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“Name that Apple!” at the Fruit Club’s annual Fruit ShowNovember 17th, 2012 at Sat, 17th, 2012 at 2:31 pm by Karen Dale
My freezer’s now well-stocked with applesauce and pie filling, thanks to a bumper year for apples and a generous apple tree (and its owner) on the Burton Peninsula. I’ve always wondered what kind of apple this old tree produces. With the Fruit Club’s annual Fruit Show coming up, I thought someone might be able to identify it. So I bagged three representative fruit and headed to the show on November 10th.
Emily MacRae, de facto event coordinator, called out hello as she buzzed between the Senior Center and the lectures next door at the Land Trust Building. Walking into the Senior Center, I found Dr. Bob Norton, Dr. Al Watts of the AppleYard Farm, and hobby orchardist Doug Tuma behind a room-long table that held over 100 different apple varieties from around the Island.
On the other side of the room, hunched under a lamp like a Dickens bookkeeper, Sean Shepperd from Portland’s Home Orchard Society was kniving open mystery apples, looking for traits searchable in his enormous apple database. When I handed him one of the mystery apples from our community orchard, he noted the green-n-red coloring and called out, “Another Jonagold!”
Now Jonagold’s been said, by Pete Svinth and other Island apple luminaries, to be one of the best to grow here. But something in Sean’s ho-hum tone made me feel like I’d offered him something dead common. Well, take THESE! I thought and unveiled my three yellow Burton apples.
His brow knit just a little. “Hummm… let’s see … oh my! This is a Belmont—quite popular in the 19th century.” Dr. Bob’s ears perked, and he called out, “Who’s brought the Belmont?” I felt rather proud to spin around and say, “I did!”
The Belmont, I learned later from a Google search, was created in 1775 from grafts done by a Barbara Herr Nissley Beam of Pennsylvania. Her yellow “Mama Beam” apples became locally famous, and as her sons moved on to the Ohio River Valley, they took scions with them to plant their own orchards. The men and their apples prospered: they planted their mother’s apples for 5 miles along the river, so many that excursion boats used to bring tourists down the Ohio to gawk at the spring bloom. The apple’s fame, in spreading as far as New York, dragged a confusion of names with it, but in 1875 the Ohio Fruit Growers Convention, asserting local pride, officially named it “Belmont” after the country where the fruit first came to fame.
My Belmonts went on their own plate with their own laminated card created by VP emeritus Mary Ormstead and sister Jean Williams of the Kitsap Peninsula Fruit Club. Each label held the name, characteristics and points of interest (“Esopus Spitzenberg—Thomas Jefferson’s preferred apple!”). Then, as Dr. Bob and Doug took their lunch break, I did my member’s duty behind the table and offered samples to visitors.
From the tip of a paring knife I offered slices of spicy Belle de Boskoop and Karmijn de Sonnaville, juicy Hawaii, tart Liberty, rotund Gloria Mundi, seedless Gravenstein, the pineappley Holstein and Winter Banana, the tiny Lady apple that, according to Tuma, “was in olden days carried by ladies in their little purses against bad breath” (we all immediately bit). When I exclaimed over my new favorite, a tiny yellow apple called “Tolman’s Sweet,” Dr. Bob said, “You KNOW that tree—it’s growing next to the donation shed up at the food bank.”
Down at one end were all the cider apples and pears. When I insisted on tasting “Vilberie,” I knew right away why Wes Cherry, cidermaker, called it “Vile Berry”—it tasted like cotton wads soaked in iodine. Quick—get me another Lady apple!
In a lecture next door, Dr. Bob Norton shared his list of what he considers some “Best Apples for Vashon.” This is published with his permission, and I will publish it with his notations in my eventually-forthcoming book. Thank you, Dr. Bob, Emily Macrae & Gar, Elizabeth Vogt, Mary Ormstead, Jean Williams, and Sean Shepperd, and to all the members of the Fruit Club for this engaging fruit show.
Dr. Bob Norton’s Recommendations on Apples for Vashon-Maury Island
SCAB-FREE OR RESISTANT: Akane, Belle de Boskoop, Bramley’s Seedling, Holstein, Karmijn de Sonnaville, Liberty, and Williams’ Pride.
NOT SCAB-FREE, BUT STILL DESIRABLE: Gravenstein, Elstar, Esopus Spitzenburg, HoneyCrisp (“Grows better here than anywhere else!”), Early Fuji varieties, Macoun, Melrose, Spartan, Red Jonagold, Grimes Golden, and King, that common old variety much planted here.
PROBLEMATIC HERE: Yellow Transparent, Gala, Golden Delicious, Ginger Gold, Empire, Cameo, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith.