Friday, December 5, 2008

Baldwin **

The story of this antique apple is especially bound up in the place where I live in Massachusetts. Baldwin originated perhaps as early as the 1740s in an orchard a pleasant dozen miles' bicycle ride north of where my house sits today. It was cultivated and popularized by Loammi Baldwin, a Revolutionary War colonel who was also the chief engineer of the Middlesex Canal.

Any of the above might make a rewarding study, but I'll stick to apples.

All the Baldwins I've seen this year are on the small side, so I am tasting a medium-sized apple with a saturated blush of cheerful red that mostly covers green yellow. There's russet that is centered around the base, where the calyx is for the most part open; many small light lenticels decorate the skin.

The Baldwins have been through the wars this year and have the scars to proved it. Besides the russet--which also crackles the blush in patches--there's flyspeck and many round smudgy spots, which I take to be the evocatively named sooty blotch. These marks are the same size as hail scars.

Baldwin is a little ribbed, some more than others. It is very firm in the hand.

The flesh is firm, crisp, medium coarse, and light yellow. Baldwin is juicy with a rich, even taste, balanced sweet and tart enlivened by acidity. Older Baldwins are quite palatable too, though mellower, not acid, and less crisp. Cider, trace of pear, and some spice make this worth seeking out in October or later. Some pleasant astringency after the finish.

Baldwin was the most popular New England apple of the Nineteenth Century, widely grown across the country, until the exceptionally cold winter of 1934 killed off many of the trees and Baldwin was replaced by McIntosh in the hearts and mouths of the people. It is still a personal late-season favorite of mine, and West County Cider presses no less than two different varieties of hard cider that are exclusively from this apple (one a bit dryer than the other).

Baldwin was originally called Butters, after the farm where it was found, and Peckers, after the birds that riddled the original tree.

Update: The site of the original Baldwin apple tree is marked by a granite monument.


2 comments:

  1. Where is the monument so we can go look at it? Why didn't you tell us where it is other than near your home but didn't tell us where that is? Baldwins make the best apple pie but they are hard to fing.

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  2. The singular Baldwin Apple Monument is worth a pilgrimage! In the second sentence of my post about the monument you will find a link to a map that shows its location. (There's even a link to the monument's page at Waymarking.com, where the technorati can download GPS and Google Earth files with its location.)

    However, for those who are not cartographically inclined, I probably should have noted that the monument is located on Chestnut St. in Wilmington, Mass., just south and west of Butters Row. (Butters, of course, owned the farm where the first Baldwins grew, and was an early name of the apple.)

    The Middlesex Canal once ran just to the east, and there are walkable segments of the canal bed off of Butters Row.

    I am also a huge fan of this apple, which is available in October. Thanks for stopping by!

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