Friday, March 25, 2011

A Banana in winter

It was logical to suppose, back in October, that the Winter Banana might be a long-lived keeper, also know as a winter apple.

I bought a few extra to sample as the cold months unspooled.

Winter Banana proved to be as durable as Arkansas Black, which the Banana also resembles in texture and sheer wooden hardness.

Here's how it went.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Apples on the Web: Watercolors from Abernathy to Zoar

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. Department of Agriculture commissioned thousands of watercolor paintings of fruit varieties, including more than 3,000 apples.

Most of these have never been published, but the USDA's National Agricultural Library has put thousands of these apple images online.

The varieties depicted were all introduced between 1886 and 1900; new-fangled then, heirlooms today.

The accompanying image of Cantrel was rendered by William Henry Prestele in 1894, blemishes and all. These painting were functional as well as pleasing.

Today they comprise the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection. Other fruits in the collection include those of berry, pear, citrus, and stone-fruit cultivars.

A short (but colorful) overview is archived here; today you can find all the images by searching the collection (which includes more than just apples) for "malus."

Update: Last paragraph edited to reflect changes in the USDA's database of images.

Second Update: Further revised in 2015 to reflect further changes to the database.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Southern heirlooms and the conservation of diversity

He does not have a web site (or I'd link to it), but Mr. Creighton Lee Calhoun Jr. has been collecting heirlooms for the last 30 years at his orchard in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

Last fall, Kevin Hauser made a video of his visit with Mr. Calhoun, and last week the New York Times ran a feature about him and his trees. (Registration, annoying but free, may be required to view this article.)

Calhoun is Johnny Appleseed in reverse, for where John Chapman spread seeds and genetic diversity, Calhoun harvests it, not as fruit but as budwood that he grafts onto living trees.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Apples of February (2011)

The second-best apple I had this cold bleak month was a Granny Smith from the West Coast: crisp, tart, satisfying.

The best was a surprise Macoun from Albany via New York City. My wife and daughter brought it back from the St. Stephen's Greenmarket on Manhattan's east side.

Macoun has been off the menu here in Boston for months this year. It does not surprise me, though, that some New York growers still have good ones in storage, or that they should find their way to the Big Apple. I'm guessing this one grew at Samascott Orchards, just south of Albany.