Baldwin

Remeber when Al Gore said he invented the internet?

He didn’t really, but statements he made in a 1999 interview suggested to some that he was claiming he had and taking credit where it wasn’t due. People do sometimes engage in a little puffery to make themselves look more important; perhaps that’s just a part of human nature. It can involve something consequential, like the internet, or something small. It can even be something that seems, to us anyway, as being pretty unimportant, like who discovered a famous apple. Herein lies the story of Baldwin.

Baldwin sprouted sometime in the middle of the 18th century in Massachusetts, though where exactly depends a bit on which origin story you believe. At the time, apple growing in New England looked very different than it would by the mid-19th century. This was a time of subsistence farming; almost everything an individual or family needed had to be produced on the farm. Stores were non-existent, unless you lived in a major city. Communities were isolated and what roads there were rudementary and often unusable. Apple trees were planted from pommace and located along the margins of fields growing grains, potatoes, or grasses that could be harvested for winter fodder. Starting from seed is a crap shoot. It takes years to get any fruit and more often than not what you do get isn’t something you’d put in your kid’s lunch box. That was just fine as most of the apples went into cider or vinegar. An apple that had something noteworthy about it, then–size or flavor or the ability to stay edible for months–stood out. Baldwin was one of those exceptions. It was a decent size, an attractive red color, tasted great, and lasted well into the spring. 

Competing stories as to Baldwin’s origin began showing up in the agricultural press in the 1820s. It started with an article in the March 17, 1826 issue of The New England Farmer, a reprint of a piece that had appeared more than ten years earlier1. It was, in part, a complaint about “great inattention which has heretofore been paid to the names of fruit trees,” and tells the imagined story of a farmer that had grafted over his orchard to a new variety called the Pecker apple because he’d heard such good things about it. He waited five years for fruit and was disappointed to discover that it was an apple he already had plenty of, one that he knows as Baldwin. The next week’s issue followed with a letter from a Jos. Harrington offering to explain how the apple came to have two names. Its discoverer, he wrote, was a Col. Baldwin of Woburn who had been out “surveying in the wilderness” and came across a tree that had holes in its trunk from a woodpecker and bore remarkable fruit. He took scions from the tree and “introduced it into better company” calling it the Pecker apple. 

Less than a month later, another letter appeared, this time from J.B. Brown, offering a slightly different tale. There was in the town of Wilmington, he said, a man by the name of Butters who discovered a chance seedling tree on part of his farm and moved it to a place nearer his house. Folks in the neighborhood admired the apple and to took to calling it the Butters apple. Butters eventually decided that Woodpecker, or Pecker, would be a more apt name since the birds were so attracted to the tree. Col. Baldwin, Brown wrote, took Butters’ apple and introduced it into the market where it came to be called Baldwin, though people around Wilmington continued to call it Woodpecker since Butters “certainly had a right to christen the spontaneous productions of his own soil.” 

The first two stories are not inconsistent; Harrington may not have know that Baldwin’s “wilderness” was actually part of Butter’s farm. But, then in 1835, a new claimant arose. Rufus Kittredge wrote to the editor of The Magazine of Horticulture to announce, with no uncertainty, that the original tree grew on the farm of his grandfather, John Ball, on land bought in 1740 somewhere between Lowell and Tewksbury, both of which are well north and west of Wilmington, though all are in Middlesex County. Kittredge’s father said he remembered seeing the tree as a child and was sure it wasn’t a graft because nobody in Tewksbury knew how to graft trees then. Once again, Col. Baldwin is credited with noticing and popularizing the apple.

The third claimant appeared sometime later in a piece written about Baldwin in the Green Mountain Freeman (Montpelier, VT)2. In this account the first tree grew in the orchard of Samuel Thompson of Woburn (southeast of Wilmington but pretty close) about the time of the revolution and, again, called the Woodpecker. Boys use to steal the apples, which is apparently how it came to the attention of, once again, Col. Baldwin. Taking scions and grafting trees of his own, Baldwin then insisted it should bear his name, according to this version of the tale. “Now we submit whether. . . the fruit in question be called the Thompson Apple, “ wrote the author, “provided nevertheless, that the new christening does not conflict with any previous right of the Woodpeckers?” (It may be worth knowing that the editor of the Green Mountain Freeman, and the possible author of the article, was a distant relation of Samuel Thompson.)

