Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Adventure of the Scarlet Blush

I burst into the drawing room at 221B Baker Street as the first drops of afternoon rain struck the windowpane. "Holmes!" I gasped.

"Calm yourself, Watson," my friend replied languidly, failing to rise from the sofa before the fire. "I perceive you have something for me." He gestured to a small table at his side, on which I placed the fruits of my hunt.

"Apples?" he said, with noticeable indifference. "In August? What are they, Watson? Come, tell all."

"That's just the problem, Holmes," I said. "The grower at the market couldn't say. Just a sign saying, 'Our own fresh-picked apples.' Can you identify them?"

"Hmph. A grower who doesn't know what he grows does not inspire confidence." He looked into the fire, the trace of a weary smile on his lips. "Describe them for me, Watson," he said suddenly.

I stepped forward and held one of the fruits into the failing light, determined to give as complete an account of their physical appearance as my medical training allowed. "These are well-formed medium-sized apples with the merest hint of ribbing. They are a bright spring green with an inconsistent and streaky scarlet blush and light green spots."

"Does that suggest anything to you, Watson?"

"Well, I think we can rule out any of the newfangled apples that are so popular with the Americans. The Braeburns and Fujis and such. Not pretty enough," I explained. Holmes said nothing, instead swiftly slicing one of the apples into quarters with a pocketknife. He studied a piece intently.

"Fine-grained white flesh with green highlights. Taste it," he said preemptorily, looking at me. The fruit had a firm crisp texture and broke cleanly against my teeth.

"Why it's quite good," I reported. "Nice and juicy, with a pleasant balance of sweet and tart."

I turned to face Holmes, who had risen to his feet and was chewing with mounting interest. "Yes, Watson, this is not the typical early apple. A little citrus and spice and...banana? How unusual." He began to pace in the space before the fire. "The flesh grows a bit dry and chewy right at the end. Pleasant astringent finish. And look here, Watson, the cut apple is already beginning to oxidize."

Indeed the remaining segments displayed growing brown streaks.

A rumble of thunder and the steady drumbeat of rain drowned out the clatter of hackneys and carriages. Such unusual summer weather in London of late. "Can you tell what it is, Holmes?" I pleaded.

"That will require further inquiry," my friend said, as he reached for another apple. The astringent finish persisted.

Any guesses? The color is very like a Puritan or Vista Bella, but the flavor is unlike either (and the Vista Bellas are done). Unless the Puritans I sampled really were not fully ripe (as I speculated) and this is what they grow into, I think this is a variety I have not had before.

Holmes, who has published a monograph on early apples, is likely holding out on us, but I am stumped.
Does anyone recognize this fruit from my photo and description?

Update: This story now has a fitting conclusion.


  1. The classic drawing of Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget originally appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1881.

    The digitized image is available via Wikimedia Commons, which explains, "This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired."

  2. In the 1920's there were 2,000+ apple varieties. Now there are 7,000+ varieties. The mystery apple could be a variety unique to an orchard. The Apple very creatively continues to give birth to new varieties.

  3. This mystery that has been solved led me to another early cultivar of which I had not read of before. I tried to find the answer to your question and stumbled upon the Primate apple. Has anyone ever tried this variety. Here is what Siloam Orchards had on their wedsite:

    PRIMATE Introduced 1840 by Calvin D. Bingham of Camillus,New York,unknown parentage. Green skin,may be whitish or lightly blushed. Tender, fine textured, juicy flesh, sweet-tart may be reminiscent of wine, great dessert apple, all purpose, harvest mid to late August, fairly winter hardy , zone 4. In the 1800’s a highly regarded dessert apple for the summer season, still regarded highly by the few that grow it. Tree is very vigorous, productive, symmetrical. Long harvest window. The “Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, published 1927, states “ The first tablet in New York state in memory of any apple was erected in the town of Camillus, Onondaga County, on the original site of the Primate apple tree (Fig. 263). John T. Roberts, Syracuse, N.Y., on September 11, 1903, caused a bronze tablet to be erected there. On this tablet is the following inscription: On this farm Calvin D. Bingham, about 1840, produced the marvelous PRIMATE APPLE Named by Charles P. Cowles GOD’S EARTH IS FULL OF LOVE TO MAN


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