Amy Traverso, Yankee
lifestyle editor and author of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook
picks her five favorite native New England apple varieties.
Best use: I like to combine Baldwins with firm-tart apples in old-fashioned desserts like pies, crisps, and pandowdies.
Origin: Discovered in 1740 on the farm of John Ball in Wilmington, Massachusetts. It was originally called a Woodpecker because of the birds who frequented the tree, but was renamed after Colonel Loammi Baldwin, who took an interest in the apple and propagated it around the Northeast.
Availability: While it lost its dominant place to the Jonathan and the McIntosh in the early 20th century, it’s still available at many pick-your-own farms.
Season: Generally ripens in late September through October; keeps until February.
Appearance: Medium-large; yellow-orange skin with red stripes. Apples that grow in full sun turn more uniformly red.
Taste: More tart than others in this category, but the sweetness dominates. It’s quite aromatic, with flavors of spice and ripe apricots.
Texture: Juicy and tender when eaten fresh, but able to hold its shape when cooked.
Black Oxford Apple
Best use: The Black Oxford makes a gorgeous pink applesauce when cooked with its skin on, but it also performs well in crisps and other baked desserts. As an eating apple, it’s best in the winter-like other long-storing fruit, it gets sweeter with time.
Origin: This seedling first appeared on the Valentine farm in Paris, Maine, around 1790. In nearby Hallowell, a 200-hundred-year-old Black Oxford tree is still bearing crops today.
Availability: This cold-tolerant apple is most popular in its native Maine, but is also grown in Vermont, New Hampshire, and as far south as Virginia.
Season: Harvested in late October and early November; keeps well through late spring.
Appearance: This stunner is such a deep and rich purple color that it looks more like a plum than an apple. It’s round in shape and usually medium in size.
Taste: There’s a pure apple flavor here that’s subtler than you’ll find in modern fruit bombs like the Honeycrisp. Fresh off the tree, it tends to be semi-tart.
Texture: Hard, dense, and moderately juicy.
Blue Pearmain Apple
Best use: Cider is its first use, eating fresh is second, but the Blue Pearmain also holds up pretty well when baked whole.
Origin: Its origins are uncertain, but it’s a New England native, probably from the late 18th or early 19th century.
Availability: Look for it at farmer’s markets and pick-your-own orchards.
Season: Ripens in October and November; doesn’t keep much past January.
Appearance: A dusty blue natural bloom gives this apple its name. Medium to large in size and quite heavy, with deep red skin accented with purple.
Taste: Sweet, mild, and very aromatic, with pear, vanilla, and melon notes.
Texture: Skin is tough and waxy; flesh is dense and crisp, if somewhat dry.
Rhode Island Greening Apple
Best use: Rhode Island Greening makes a great pie. You can cook it to your heart’s content and know it will hold its shape. It also makes a tasty sauce.
Origin: It’s believed to have first grown from seed in the mid-17th century, probably near Newport, Rhode Island, where one Mr. Green owned a tavern near Green’s End.
Availability: One of the tart green apples supplanted by the Granny Smith, this beauty was widely available on the East Coast through the 1960s. Today, your best bet is a pick-your-own orchard or farmer’s market.
Season: Mid-October is peak harvest time, but stores well into the winter.
Appearance: Large, nicely round, and sometimes russeted, with green to yellow-green skin.
Taste: Tartness and vegetal notes are the primary flavors here, with a hint of green grape and lemon.
Texture: Flesh is dense and solid, but pleasingly juicy once you bite in.
Roxbury Russet Apple
Best use: This is really a baking apple more than a snacking one. Like the Rhode Island Greening, this New England native is terrific in pies, tarts, and other rich pastries.
Origin: One of America’s oldest apples, this variety grew from seed in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in the early 1600s.
Availability: The Roxbury likes a good chill, so it sticks to northern climes. Its humble looks have mostly limited its popularity to New England.
Season: Trees generally ripen in mid-October, but the fruit can keep well into the winter.
Appearance: This medium-size apple is heavily russeted, with thick skin and yellow-green flesh.
Taste: Quite tart, but with a rich sweetness, like lemonade made with honey.
Texture: Crisp, dense, and rather coarse, this fruit can still retain some snap after a month or two of storage.