From the 1820s well into the 20th century, these several stories circulated. Horticultural authors would pick one or another to include, or ignore them all and just mention that Baldwin originated in Massachusetts. More letters were written and embellishments and changes appeared. John Ball was said to have sold his farm to Butters in 1740, instead of that being the year he bought it. Samuel Thompson was cast as the surveyor that discovered the tree in the wilderness. Col. Baldwin was said to have discovered it as a young student walking back home from Cambridge with his friend. He was also described as being so enthusiastic about the apple later in life that he would take scions with him everywhere he went, handing them out freely to anyone who’d take them. Competing and inconsistent stories would even appear in the same book3. More often than not, someone involved in the retelling of the story was related in some way to the purported discoverer. Why did they care so much?

The early 19th century was a turning point for American agriculture, especially in New England. New canals were connecting isolated navigable waterways, meaning that farmers in rural areas had a reasonable way to gain access to urban markets. That’s what Baldwin, or Thompson, was up to in Middlesex County in the late 1790s, conducting land surveys to determine the best route for a canal through the area. People were fired up with the possibilities of their new country and, at this point, agriculture was the key. Societies for promoting “better” “more scientific” farming practices were formed. (Col. Baldwin was a founder of the Massachusetts Agricultural Society, along with President-to-be John Adams.) An agriculture-centered press was thriving, acting as both a conduit for information about the latest techniques and varieties and a forum for widespread debate about the same subjects.

Among the “improvements” promoted by the scientific agriculturalists was the planting of fruit trees in orderly rows in orchards instead of along a field’s margins and, more consequentially, abandoning the reliance on whatever apples happened to grow from seed in favor of grafting them over to established, marketable apples, especially those varieties that kept well. This was the time when the names of apples became truly important. They were how a farmer knew he was growing something with known qualities that he could sell, and the consumer could be assured that she was buying something good. 

Baldwin fit perfectly into the new way of thinking and was recommended constantly in the press, along with Newtown Pippin and Roxbury Russet. Farmers grafted them by the hundreds. They blanketed Massachusetts, spread to all corners of New England, then on to New York. Baldwin traveled west, first to Ohio, then on to the rest of the country as America expanded. It was famous. Who wouldn’t want to have descended from someone that had discovered one of the most important agricultural commodities in the country?

A map showing the supposed location of the original Woodpecker apple

Each of these origin stories seems to hold at least a kernel of truth, but the details don’t always fit. For example, there are no records that would suggest anyone by the name of Ball owned land near Wilmington, though the Butters family had been there since the town was founded in the mid-1600s. (A helpful descendant, when writing a family history in 1896, included a detailed story and a map showing where family lore indicated the tree had been planted.) The earliest record of the apple is, in fact, a 1799 letter sent by Col Baldwin to his friend Benjamin Thompson in England. “In the cask of fruit which your daughter and Mr. Rolfe have sent you, there is a half a dozen apples of the growth of my farm, wrapped up in papers with the name of Baldwin apples written on them [emphasis in the original],” he wrote. “[I]t would gratify me much to know the true English name of it. However, I rather doubt whether the nice characters of this apple will answer exactly to any particular species of English fruit, as it is (I believe) a spontaneous production of this country, that is, it was not originally engrafted fruit.”4 It’s rather a shame he didn’t share the source of his scionwood.

Each of these origin stories seems to hold at least a kernel of truth, but the details don’t always fit. No one alive at the time thought to leave a diary or letter that mentioned finding an amazing apple, so we are left to choose whichever story we think is the most likely. Still, whatever one wants to believe about who discovered Baldwin and when, it’s been in continuous commercial production for nearly 200 years and is one of the most important apples in the northeast. Anumber of cidermakers are working with it with some flavorful results. The dominant feature in the ciders I tried was yellow fruits, plus a zingy acid and not much in the way of tannin, though all had a mildly bitter, though not unpleasant, finish. The sample size was small since Baldwin seems to appear in blends more than as a single variety. I’ll be on the lookout for more, though.

