In its apple sense pippin is the opposite of the word cultivar, a plant variety developed and propagated via human cultivation.
Simple enough, if you don't look too closely. But think about it and your brain will itch. Because those pippins we know and love? They are all propagated by grafting.
Cox's Orange Pippin grew from seed, but today it is a cultivar.
Newtown Pippin, cultivar.
Reine de Reinette ("Reinette" is French for "Pippin"): cultivar.
Since apple varieties do not breed true from seed, they can only be conserved by agriculture. Otherwise each tree is a one-off and its entire variety becomes extinct with the tree's death.
Similarly: are there any varieties that were not, originally, grown from seed? (Please note this is a rhetorical question.)
The Oxford English Dictionary lists as one defintion "the name of numerous varieties of apple, raised from seed," citing among other examples the following usage from 1432:
Pypyns, quynces blaundreys to dispot
And þe Pom cedre corageus to recomfort. (John Lydgate, "On Entry of Henry VI into London")
Ah, Pom cedre! Apples are widely grown for cider, pippins of no special lineage sprung from seed. Not sweet cider: the hard stuff.
|Johnny Appleseed(public-domain image)|
Here in the States the distinction between desert-apple cultivars and the spitters for cider (you wouldn't want to eat them) must have been meaningful through Prohibition.
Think on that, gentle reader, perhaps with a glass of Pom cedre in hand. The natural utility of the pippin-cultivar distinction grows clearer from that vantage point.
All cultivars may once have been pippins, but not all pippins become cultivars.
Things grow a little less clear when a chance pippin is tasty enough to be grafted--to graduate to cultivar.
Naming an apple "Pippin" is like naming your infant child "Baby." How does that work out once the kid has pippins of his own?