Ark of Taste
This seedling apple varietal was found under a Duchess tree and then developed by George Jeffrey of Milwaukee, WI. The Milwaukee Apple is not generally considered a fresh eating apple, but it is delicious raw when sliced thin, skin and all. The apple is usually described as pleasantly tart, but notes of citrus and nuts have also been identified. The apple holds its shape well during cooking whether sautéed or baked and so can be found sliced and sautéed as a savory side dish or in a humble apple crisp. The apple is very dense and dry and so is an incredible drying apple--when sliced into large rings, it dries quickly and retains much of its color and shape.The apple can be raised organically or biodynamically, and it is known to be hardy enough to withstand cold Wisconsin winters well.
The Milwaukee Apple appeared in commerce around 1899, and became quite rare soon after. The apple was considered valuable for cultivation in the north due to it's Duchess (Oldenburg) parentage and for cold-hardiness, and was considerably tested in experiment stations in South Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and parts of Canada.
At present, like so many of the thousands of American apple varieties that have disappeared, the Milwaukee Apple is also on the verge of extinction. The apple currently exists in a few heritage apple collections, including the Seed Savers Exchange, though is only extremely rarely found in commercial orchards- only one commercial, mature, fruit bearing tree is known in the state of Wisconsin from which to obtain scionwood for cultivar propagation. Yet efforts are being made to grow the number of trees available for fruit and scion harvesting.
In addition to the heritage collections, the local Slow Food chapter is trying to bring the Milwaukee Apple back to Milwaukee through The Milwaukee Apple Project and Grow Out, in partnership with a local orchardist, and several community organizations including schools. Milwaukee Apple trees are now planted in schoolyards, public parks, backyards, and farms across the Milwaukee area. Trees may begin producing fruit as early as 2015. The apple is also celebrated at apple-themed events in the autumn, in which it is sampled and the story is shared. The Milwaukee apple has captured the imagination of Milwaukeeans as much as it has drawn attention to the larger issues of food biodiversity.
The Milwaukee Apple has proven itself to be a great mascot: to tell the story of the loss of food biodiversity to Milwaukee area residents. But aside from that, the fact is that it is also a truly unusual and delicious apple!