Kite & String/Finger Lakes Cider House, Interlaken, NY – dry; lemon, lime, just ripe pear skin, yellow plum skin, yellow apple, slight creaminess, mild bitterness on the finish; sparkling; undated; 8.4% ABV

South Hill Cider, Ithaca, NY – dry; vanilla, ripe yellow apple, lemon and orange rind, pear skin, toast, quince, mild bitterness on the finish; sparkling; 2018; 8.5% ABV

Angry Orchard Innovation House, Walden – dry; lemon, yellow plum skin, pear skin, yellow apple, mild bitterness on the finish; sparkling; bottled 2016; 7.9% ABV

1. In the Massachusetts Agricultural Repository and Journal (v3, 1815)

2. Reprinted in the North Star (Danville, VT, March 9, 1850)

3. Cutter, William Richard, Historic Homes and Places and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating tot he Families of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 1908

4. Ellis, George E., Memoir of Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, 1876, Estes and Lauariat, Boston

Crabapples

Manchurian Crabs, courtesy of CiderAuction.com

This is a tale about a group of apples that is not very familiar to most people–crabapples. First, let’s consider the name. The descriptor crab as used for apples goes back a long way, to the early 1400s at least. In their entry for the Oxford English Dictionary, the good people researching the history of words, whose job it is to know such things, could not decide whether or not it first referred to a cranky, sour person or a wild apple (M. sylvestris in Europe), which were generally perceived to be hard, sour, astringent, bitter, and thoroughly unpleasant to eat. They cite a number of references that could support either choice, then seem to throw up their hands and walk away.

Eventually the word crab apple came to refer to any apple grown from seed, whether planted as nursery stock by a farmer or by chance in a hedgerow, though the latter was looked upon with more suspicion. The association between wildness and crabbiness persisted and was as much philosophical as botanical. Wildness existed outside of civilization, the place where mankind had the opportunity, by the grace of God, to tame its sinful nature. Wildness was antithetical to order and to be discouraged. In the 17th century, apothecary John Parkinson wrote “Wildings and Crabs are withought number or use in our Orchard, being to be had out of the woods, fields and hedges rather than any where else” (Paradisi in Sole. 1629). There was hope for crab apples, though. It was clear that despite their unpleasantness, they could make good cider. “Wee may admire the goodness of God, that hath given such facility to so wild fruits,” noted Parkinson. 

A crab’s wild, unpleasant nature could also be transformed. Later in the century, devout Calvinist, cidermaker, and nurseryman Ralph Austen expounded on this point in A Dialogue, or Familiar Discourse, and conference betweene the Husbandman, and Fruit-trees (1672), one of the books he wrote about the spiritual nature of orchards and fruit trees. The Husbandman has a brief conversation with the famous Redstreak cider apple, how it was first called the Skidomore (Scudamore) Crab, but its name changed when people considered its true nature “and now we are everywhere cryed up, and in great esteeme amongst all men.” Later, the other fruit trees explain that the act of grafting itself can convert the “stocks that are of wild kinds, of bitter, harsh, and sower kinds” to the “sweete, and pleasant Nature” of the scion so that they would “bring forth Fruits according to their owne Natures; and the badnesse of the stocks cannot alter the goodness of the Grafts . . .that the God of Nature at first Creation fixed in every individual.”

The connection between crabapples and wildness has never completely disappeared, though modern scientists are more likely to define crab apples by their small size, typically less than two inches across. As it happens, though, many of the apples falling into the small category are descendants of wild Malus species, i.e. something other than our domesticated apples, M. x domestica. (The x here means that domesticated apples are themselves a hybrid of several wild species, mostly M. sieversii, but with genetic contributions from M. sylvestrisM. prunifolia, and M. orientalis.) The connection with tart and/or astringent crabiness has also stayed with crabapples, though each variety has more or less of one or the other.

