Ark of Taste
Esopus Spitzenberg Apple
Malus pumila v. Esopus Spitzenberg
Esopus Spitzenburg is an antique apple variety discovered by a Dutch Settler early in the 18th Century near Esopus, NY, along the Hudson River. For over 200 years this apple was the choice dessert, cider and culinary apple variety. Noted English author Hogg wrote at the end of the 19th Century that the Esopus Spitzenburg is “a most excellent dessert apple.” Favored by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, this apple, unexcelled in quality and pleasing appearance, is referred to as the first of the apples.
Esopus apple trees blossom in Mid-April with a light pink white flower. The apple’s color is a commingling of light and dark red on a rich yellow background with a dark red blush on the cheek facing the sun. The apple is medium to large in size, nicely formed in an oblong-conic shape. The dense flesh is white yellow.
The exceptional taste of the Esopus is slightly sub acid, crisp and juicy. It is spicy and aromatic. The sugar content is high and balanced with floral acidity. Harvesting at the right time of season is crucial to capture the beneficial values of the fruit. The late season harvest is traditionally stored to let starch convert to sugar, the acidity drops and subtle aromatic compounds develop with storage. This is an apple variety that improves with aging and can keep three months or more.
Grown in New York Hudson Valley between 1807 and 1812, by the 1900’s, the cultivation of the Esopus apple had spread throughout the United States, where climates allowed. This slow growing cultivar should be grown in full sun (6-8 hours a day) on a well-drained gentle slope. The tree adapts to a temperate climate tolerating cold winters followed by warm seasons.
Once widely cultivated, over time it nearly disappeared. It is not an easy tree to grow, challenged in vigor and health, yet with proper orchard management this uncommon apple variety is worth the challenges. Conservationists proclaim, “An apple a day keeps extinction away.”
Currently orchardists are intrigued with the diversity and character of antique apple varieties. There is a willingness to meet the challenges of reviving these varieties, bringing back apple diversity prized by connoisseurs and consumers alike. In New York State, as of 2014, there are approximately 700 apple growers concentrated in the Lake Ontario and Hudson River Valley region. As orchardists follow the demand stimulated by heightened awareness of local food culture, there is a willingness and recognized economic value to planting Esopus Spitzenburgs and other unique varieties to the landscape.
Apple varieties in the grocery store represent such a minute percentage of the varieties of apples grown. There are thousands of apple cultivars that are commercially extinct, but not biologically. As the consumer, culinary professionals, and spirit makers experience and then request Esopus, there is great potential to move the apple market away from the uniform, waxed, always-availabile varieties grown for shipping and long shelf-life. A rennaissance of historic apple variety production can revitalize our farming communities. Keeping alive the apples of our grand and great grand parents is essential.
Sustaining these tastes for future generations is indeed nourishment of mind, body and spirit.