Sunday, October 20, 2019

Ashmead's Kernel mystery

Two russeted, colored apples, similar but with some differences.

The purpose of today's apple adventure is not to decide which is best, but rather what is what.

I spotted some similarities between Ashmead's Kernel and an unidentified variety that came my way.

Some of you, gentle readers, begged to differ.

So, I report, you decide. What is this guy?

My guilty plea

I made a terrible mistake when I was evaluating six apples from a reader in western Washington.

I did an incomplete job of describing the apples, gave my opinion (i.e., sure seems like Ashmead's Kernel), then ate the evidence.

At the time, my thinking was along these lines: I'm not going to be able to do a good job with these, lots of details would be boring to read about, so I'll just breeze through and give my impressions.

In other words, I had this fun game of find-the-apple, and did not stop to think that others (some more qualified than I) might want to play too.

This is inexcusable, but I ask for forgiveness. And fortunately, I had a second sample from the mystery tree in Washington.

The same two russeted, colored apples, similar but with some differences.

The photographic evidence

My photo, for whatever reason, exaggerates some of the differences in color and marking between these two. But, differences there are.

Ashmead, at left, is medium-sized, russeted, and layered, with an orange blush and a bit of unblushed green peeping out from behind the olive-brown weskit.

Like many russets, it is basically round. Its calyx is mostly, but not entirely, closed, and the stem is on the thin side.

I am blessed with a good number of Ashmead's Ks this year, and stem thickness varies. Some are much thicker than this one, which, by the way, hails from a local commercial orchard.


My mystery sample is similar, though smaller, so let's focus on some differences. The blush of mystery is, in places, more saturated, and the russet is patchier, though otherwise of similar character.

In my photo, the lenticels look markedly different, with Ashmead's as flat stellations and mystery as raised bumps. In person they are nearly identical; the Ashmead lenticels are raised and can be felt, Braille-like.

Of interest, though probably not of relevance, is the string of rough carbuncles visible on the mystery.

Examination of the stem well and calyx is inhibited because mystery has an abundance of brown friable matter in both. (Best not to enquire to closely about what this is; apple geeks cannot afford to be too fussy.)

In any case, the stem is thinner, but not by a lot, and the calyx is either completely or mostly closed.

Update: here are some more photos showing stem and calyx:

Calyx ends of two russeted apples

Stem ends of two russeted apples


The cut halves of two apples, showing brown pips and white flesh.
A look inside the mystery apple at left and Ashmead's at right. The discoloration of Ashmead's flesh at upper right is a defect in my camera, not the apple. Click to view closer.

Actually, dissection shows that the outer part of the mystery calyx (left), comprising the sepals, is neither open nor closed but missing—eaten or deteriorated.

Portion of the cut side of an apple, showing the calyx and white fleshPortion of the cut side of an apple, showing the calyx

Taste test

Ashmead is crisp, tart, lemony, complex. Mystery is a little softer and sweeter, but with similar flavors, with more-prominent pear notes.

This is consistent with mystery being a different apple and also with it just being a riper, off-the-tree-longer, Ashmead's. Not dispositive.

Color and grain of the two are the same, as they might be for many russets. Of the pair, the mystery was just slightly slower to brown after cutting.

The verified Ashmead is better, mostly on texture, but these are awfully similar.

Closing argument

All right, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Here is all the evidence I have.

The photos are larger than usual to afford you a chance to take an especially close look, by clicking on each one. Possibly you will find a clue that I missed.

What is your verdict?


  1. Sender of mystery apples here with some context for the interested.
    I've been working on recovering an abandoned orchard on a farm here in Western WA. Said farm was settled in the late 1800s and has a wide variety of fruit scattered around, but of most interest to me were the apples(and mirabelle plums!).
    This tree in particular was in a sad state when I uncovered it two years ago. Literally uncovered it. At some point this tree had fallen over, but being on what I can only assume is seedling rootstock it had strong enough branches to keep itself propped up sideways and keep growing.
    When I found it, it had 7 feet of blackberry brambles growing on top of it and choking the life out of it, I thought the tree was dead until I noticed a few small living branches under the mess.
    Since then, the tree has been making a recovery with new growth. This year, it produced 4 apples.
    If it's helpful at all, here's a few photos of one that I picked on Sept. 16th to check the ripeness of the fruit:
    For what it's worth, the taste reminds me of Lemon Heads candy. Delicious apple, Ashmead's or not.

  2. Nice save Josh! I also hunt and save gone wild trees here in Maine and would be interested in scion-wood when available! Thanks, Charles.


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