As a group, crabapples had, and still have, much to recommend them. They have a well deserved reputation for hardiness, which endeared them to people living in less than ideal environments. They have long been planted as pollinators in orchards of domesticated apples, which are often not self-fertile. Their “crabby” nature also made them useful for canning and jelly-making, and for cider. Modern cidermakers are embracing crab apples once again, using them to give a lift of acid to blends, and sometimes fermenting them as single varieties. Here we’ll look as just three of them: Columbia, Kerr, and Manchurian.

Columbia Crab Apple

Columbia is a hybrid between the wild species M. baccata (aka Siberian Crab) and a domestic apple, Broad Green. It was bred by Willam Saunders (1836-1914), founding director of a group of government-sponsored experimental farms established in several Canadian provinces in the 1880s. Son of British emigres of modest means, Saunders has been described as one of the last self-taught natural scientists to rise to prominence in Canada. A pharmacist, entomologist, botanist, and agriculturalist, he developed many hardy plant varieties that could withstand the harsh cold of the Canadian north, including an early maturing wheat. 

His apple-breeding efforts started on the experimental farm near Ottawa, Ontario in 1894 with the planting of M. baccata seeds he’d gotten from the Imperial Botanic Gardens in St. Petersburg, Russia. The 1800s was a time of great international horticultural exchange, and using apples that were known to grow well in cold places as breeding stock made sense. In his report on the work, Progress in the Breeding of Hardy Apples for the Canadian Northwest (1911), he noted that M. baccata grew abundantly on the shores of the Baikal Sea, where temperatures typically range from a high of 14˚ C (57˚ F) to a low of -19˚ C (-2˚ F). Columbia’s pollen parent was also Russian, coming to North America in a shipment of scions sent to the Iowa State Agricultural College in 1879 from the Akademi Petrowskoe Rasumowskoe near Moscow. (Its Russian name,  наливное зеленой широкой, translates literally as bulk green wide. The fellows at the American Pomological Society seem to have thought that Broad Green was a reasonable approximation.)

1. M. beccata, 5. Columbia Crab

Saunders was not just looking for hardiness, disease resistance, and good flavor but also larger size. At 1.8 inches, (4.5 cm), Columbia was the largest of the crabs in the first group of new ones released to the public and quite a bit larger than at least one of its parents, as can be seen in the images above. Saunders described it as a very strong grower and fair bearer, red, with stripes and dots of a deeper shade, juicy and subacid with a pleasant flavor and slight astringency.

Kerr Crab Apple

Kerr is another Canadian apple, bred at the experimental farm near Morden, Manitoba. Canada’s western prairies are particularly harsh, dry and windy as well as cold. They were also largely treeless until Europeans moved in. Realizing that settlers would be more attracted to a place that wasn’t quite so bleak, the government established several experimental farms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan with the mandate to not only test and develop hardy agricultural plants, but ornamentals and trees and shrubs that could be planted as shelterbelts and windbreaks. The Morden site was located on land purchased from A.P. Stevenson, a “pioneer fruit grower, nurseryman, and the first commercial apple orchardist on the Canadian prairies”, according to William Alderman, author of Development of Horticulture on the Northern Great Plains (1962). Apple breeding started in 1916 with 25,000 seedlings sent from the experimental farm in Ottawa. Of the 21 new varieties released by 1962, 18 derived from this initial planting.

The Kerr crabapple is named for the scientist that made the original cross, William Leslie “Les” Kerr (1902-1986). He wasn’t at Morden long, just a year or two before moving on to become the superintendent of the Sutherland Dominion Forest Nursery Station near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where he had a long and very productive career. Released commercially in 1952, the crab apple Kerr created has a more complicated pedigree than Columbia. One of its parents was Dolgo crab, imported from Russia in the late 19th century. Dolgo’s parents were believed to be M. x robusta, (a chance hybrid between two wild species, M. baccata (which seems to have gotten around) and M. prunifolia), and a mystery pollen parent. Kerr crossed Dolgo with pollen from an M. x domestica variety called Haralson (parents: Malinda and Wealthy), introduced by the University of Minnesota in 1922 as part of their efforts to breed hardy apples.

