Ark of Taste
Granite Beauty Apple
The Granite Beauty apple, a large fruit about four inches in diameter, has a roundish shape that is slightly oblique at each end. Its surface is irregular and appears slightly hammered or “peened,” and it has a somewhat greasy or waxy feel. The skin is golden yellow, splashed, striped or completely overspread with bright vermilion red color. The flesh is yellowish-white, fine, crisp, and tender, with abundant juice and a pleasant sugar to acid balance. When first tasted many describe the flavor as having an initial burst of “warm spice” reminiscent of coriander or cardamom. This spiciness is quite subtle when the fruit is first picked but appears to intensify in storage as the apple’s juicy, cream-colored flesh becomes less crisp and more tender. The trees are cold-hardy, precocious bearers, and produce an annual crop of good quality fruit. The fruit is harvested in late September or early October and will keep in ideal storage conditions until February.
Originating sometime before 1815 on the farm of Zephaniah Breed in Weare, New Hampshire, the Granite Beauty was brought to wider attention around 1860 and was once highly esteemed in some areas of New England as both a home orchard apple and a market variety. In 1860 Zephaniah Breed reported selling the apple for the premium price of one dollar per bushel. This was at a time when other apples, like the Baldwin, sold for one dollar per barrel. Despite being regionally popular, the Granite Beauty was never a nationally known commercial variety. This is perhaps due to the tree’s slow and irregular growth habit in the nursery.
Zephaniah Breed published a history of the apple in the New Hampshire Journal of Agriculture, which was quoted by C.M. Hovey in 1860:
“Years ago, soon after the first settlers located upon the farm we now occupy, they paid a visit to their friends in Kittery (now Elliott [Eliot]), Maine, one horseback, that being the only means of conveyance then in vogue. When about to return home, Dorcas (for this was her maiden nameshe was now Dorcas Dow, formerly Neull) needed a riding whip, she was supplied by pulling from the earth, by the side of the road, a little apple tree. With this she hurried her patient and sure-footed horse towards her wild-woods home in Weare, then Halestown. An orchard being in order’ about that time, the little tree was carefully set and tended, and when it produced its first fruit it was found to be excellent, and Dorcas claimed it as her tree. When nephews and nieces grew up around her, the apple was called the Aunt Dorcas apple, from the claim she had upon it. As she grew older and the grand-children grew up, it took the name of the Grandmother apple. In another part of the town it was called the Clothesyard apple. Believing it to be mostly of a distinct name, we call it the Granite Beauty. The old tree has long been gone, but young trees are plenty in the vicinity.”
At present, Gould Hill Orchards, a 250-year-old family farm in Contoocook, New Hampshire is the only commercial orchard harvesting and selling Granite Beauty and, until recently, the variety was considered functionally extinct. The only known “backup” genetic material for the variety may be located in isolated private orchards in Weare, New Hampshire.
For this reason, the Monadnock Heritage Nursery is focused on recovering the Granite Beauty apple as a part of their conservation efforts. The goal of the Monadnock Heritage Nursery, a project of Slow Food Monodnock, is to preserve genetic diversity and to make grafted trees available to home orchardists, schools, community gardens, historical museums and commercial orchards. In 2008, twelve Granite Beauty trees were planted at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire. Scionwood was sent to John Bunker at Fedco Trees in 2009 and will be available through the Fedco Trees mail-order catalog in 2010. Cuttings will also be submitted to the Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York for grafting and permanent preservation. The nursery project intends to work with landowners and town historians in Weare, NH to identify and document remaining Granite Beauty trees in Weare and work with the Weare Historical Society and Conservation Commission to reintroduce the apple to its original hometown.
The uniqueness and reliable fruit production of this variety make it an ideal choice both for home apple growers and small-scale orchardists, especially in the Northeast. Given its distinct spiciness, the Granite Beauty would be interesting to try in curries or other sweet and savory preparations, to serve with mild cheeses or to pair with a varietal honey.
Photos courtesy of Ben Watson