The dedicated enthusiast is well aware that apples come in an almost infinite number of varieties. Most have sprouted, grown, fruited, and eventually crumbled back into the earth never having been much noticed by humans. Many others have been both noticed and named, though, tens of thousands over the apple’s long history. Each place has had its favorites, some of which have gone on to become international stars. Others have kept their reputations a little closer to home. Belle de Boskoop seems to be one of the latter for while it has been long grown and treasured in northern Europe it didn’t catch on in the same way in the United States or other New World apple-growing areas.
It was first discovered in the Netherlands, in a nursery in the town of Boskoop just a little northwest of Gouda. Boskoop has a long history of commercial arboriculture dating back to at least 1466 when a Jan de Backer sent an invoice for 10 grafted apple and pear trees to the local Convent of Rijnsburg. The deep peat soils were perfect for growing trees and the many canals essential for getting getting products to market in an era when roads were few and passage often impossible for heavily laden wagons. There were 20 commercial nurseries operating there by 1612 shipping trees all over Europe, and Boskoop remains an important center for the nursery trade today.
Belle de Boskoop was first grown and popularized by the Ottolander family, who had been in the nursery business there since the 18th century. Given the very annoying habit that some families have of recycling the same names throughout the generations, there is some confusion about just which of the Ottolanders either planted the tree or first brought it to the attention of the wider public with writers picking one or the other, either Cornelis (1779-1864) or his nephew Cornelis Johannes Willem (1822-1887). We know that there were multiple Ottolander nurseries operating in Boskoop the 19th century with various Ottolanders starting two new ones while the original continued to operate under the name Ottolander & Hooftman. The reports from that time unfortunately don’t always distinguish between them when writing about Belle de Boskoop.
Most writers say that the apple was first either noticed or planted in the 1850s (typically 1856). The entry on Belle de Boskoop written by S. Berghuis in De Nederlandsche Boomgaard in 1664 suggests that it had been grown earlier, however. “Already for some years bred in the nursery of the family Ottolander and widely distributed,” he wrote, then went on to describe how the apple’s shape varied depending on the rootstock to which it had been grafted, which would, of course, take some years to figure out. One of the Cornelises displayed fruit at a show in Görlitz, Germany in 1863. That is around the time that many more northern European pomologists began to take notice and add their assessment to the literature (great apple!). American pomologist Charles Downing received Belle de Boskoop from France in the late 1870s or early 1880s, adding a description in the 1881 appendix to his brother Andrew Jackson Downing’s book Fruits and Fruit-Trees of America. [It] “keeps well, and is a promising variety,” he wrote. It did not, however take America’s orchards by storm.
Almost since its introduction writers have been sure that it was a sport or mutation of another apple known at the time, Reinette von Montfort, a similar looking apple originating earlier in the 19th century around Utrecht. One author, though, claims that according to the grandson of the elder Cornelis, Cornelis G. Overeijnder (1838-1915), it was grown from the seed of a German apple first described in 1797 named Kasseler Renette that had been long cultivated in the Netherlands. Overeijnder was part of his grandfather’s business and so might have been in a position to know this. And as it turns out, modern DNA fingerprint analysis has proved him right, though the other parent remains unidentified.
Known by various names depending on where it is grown–Goudreinette, Schöner aus Boskoop, Schone van Boskoop, or just Boskoop–it is one of those curiosities of the apple world, a triploid, meaning it has three chromosomes instead of the normal two. It’s an interesting phenomena that happens in all manner of plants, not just apples. Triploid apples tend to be infertile, or only minimally self-fertile and so require having another variety nearby, a diploid, if you want to get the tree to bear fruit. While this can be a drawback, some modern scientists believe that the extra chromosome has benefits that far out way the fertility issue such as larger fruit size and increased resistance to various pests and diseases. Check out the recent post by Eliza Greenman if you are curious to learn more. Perhaps it is no accident that many of the varieties that have found great commercial success over the years are triploids, varieties like Gravenstein, Bramley, Newtown Pippin, Bulmer’s Norman, Baldwin, Jonagold, Rhode Island Greening, and Winesap, just to name a few.
Bright yellow when fully ripe with a red blush, sometimes striped, where the apple faces the sun, Belle de Boskoop is generally celebrated as a fine table and cooking apple, especially for applesauce, high in acid and long keeping. It is a favorite of many of the cidermakers of the German state of Hesse around Frankfurt where it is most often used in a blend. I was lucky enough to find a handful of single varietal ciders here in the U.S., however, and based on them one might wonder why it isn’t used more often. All three of these golden-hued ciders were as bright with acid as you might expect and full of flavors of various tropical fruits, some riper than others. The surprise was the astringency, balanced but noticeable, giving the ciders both body and depth. One can only hope that more cidermakers give this apple a try.
Horse and Plow Winery, Sebastopol, CA – dry; banana, lemon, yellow plum, lychee, green herbs; sparkling; 2020; 8.5% ABV
Eden Ciders, Newport, VT – dry; lemon, lime, yellow plum, pineapple, pear, slate; sparkling; 2019; 7.5% ABV
Cidrerie du Vulcain, Treyvaux, Switzerland – semi-dry; yellow plum, tart orange, lemon, papaya, biscuit, dough; sparkling; 2018; 7.1% ABV