During a break in our Friday night card game I brought out some apples and challenged the guys to name the varieties before they dipped into them. There were Cortlands and Macs, which I knew would be named immediately, but I figured that a couple of the varieties might not be recognized by the younger members of our card club.
As I suspected, only the seniors in our card group were able to identify the old-fashioned Gravensteins. No one identified the Cox’s Orange, an old variety that was a favorite in our grandparent’s day. Which was a surprise, by the way, since a couple of the club members have lived in the Valley’s apple belt over half a century.
On the other hand, maybe it shouldn’t have been surprising. Many of the old apples have disappeared and have been forgotten. In the marketplace today are apple varieties that were never heard of a decade ago.
My favorite apple is the Bishop Pippin; you can still find this apple if you know where to look out in the country, but most of trees have been cut down. The Bishop Pippin has a sweet, wine-like flavor and would certainly be a hit with the younger generations if it was readily available. But perhaps like many of the old apple varieties that have disappeared, they weren’t hardy enough, or storageable, or disease-resistant enough, or shippable or something.
The work of the Acadians has had a social and economic impact on this area that is often ignored or overlooked. While an obvious example is the dykes, the Acadians may have laid the foundation for the Valley’s apple growing industry. Eaton says in his Kings County history that the “first fruit gardens of Kings (County) were planted by the Acadians.” Eaton refers to the Acadians as “fruit-raising pioneers.”
In his discussion on Acadians and apples, Eaton the historian is quoting from an essay by Eaton the fruit-grower. Ralph Samuel Eaton, the originator of the famed Hillcrest Orchards northeast of Kentville, wrote that the “patches of fruit trees” planted by the Acadians “encouraged the New England settlers …. and they soon began to enlarge the orchards and introduce new varieties of fruit.”
When Eaton the fruit-grower wrote his essay, which may have been for the annual report of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association in 1892, or 1893, he said that a few of the apple trees planted by the Acadians still existed. “A few individual trees at Gaspereau, Grand Pre and Canard still stand, which are supposed to have been planted by (the Acadians)” Eaton wrote.
In the essay Eaton named many of the early pioneers of apple-growing in the Annapolis Valley. Among these pioneers are names familiar to Valley history buffs: Col. John Burbidge, who started the Nonpareil and Golden Russet; Bishop Charles Inglis, who introduced the Bishop Pippin (or Yellow Belle fleur); Ahira Calkin, who introduced the Calkin Pippin and Calkin’s Early.
Last summer a new apple variety was dedicated to another fruit-growing pioneer, Charles Ramage Prescott, who died in 1859. A news release in this paper said Mr. Prescott helped to introduce various varieties of apples, grapes and peaches. Eaton’s history is more specific, mentioning a number of apples that Prescott cultivated – and incidentally giving us the origin of many of the old varieties, some of which are still on the market today.
“Here, in his beautifully kept garden,” Eaton said, “Mr. Prescott planted the Ribston, Blenheim, King of Pippins, Gravenstein, Alexandra and Golden Pippin, which he imported from England, the Baldwin, Rhode Island Greening, Esopus Spitz, Sweet Bough, Early Harvest and Spy, which he obtained from the United States, and the Fameusse, Pomme Gris and Canada Reinette, which he got from Montreal.”