PIPPINS AND OTHER APPLES FROM THE PAST (September 12/03)

Relatively scarce today, the Strawberry Pippin is one of the apples popular when our great grandfathers had youthful twinkles in their eyes. As apples go, it probably ranks as a two or three in a scale of one to 10. Once popular as a dessert apple, it has been replaced by hardier varieties.

While the Strawberry Pippin is one of the older varieties, it probably hasn’t been around as long as apples grown by the Acadians. In Valley Gold, the apple industry history by Anne Hutten, the author writes about several varieties known to the Acadians. At least two of these varieties were found growing in Nova Scotia orchards as recently as half a century ago.

A list I obtained recently from the Fruit Growers Association has 233 apple varieties that have been grown here since the time Acadian orchards flourished. Some of the varieties on this list had their heydey several generations ago and have for the most part disappeared.

One of the oldest apple listed is the Pommi (Pomme) Gris, another the Fameuse. Anne Hutten writes that both were grown by the Acadians, along with the Bellefleur and perhaps the Belliveau. The Fruit Growers Association list indicates that only 18 Pommi Gris trees were found in the province 50 years ago. The Fameuse lasted longer and several hundred trees existed three decades ago.

Getting back to the Strawberry Pippin, there was only one tree in our neighbourhood when I was a boy and I figured the variety was almost extinct. There were a lot of old orchards in those days and we scoured many of them, finding Russets, Cox’s Orange and Bishop Pippin but never the Strawberry Pippin. The Fruit Growers list indicates there were only a few trees, but apparently this has changed and the Strawberry Pippin may be making a comeback.

When Arnold Burbidge was growing up on is father’s farm in Canard, there was a single Strawberry Pippin tree in their orchard. For some reason, Burbidge said in effect, the Strawberry Pippin was synonymous with the old homestead. “I guess it was nostalgia or whatever,” he said, “but whenever I thought about the old homestead, this tree came to mind.”

When Burbidge discovered a Strawberry Pippin tree in Port Williams on the property of Lloyd Gates he wasn’t long in getting a scion. This was grafted onto a Cortland tree at his Centreville residence. Today Burbidge has plenty of Strawberry Pippins and he often shares them with friends and neighbours. I was the recipient of a bag of this old variety and I can report firsthand that calling it a dessert apple is an appropriate description.

The strawberry Pippin is faintly sweet, a bit tart and close to the Astrachan in flavour. It’s shaped somewhat like a strawberry, hence the name I suppose. The flesh of the Strawberry Pippin is soft and the apple deteriorates quickly; which might explain why growers who shipped apples to Britain preferred hardier varieties.

Other members of the Pippin family are Bishop Pippin, Scarlet Pippin, August Pippin, Cranberry Pippin, King Pippin, and Newton Pippin. While popular generations ago, most of the apples of the pippin family, which apparently also includes Cox’s Orange and the Ribston, are rarities nowadays.

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