Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Black Gilliflower

The Black Gilliflower is a large medium apple, ribbed and very conical, of which more below. The "Black" in its name refers to the color, which can be a striking deep shade of red if allowed to mature. On my sample this blush covers most of the fruit, except for one streaky segment. I also note a very deep stem well.

Many small irregular light lenticels decorate the upper half, and there are a few small patchy streaks of russet. The apple has a sweet cidery smell.

I got this apple late in the year and was not very surprised to find that it was well past its prime. However, I am disappointed. The dry flesh--white, fine-grained--was granular, headed towards mealy. I almost declined to review, but instead will post this and then, perhaps, will have a chance to write a new review of a fresher sample some fine Fall day.

Black Gilliflower's flavor is balanced and mild, with notes of sweet corn and grass. The latter is perhaps from the peel, which is not all all bitter.

The Black Gilliflower is one of several varieties that are sometimes called Sheepnose or Sheep's Nose, due to its elongated shape and the resemblance of its tapered calyx end to an ovisian snout. (The resemblance is more apparent in other varieties.)

An old New England apple, it is today valued variously for its flavor or as a curiosity.
snout end

Update: I got a quick taste of this apple again during Tower Hill's heirloom tasting walk. Here are my notes:

Dense light-yellow flesh is yielding though firm, and chewy rather than crunchy. Rather dry. Sweet balanced mild flavor with faint hint of sweet corn; some banana in the finish. A pleasant but not compelling choice.

Further Update September 2012: In the comments below are several heartfelt endorsements of this unusual variety.

Inspired by this devotion I have, since writing this review in 2009, continued to sample this apple when available, from different orchards and with different harvest dates.

I have been disappointed every time.

Chalk it up to bad region for this apple, bad luck, or my own bonehead tastes. If you love this variety, keep eating it. But I will pass.


  1. I just tasted the Black Gilliflower "Sheepnose" for the first time. I bought it last weekend from a great local heirloom orchard. The apple is beautiful. It is large in size, dark red with purple hughes and tan lenticals. It has russeting patched over the top 1/8th. What a strange apple upon first bite. This is a fresh example yet still a mealy texture and quite dry flesh. The skin is also fairly tough. I only ate 1/4th of the apple as I found it to be not pleasing in flavor or texture. Once you bite in there is no real flavor other than an intese corn smell/taste. I would liken it to husking 100 ears of sweet corn while confined in a small room. The flesh seems to oxidize quickly also. I would not recommend this apple other than a drying apple for the dehydrator and even then I would peel if for sure & (use lemon juice or something to inhibit the oxidation).

  2. Matt, as it happens I was at a you-pick early this month that had Sheepnose trees. I picked two and your comment inspired me to eat one just now.

    My basic impression is unchanged, though in this case the corn flavors are not obvious. Probably I picked a bit early and they didn't have time to develop fully. As ever, it is awfully dry, for an apple I mean.

    I'm afraid this is just not a great apple, more a curiosity than anything else. Good for drying, maybe?

  3. In my experience, the Tower Hill Black Gilliflower cultivar is at its prime around September 20, and it's REALLY good at that point. (Yes, I know they don't like you to "sample" the apples at Tower Hill outside the scheduled tasting walks.) Unfortunately, it goes South faster than any other apple I've seen. But I'm still ordering one for my orchard. Definitely not a keeper!

  4. @Anon: I appreciate the information as I would have thought this apple matured a bit later.

    Shelburn Farm has two BG trees and even though I am not thrilled with this variety I might throw a few into the bag at peak.

    (Also, I envy your apparently intimate knowledge of the orchard at Tower Hill!)

    1. Okay, I got a September BG to give this conical variety one more try.

      It was like the others. Just not for me I guess.

  5. My great-grandfather used to buy a bushel of Sheepnose each fall in Western North Carolina. I thought they were the best apples I had ever eaten - this is a forty year old memory here - crisp, spicy, aromatic, sweet with enough tartness to prevent cloying. Ranking near Winesap but not as juicy - still crisp though. My great-grandfather would have known when to buy them - early October I think.

    1. Lisa, thank you. I have never had much luck with this variety, but you are not the first to sing its praises. I wonder if it is one of those apples that just does better south of the Mason-Dixon.

  6. I got one this week at a local farmer's market and I found it dry, as you noted, and almost unripe-pear-like in taste. Not super flavorful, fairly crisp, a good tart-sweet balance but not that flavorful overall. Worth trying and probably good for drying or preservation but otherwise not a favorite of mine.

    1. That's been my experience consistently, though perhaps this does better elsewhere.

      I did give Sheepnose yet another try this year on the strength of the above comments, but no joy.

      At this point I think if it as a curiosity apple, really.

  7. One of my favorite apples when I was a kid in the 1950's. Came from an old tree on a farm in Western New York. Always looked forward to October for these to ripen. The farmer refered to them as Sheeps Nose.

    1. "Sheep's Nose," because of the shape.


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