Kerr Crabs from Verger Heath Orchard, Stanstead, Quebec

You can guess at the Dolgo genes in Kerr Crabs based on their bright candy-red color, though they don’t have Dolgo’s elongated shape . (Dolgo is one word for long in Russian.) It is hearty enough to be grown in Alaska, and, like Dolgo, it can make some very good cider. I’ve only come across one single variety Kerr so far, which seems like a shame. I suspect that it isn’t grow much in the U.S., as Eden sourced their apples from Quebec, something that was a near impossibility during the recent pandemic-related shut downs.

Manchurian Crabapple

Unlike Columbia and Kerr, Manchurian Crab is not a hybrid, but a species of Malus in its own right. Native to Japan, Korea, and other parts of northeast Asia, M. mandshurica, its botanical name, was probably first collected and described in Western literature by Russian horticulturalist Carl Johann Maximowicz (1827-1891). Maximowicz spent five years, starting in 1859, exploring China, Korea, and Japan, studying the unique flora and collecting samples. (There is a dried specimen of M. mandshurica at the New York Botanical Gardens collected by Maximowicz in 1860.) After his trip, he returned to St. Petersburg to work at the Imperial Botanical Gardens, becoming director in 1862. 

There is no record of just when Manchurian Crab arrived in North America, but it is easy to imagine that it was in one of the several shipments of seeds and scions sent from St. Petersburg to the Iowa State Agricultural College starting in 1875. Support for this idea can be found the collection records of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University which show that they received M. mandshurica from Iowa in both 1883 and 1885. It is still grown there today, one of the first crab apples in the arboretum’s collection to bloom in the spring. 

Manchurian Crab’s showy, fragrant blossoms are what recommends it to most, though it is also used as a mid-season pollinator in orchards across the U.S. It does not appear to have been used much for breeding, although for the last 100 years or so M. mandshurica was assumed to be a variety of M. baccata rather that a distinct species, so it is rather hard to tell from the records. It’s quite small by apple standards, making harvest a challenge, but the results seem to be be worth it.

All the ciders I tried had the bracing high acidity that you’d expect from crabs (the Columbias were a touch lower), which has allowed for some very elegant aging, especially in the two Kerr Crabs, which six and seven years from harvest still showed plenty of intense primary fruit. Each crab apple could be distinguished from the others–stone fruit in the Kerrs and orange notes in the Manchurians, for example. There were also notable differences in astringency with little to none in the Columbia Crab ciders and moderate amounts in the Manchurians.

Liberty Ciderworks, Spokane, WA, Columbia Crab – dry; quince, green apple, pear, nutmeg, oregano, lemon; sparkling; 2016; 7.3% ABV

Dragon’s Head Cider, Vashon Island, WA, Columbia Crab – semi-dry; green apple, lemon, thyme, bay leaf, nutmeg, pear; sparkling; undated; 6.7% ABV

Dragon’s Head Cider, Vashon Island, WA, Columbia Crab – semi-dry; green apple, quince, lemon, marjoram; sparkling; undated; 7.4% ABV

Eden Ciders, Newport, VT, King of the North (Kerr Crab) – semi-dry; candied lemon, golden raisin, almond, pear, dried peach, rose, violet, plum, fresh Gravenstein apple; sparkling; 2015; 6.5% ABV

Eden Ciders, Newport, VT, King of the North (Kerr Crab) – semi-dry; lemon, yellow apple, pear, yellow plum, golden raisin, orange; sparkling; 2016; 6.5% ABV

Dragon’s Head Cider, Vashon Island, WA, Manchurian Crab – semi-dry; yellow apple, lemon, pear skin, plum skin, cardamon, fennel; sparkling; undated; 6.9% ABV

Haykin Family Cider, Aurora, CO, Manchurian Crab – semi-sweet; rose, orange blossom, baked apple, sweet spice, orange rind, lemon; sparkling; 2017; 7% ABV (apples grown in Yakima, WA)

Ploughman Cider, Aspers, PA, Manchurian Crab – semi-dry; lemon, yellow apple, plum skin, orange rind, fennel; sparkling; 2017; 10% ABV

