Monday, November 22, 2010


Sometime around 1792, Mary Anne Brailsford transplanted a seedling she had started from a pit to a sunny spot in the backyard of her cottage in Notinghampshire, little knowing that fruit from that chance tree and its subsequent offspring would one day become one of England’s most celebrated contributions to the world of appledom. I said a silent “thank you” to Miss Brailsford this past week, as I once again became reacquainted with the heady tartness and juicy interior of the apple the world knows as Bramley’s Seedling, (named for the butcher who later occupied that humble cottage on Church Street in Southwell, U.K.).
The designation “chance” in my introductory sentence is important. In the natural order of things, the seed of an apple tree will not reproduce its parent’s kind; only by cutting a branch – or sion – from the original tree can genetic continuity be assured. Planting a seed, or pip from an apple is a sheer biologic gamble, almost always ending five or six years later in disappointment. But. . . every now and then, nature smiles on the adventurous propagator, and something important emerges. In colonial America, almost every neighborhood and dirt road saw such “accidents” taking root, and the young nation savored, shared and celebrated worthwhile apple adaptations numbering in the thousands. My own humble young orchard is itself the residence to a dozen of the most favored “heirlooms”, and each autumn, I send away for “samplings” from other antique growers around the country. This year, a juicy Bramley’s Seedling kept company with a Roxbury Russet, an Ashmead’s Kernel (another British classic), and nine other noteworthy, but little-known examples of pomological diversity. Each one with a story of its own.


History is written in more than just books,
It’s more than mere dates on some page.
It’s found in the slates of a crumbling stone wall,
On a gravestone all lichened with age.
It perfumes the springtime where old lilacs grow,
And hides in the dark of gray barns.
It rings from the tower of a white-steepled church;
Colors afghans crocheted from old yarns.

But the history which speaks to me over the years,
Hangs from branches where sweet zephyrs blow;
Where the orchards of yesterday cling to a hill;
Where the RUSSETS and PEARMAINS still grow.
The taste of a MAIDEN’S BLUSH turns back the clock
To a time when fine apples were treasured,
When COX ORANGE PIPPINS and seedlings called BRAMLEYS
Were tested, and savored and measured.

Like an archival “Atlas” three centuries long,
Their names ring in spell-binding prose:
The cider-man’s friend, SOPS OF WINE;
Jefferson’s SPITZENBURG, crimson and gold,

Not all of our national treasures,
Are found on Smithsonian shelves.
Not all of our past is recorded in words,
Into which future scholars will delve.
For the history which speaks to me over the years
Hangs from branches where sweet zephyrs blow;
Where the orchards of yesterday cling to a hill;
Where the RUSSETS and PEARMAINS still grow.

By Al Cooper

Considered one of the world’s most beautiful apples, with a shiny, porcelain-like exterior, the “Kandil Sinap” is also one of the most unusual. In a world of orbicular shapes, this “heirloom” from Turkey is tall and conical.

An 1875 Wisconsin seedling, the huge “Wolf River” is a sentimental favorite. It dominated a hillside pasture on our family farm in Vermont, and was much loved by my father. My mother once made an apple pie from just one of these two-pound giants, and happily, I own one of its offspring today.
Photos by Al Cooper

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