The Newtown Pippin: Our Nations Founding Apple
Ed Yowell, Regional Governor of Slow Food NY/NJ
While apples are not native to the New World, from the time they arrived during the 17th century, they became the quintessential American fruit. Here, European varieties adapted, becoming uniquely American. By 1872, more than 1,000 varieties, some local to a farm, a village, or a county, were classified, each prized for unique characteristics of taste and use
cider-making, cooking, eating out-of-hand.
The Newtown Pippin is one of 129 American heirloom apples aboard the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste, a program to preserve foods in danger of being lost to our culture and palates. The Newtown Pippin, a chance apple sprouted from a random seed, or “pip”, hence the surname “Pippin”, is such an apple. It was first picked in 1730 on the farm of Gresham Moore, in Newtown, Queens County (now part of The City of New York). George Washington favored them, Ben Franklin had them shipped to him in London, and Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello and wrote of them to James Madison from Paris, “They have no apple here to compare with our Newtown Pippin.”
During the 20th century, for reasons of appearance, uniformity, transportability, and shelf-life, the interests of commercial food distribution reduced our local apple selections from dozens to a few. Alas, the short, lop-sided, green Newtown Pippin, while extremely good tasting, versatile in its culinary uses, and a keeper, lost the fight for shelf space to the tall, uniformly shaped, bright red, arguably bland tasting Red Delicious apple.
In 2003, Slow Food NYC determined to restore the Newtown Pippin to New York City tables. To start, Peter Hoffman, chef/owner of New York City’s Savoy restaurant, helped by hosting a fund raising dinner and, in 2004, Mayor Bloomberg proclaimed Slow Food NYC Apple Week, citing the Newtown Pippin as the Big Apple’s “most historic” apple. With the help of Ben Watson, Slow Food USA Ark of Taste Co-chair and Tom Burford, a Virginia heirloom apple expert, Slow Food NYC supplied Newtown Pippin cuttings (called scion wood) to the Cummins Nursery in Geneva, New York. There they were grafted on to root stock suited to our region.
During April, 2008, Slow Food NYC donated 85 Newtown Pippin trees to three New York State farms, Breezy Hill Orchard, Prospect Hill Orchard, and Migliorelli Farms, these farms bringing apples to NYC Greenmarket farmers markets, and to the educational farms, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in nearby Westchester County and the Queens County Farm Museum, not too far from the site of Gresham Moore’s farm.
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