Big Hill Ciderworks, Gardeners, PA, Manchurian Crab – dry; twigs, orange zest, tart plum, lemon, sour orange, cranberry, pear, just ripe nectarine; sparkling; undated; 8.2% (blended with a small amount of Winchester apple)

McIntosh

McIntosh is such a familiar apple in the U.S. that we tend to forget that its true origins are farther north in Canada. It got its name from John McIntosh (1777-1845), the man that found it growing on land he was clearing outside of Matilda Township in the county of Dundas, Ontario near the St. Lawrence River. He’d arrived there some time in the late 18th or early 19th century from New York’s Mohawk Valley, part of the second wave of European settlers moving into an area long inhabited by the Algonquin, Iroquois, and Wyandot peoples. The first wave had arrived in the 1780s. They were mostly German protestants resettled in England’s American colonies after being ousted from their home in the Palatine by the religious conflicts that were devastating much of Europe. Though historical accounts suggest that they were treated as little more than a cheap source of labor to support the business interests of the controlling English aristocracy, the Palatine ex-pats remained loyal subjects of the crown. Thus were they once again uprooted, heading north into territory still under British rule after the bloody war that turned 13 disparate colonies into the beginnings of the United States.

Known as the McIntosh Red, it seems to have remained a local variety until the 1870s, first noted in a handful of articles in northern Vermont newspapers. “A New Apple” trumpeted the headline over an article written by Guy A. Clough of Braintree, VT to the Vermont Farmer in April 1874. He said that he had accidentally discovered the applewhile traveling in Canada, coming across it in a market and finding it so wonderful that he tracked down its source, John McIntosh’s son Allen. “Your informant became so much interested in . . . this tree, that he traveled over a large section of country . . . in search of rebutting testimony [to its superior qualities], but found none, each affidavit being of the most positive character . . .”, he wrote. 

The qualities possessed by McIntosh Red, according to Clough in this and subsequent correspondence, would recommend it to any farmer. The trees bore a decent crop every year, for example, instead of the habit of biannual bearing that many otherwise good apples exhibit, even today. The fruits were large, had an attractive red color, and were reported to keep well into the spring following harvest. But it was the tree’s hardiness and reported resistance to frost damage that seems to have most interested Vermont farmers. Winters in the area could be harsh with temperatures often dropping to -20˚ F, according to one writer. Many of the popular market apples simply couldn’t handle such severe cold. Various horticulturalists had started importing varieties from Russia in hopes of finding or breeding apples that could survive in the coldest climes of Vermont, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, but maybe the native-born McIntosh Red would prove to be a winner for the farmers of the north.

from The Canadian Horticulturist, 1900

The editor of The Enterprise and Vermonter set out the case in a piece entitled “A Remarkable Apple Discovered” March 1874. “This apple . . . originated in [Matilda, Dundas County] . . . transplanted from the edge of the forest seventy years ago, with perhaps twenty other trees found scattered about in the county, which was then an almost unbroken wilderness,” he wrote. “The other trees have been dead more than thirty years, but . . . the McIntosh Reds . . . are still alive, the tops being thrifty and healthy.” “[I]t is conceded that the frost,” he went on to write, “which is generally so fatal to the apple blossom, never injures this variety in the least. In some instances the ground about the trees has been frozen sufficiently hard to hold a horse, when they were in full bloom, but while other trees were entirely spoiled these were not in the least affected.” This is a singular statement, but if true could make a significant difference to a farmer’s potential bottom line. The papers were soon filled with notices that local nurserymen, including Clough’s son Storr, had grafted McIntosh Red trees ready for sale.

