Book notes: The ABCs of apples

“Apples of New England” lists a number of rare varieties from Danvers, Beverly, Salem, Middleton and other towns on the North Shore and Cape Ann. 

Adam and Eve learned a lot just from eating an apple. 

Locals interested in the history and cultivation of apples themselves would do just as well to pick up “Apples of New England, A User’s Guide,” by Russell Powell of Hatfield.

Former executive director of the New England Apple Association, Powell also wrote “America’s Apple,” and he blogs about apples at newenglandorchards.org.

“Both my grandparents grew apples, in Brookfield,” he said. “I do not grow apples, but I’ve come back to something that is very much in my family’s history.”

Apples have been part of American history from the beginning, and they are believed to have started with the Roxbury Russett, which was discovered in 1635.

Powell also writes about “The Fathers of American (Wild) Apples,” Henry David Thoreau and John Chapman, who is better known as Johnny Appleseed. 

“We know how he spent his life,” Powell said. “From 1806 to 1845, he planted dozens of orchards in two states. But we don’t really know the why; he left no written record.”

But the bulk of “Apples of New England” details the many varieties of apple in New England, which are classified by their appearance and evaluated for their flavor.    

Readers who mostly know this fruit from their supermarket may be surprised to see how many varieties there are, from Cox’s Orange Pippen to the Sheep’s Nose.

Many of the entries in “Rare New England Apples” haven’t been grown for a long time but are being revived by commercial growers in response to a demand from customers, Powell said.

These include members of a fresh- and hard-cider movement, who favor heirloom varieties, “because a lot of these old apples are good in cider.”

A number of the rare varieties were discovered on the North Shore, including the Minister, which “was discovered on the farm of David Saunders in Rowley, and introduced by Rev. Dr. Spring of Newburyport and Robert Manning of Salem.” 

Another surprise is the fact that apple varieties are maintained through grafts, rather than pollination, which is only allowed between varieties and can only produce hybrids.

“The apple has a mechanism that prevents it from inbreeding,” Powell said. “The ovary shuts down if pollen comes from the same variety.”

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