MORE curious than concerned, I began late last summer keeping tabs on the apples offered in our supermarket, and the total hasn't been many.
We have the Yellow and Red Delicious, which are beautiful and shined magnificently for that old eye-appeal that any western apple needs. Then there is the McIntosh, which Tim Moseley once said has a skin that makes good snowshoe bindings. The Granny Smith seems to be our newest and has the oddity of being popular although yellow (maybe green). I did see a Macoun at one spell. We also have the Cortland, which is a stepchild of the McIntosh as well as the Ben Davis.
The Ben Davis is an elderly variety once grown by shiploads for export to England, and the "best keeper known." 'Twas said the flavor of a Ben Davis was improved by the voyage to England, and the same Tim Moseley conceded that "it don't hurt it none." Tim likened that flavor to a 10-cent baseball. He also said there is no such thing as a foolish worm, because no worm ever tackled a Ben Davis.
So the only place you will find the good old-time family apples will be in the "preservation orchard," which is like a museum, and in a few of the nursery catalogs that offer them as oddities and have them grafted on dwarf rootstock - some of them four or five kinds to a single tree. Astonishing! Nobody running a store today ever heard of a Blue Pearmain.
Not all the old-time apples were good, but each had some virtue that housewives recognized, and while the Nodhead was so-so for pies, the Wolf River was a baker. Work the core out of a Wolf River, put in some spice and a dollop of maple syrup, and then see how the thing puffs and swells, and smells, as it ascends to perfection. There isn't an apple today in any store in this land that will beat a Wolf River at its own game. The Wolf was a huge apple.
Can you, right now, name any of the "sweets?" There was the Tolman Sweet, the King Sweet, the Hitop Sweet, the Pumpkin Sweet - all golden or russet, and milady loved them for baking in a bean pot. Pare and core them, cut in quarters, and layer in the ancient ovenware bean-pot - any day save Saturday. Cinnamon, nutmeg, a touch of dark molasses, brown sugar, and maple syrup, and keep watered until dessert time, but always with one of the "sweet" apples.
In colonial days, there existed over 800 apple varieties in the New England area. Apple seeds will not come "true," which explodes the whole Johnny Appleseed myth - the odds of a good "natural" seedling are millions to one - so early farmers started "wild" sprouts, to which named varieties were grafted as two-year-olds. Traveling grafters wandered the countryside with their bags of scions, and for so much a "set" they would make the wild whips into useful trees. Every farmer came to have Baldwins, Graven steins, Duchess, Greenings, Fallawater, Northern Spies, and the standards. Hybrid varieties like the Macoun and Cortland came after experimental stations were established and controlled "crossings" could be made. Next, the nurseries used dwarfing rootstocks, and began grafting four and five varieties on one tree. Marvelous! But by that time you couldn't find a Maiden's Blush anywhere.
A fine early fall apple was the Fay-muse. Originating in France as the Fameuse Yankee, farmers renamed it Fay-muse, and then the Snow Apple. It came in late September, and the pure white flesh of the Snow was lightly streaked with crimson. Nothing better for recess time at school. It didn't keep well, so we didn't put any "down-sulla" for winter.
Apples are "notional." We had several trees of Red Gravenstein, and as many of Yellow. The yellow has some red color, but is still not a "red" apple. The Red Gravenstein was a "sport" from the standard. Except for the color, the two Gravensteins were identical, and ripened in September. When they appeared on our roadside stand, customers insisted on having the red ones, and we couldn't sell the yellow until the red ones were gone. Until the Yellow Delicious and the Granny Smith, the American housewife wa nted red apples - although the Grimes Golden was a bit of an exception.
The names of the long-gone varieties were poetic by times, but where today can you find a young lady who blushes at anything?