In 1951, an author published in the Fruit Varieties and Horticultural Digest made this plaintive request about Celestia, an Ohio apple from 100 years earlier:
Have we lost it forever? Any clue leading to its recovery will be appreciated by a number of apple growers.
On October 8 of this year, I found Celestia at farmers market.
The blush of this conical, tapered apple is red infused with pastel pink, a subdued "dusty rose" accent, and spangled with many light lenticels of different size.
Speaking of size, my Celestias are small. That does not mean this variety can't grow larger, just that mine didn't. A matt finish emphasizes the subtle tones of the blush.
The apple is slightly ribbed and the blush is a little streaky, over a green-infused yellow. There's a wash of russet from the stem well. Celestia is firm in hand and bears that wonderful sweet cider aroma common to many fresh-picked apples.
Celestia's medium-fine-grained yellow-tinted white flesh holds a surprising amount of juice. Its crunch is a bit yielding but still crisp, and the chew is easy.
This is a flavorful old-fashioned apple, sweet with nutty notes and also something a little warm, like cinnamon (but not cinnamon). Other flavors include sweet grass, floral notes, berries, lychee, and a suggestion of table grapes.
Celestia is a very fine subacid variety of the old school, a seedling of another old apple called the Stillwater Sweet.
It originated in Ohio in the early 1800s and won praise from discerning pomologists for the rest of the century before vanishing. The 1951 writer (possibly Ira Glackens, the son of painter William Glackens) had only read of this fruit.
Southmeadow Fruit Gardens, a nursery that played a role in reviving this cultivar, tells how apple collector Conrad Gemmer found Celestia growing in an old orchard in New Jersey sometime in the 1990s.
By some accounts, this apple does not do well here in New England, and indeed my first sample left me wondering what all the fuss was about. For whatever reason, the texture was a little softer and there was an acid note that was not always in synch with the sweetness.
But my other examples at least gave a hint of Celestia's essential good quality. It is a treat.
Kudos to Kimball Fruit Farm in Pepperell, Massachusetts, for growing this and many other heritage apples.