Where can I get a tree?

Two trees, developed by the PRI universities, not only have great apples, but are also disease resistant. William’s Pride, which fruits in early August, produces wonderful tasting apples and they don’t ripen all at once, so you can pick them through August. At the end of the month, the Priscilla ripens, another great apple and that keeps for three months.

The Scarlet O’Hara, also from PRI, provided a surprise for us last December. The fruit ripened in mid-September, and we had them all eaten by the end of the month, or so I thought. The apples are a little unique in flavor but very good. Then, just before Christmas, I found a solitary Scarlet O’Hara in the refrigerator, where it had been forgotten. After one bite, I immediately regretted eating them all in September. In those three months in the fridge, the apple turned from a good apple into a really great one. Now we know to save them for later.

An interesting, rare apple is the Princesse Noble. This apple originated in the 16th century in northern Germany, where it is still grown (also in Holland and France). There it is better known as Alantapfel (or d’Aunée in French). Princesse Noble is a common alternative name. The Dutch brought the apple to Indonesia when Indonesia was still their colony. There it can grow at elevations over 3,500 feet.

The apple ripens in October. The fruit is not very large. The shape is a little elongated and it is yellow with red stripes. The flesh is fine-grained, breaking but not very firm, and tends towards yellow in color. While the Princesse Noble may not be the finest dessert apple on the block, it is good, with a delicate aroma and a pleasant cinnamon-spicy taste.

Pink Pearl apple trees are often available at nurseries. They produce an apple with pink flesh. More interesting is the Niedzwetzkyana, a dark red apple with bright red flesh from Kazakhstan, the place where apples originated. These apples are great for making red apple pies and sauce. They are also good to eat if they are left on the tree to ripen longer and get sweeter.

One apple often available at farmers’ markets is the versatile Gravenstein. This variety makes a great backyard apple. The fruit ripens in August. This apple grows on a large tree and fruits so heavily that one has to cull as many as three fourths of the crop. The Gravenstein is an excellent apple for eating and cooking. It makes the best apple pies and it is our apple of choice for drying. We dry the slices by simply blowing air over them, no heat. After a week in the freezer, they will keep on the pantry shelf until the next season. For apple pies, we use apples before they are fully ripe, and we blanch the slices first for even cooking.

Gravenstein apple blossoms are sterile, so if you grow this one yourself, you will need an apple tree of a different variety to be sure of pollination. For best pollination, it is a good idea anyway to have more than one tree, unless your neighbors have a tree. The blooming times of the trees I mentioned overlap for the most part. The exception is matching Priscilla with Pixie Crunch or Scarlet O’Hara. Priscilla comes into flower in early March, while the other two only come out in early April.

Descriptions of apples may be found at various sites. Here are some.

All About Apples:

Apple Journal:

Dave Wilson Nursery:

Trees of Antiquity:

Avoiding Gardening Mail Order Rip-offs

Spring is the time for planting bare root fruit trees. One of the best ways to get uncommon or heirloom plants is by mail order or online. In this way, I have been able to get together a large variety of apple trees. For the most part, the nurseries I have dealt with have been excellent. One, for instance, had no hesitation sending me a replacement tree when the first one, after a couple of years, turned out to be mislabeled. But beware! Unscrupulous dealers lurk out there.

One of these is Southmeadow Fruit Gardens. Unfortunately, Southmeadow is often recommended as a mail order source, and perhaps at one time it deserved that recommendation. But no more! I sent my order and money in by mail, but no trees ever arrived. I sent letters, but never got a response. When I called, I was told that they don’t send to California and they would refund my money. This they never did, despite more calls. When I found an online site (on Dave’s Garden) for comments about nurseries, I discovered that I was by no means the only one ripped off.  The address for the Dave’s Garden site is given at the end of this post.

Another is Autumn Ridge Nursery. This one suckered me in with its low prices. Truth to tell, I was a little wary; I thought the plants might be a bit on the small side, but, hey, trees grow. So I ordered. Not only did I order once; I ordered twice before I realized my mistake.

Briefly, my experience was a complete shamozzle! The apricot I ordered turned out to be a peach. The peaches I ordered either failed or turned out to be rootstock only. The cherry I ordered also turned out to be rootstock, not the Rainier ordered. None of the apples I got from Autumn Ridge have produced fruit or have even grown properly, so I don’t know whether they are the right ones, and this is more than seven years later! One apple tree arrived completely dead. The dead apple was the only tree that Autumn Ridge ever replaced. They never replaced the apricot, the peaches or the cherry.

Had I used Dave’s Garden’s “Guide to Gardening by Mail, Mail Order Gardening and Catalogs”, I would have had second thoughts about both of these companies. The address is Scrolling down gets you to where you can browse by letter. This is a user created database of nurseries and not just for fruit trees. Not only can you read about other users experiences, you can also input your own. I highly recommended this service before ordering online or by catalog.