Buying ready grafted trees was something of a new phenomenon. For most of North America’s post-European settler history famers had simply either relied on whatever seedlings were at hand or grafted a seedling tree with a familiar variety themselves. There were a handful of plant nurseries early on, of course, but they mostly catered to the well to do, folks that could afford the significantly higher price tags. The situation had begun to change by the middle of the 19thcentury as selling fruit with recognizable and marketable names increased in importance. The farmer wanting to purchase ready-grafted trees could, then as now, write to a nursery and request a printed catalog, then mail in an pre-paid order and wait for delivery. But there was also another option: the nursery agent. This fellow (it was always a man) would travel the rural highways, knocking on doors with catalog in hand, taking orders for trees and other plants. The order eventually reached the nursery, and some time later the nursery agent would return with the goods. This had tremendous advantages for the rural farmer, for he (also invariably male) would have the opportunity to purchase new and improved varieties that he might not otherwise have know existed, or access stock that was unavailable locally. An article in the February 1871 issue of The Horticulturist stated that “probably nearly three-fourths of the nursery stock sold throughout the United States, is sold by personal solicitation of agents or dealers . . .” a remarkable percentage, if true. The system worked splendidly, too, provided the nursery agent was an honest one (the many help wanted ads stressed the importance of good character). 

Unfortunately, this was not always the case. “[A]pparently the great evils the agriculturalist has to deal with are insects and tree-dealers; these two, and the greatest of these is the tree-dealer,” wrote editor James Vick in 1879 (Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Magazine, October). There was, for example, no guarantee that the trees an agent brought to the farm were actually what was ordered, and it took years before the tree would bear enough fruit to tell one way or the other. “I purchased six of those trees [Wealthy] of one of those unreliable beats.,” complained one farmer in a letter to the Vermont Farmer in April 1880. “Three of these trees never leaved (sic) out, and the other three proved to be Soulard crabs.” Anyone could pass themselves off as an agent by ordering a catalog from a well-respected nursery, declare themselves to be that nursery’s representative, then order and pass on possibly quite inferior stock from practically anywhere. The most reputable nurseries took great pains to ensure that their representatives were trustworthy. Some gave their agents special catalogs prominently bearing the agent’s name on the cover or issued official certificates to them, regularly noting these means of authentication in their ads. Others required agents to send in their order books as soon as they were filled so the nursery could monitor sales and makes sure inventory was adequate and properly labeled. 

These measures seem to have had an effect, for despite the problems reported in the press, nursery agents proved to be anenormous boon to both the farmer and nursery industry. By the 1890s McIntosh was being grown across the continent, from British Columbia to Pennsylvania. It grows best in cooler climates; in places with warmer autumns it tends to fall from the tree before becoming thoroughly ripe. It is still one of the the top 10 apples grown in the U.S. today and accounted for more that a quarter of the Canadian apple crop in 2018, though there are rumors it is loosing ground to newer, sweeter, and crunchier cultivars. 

McIntosh Red was never touted as a great apple for cider, though doubtless more than one found its way into the press as part of a blend. The cidermakers of the 19th century may not have realized what they were missing. A number of 21stcentury cidermakers have taken to McIntosh and are making some throughly tasty ciders with it. The best balance McIntosh’s bright acid with just a hint of sweetness, and when grown well this apple seems to make ciders with real intensity and complexity of flavor, often with an interesting herbal note. 

Liberty Ciderworks, Spokane, WA – semi-dry; ripe apple, baked apple, sweet lemon, anise, pear skin, cardamon, mango; 2017; 8.2% ABV

Gowan’s Heirloom Cider, Philo, CA – semi-dry; ripe apple, baked apple, pear skin, lemon, almond, orange juice, fennel, ripe pear, cinnamon; 2018; sparkling; 6.8% ABV

Bauman’s Cider Company, Gervais, OR – semi-dry; ripe apple,, blossom, cinnamon, ripe pear, lemon juice, pear skin, guava, lemon grass, fresh thyme; sparkling; 2021; 6.0% ABV (apples grown in the Bitteroot Valley, MT)

West County Cider, West-View Orchard “M2”, Sheridan, MA – semi-dry; ripe apple, pear skin, mint, rose, anise, fresh thyme, lemon, yellow plum; sparkling; undated; 6.5% ABV

West County Cider, West-View Orchard “Pura Vida”, Sheridan, MA – semi-sweet; ripe apple, ripe pear, lemon, green apple skin, lemon rind, fresh thyme; sparkling; undated; 5.5% ABV