THE APPLES OF THE ACADIANS (May 7/04)

It wasn’t meant to be derogatory.

Actually, Canard historian Ernest Eaton was simply comparing old apple varieties with contemporary varieties when he wrote in 1973 that fruit grown by the Acadians “varied widely in appearance, flavour, season,” and with few exceptions were “small and unattractive except for cider.”

No doubt, for the most part, Eaton is correct. The apples grown today are bigger, tastier and more colourful than the apples produced by the Acadians. Eaton observed that grafting and pest control were unknown to the Acadians, which limited the quality of their apples. As for the varieties, he said that no more than two or three were grown in their orchards.

However, historians have different opinions on how many varieties were grown by the Acadians. Recently when I was working on a couple of apple-related stories for this newspaper I found references to more than three varieties grown by the Acadians. I also found that as well as disagreeing on numbers, historians also differ on what the varieties were called.

For example, in Valley Gold, Anne Hutten’s comprehensive history of the apple industry published in 1981, the author names several varieties that may have been grown by the Acadians. Hutten mentions the L’Epice, or Spicy Apple as probably being brought here by de Monts and cultivated by the Acadians. Hutten said that while it isn’t certain, other French varieties possibly grown by the Acadians were the Pomme Gris, Fameuse, Belliveau and the Bellefleur.

Keith Hatchard, in an eight-part history of apple growing in the Nova Scotia Historical Quarterly in 1977, writes that the Acadians grew the L’Epice and the Bellefleur, as well as other varieties which he didn’t name.

In files at the Kings County museum, I found two reports which said the Acadians grew the L’Epice, Pomme Gris, Belliveau, Bellefleur and Fameuse. I also found a reference to a variety called Nonpareil, which Anne Hutten also mentions in connection with the Acadians. The Acadians may have imported the Nonpareil from New England.

Some of the apple varieties known to the Acadians were grown in Nova Scotia long after the expulsion. At the Hants Exhibition in 1907, for example, two of the apples on display were the Bellefleur and Pomme Gris. The 19th-century fruit growing pioneer, Charles Prescott, is credited with introducing more apple varieties in the province than anyone. Prescott experimented with the Acadian variety Fameuse and it was growing in his Kings County orchards when he died in 1859. A census by the Department of Agriculture indicated that at least three Fameuse trees existed in 1949.

It’s interesting to note that according to Keith Hatchard, one of the apple varieties favoured by the Acadians still grows in Kings County. This is the Bellefleur, which Hatchard says was the predecessor of Bishop Inglis’s Yellow Belleflower, and today is called the Bishop Pippin.

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